On Writing Dead Genres

Photo credit: anne symons on Flickr
So this is a purely 100% opinionated post. I’m not the final word on this topic (or any topic, for that matter), nor will I pretend to be. These are just my thoughts, pure and simple.

Okay? Okay.

So once upon a time I wrote a couple YA Paranormal manuscripts. Six, to be exact, though some of them could maybe fit under other sub genres, too. Not the point.

Point is, out of those six manuscripts, one of them I fell so totally in love with. That’s not to say I didn’t like the others—I did and still have hopes for some of them—but this one manuscript I spent years refining. I wrote it and rewrote it and changed POVs and switched out characters and doubled the length and you guys, it was the best thing I’d written at the time. My CPs loved it, I loved it and I was really hoping it’d be The One.

Except it wasn’t the one. It garnered a little interest (meaning that one fabulous small press showed interest, but alas passed in the end). And that was it. No partial requests, definitely no full requests, just years of rejection letters and disappointments.

Looking back, I’m happy all of that happened, but this post isn’t about that. This post is about dead genres.

Like YA Dystopian, YA Paranormal is still largely considered a dead genre—meaning, it’s a genre that was over-saturated to the point of drowning and now is extremely difficult to break into. Not impossible, mind you (in fact, one of my lovely CPs found and agent and sold her YA Paranormal MS the same time I was looking for representation for mine), but really crazy difficult. Because most editors have seen enough YA Paranormal to last them a rather long time, so selling YA Paranormal or Dystopian manuscripts is very difficult, which means finding representation for those genres is equally difficult.

This is why people in the publishing world often advise writers seeking traditional publication not to write to trends. Because unfortunately, the time between a manuscript being sold and ending up on the shelves often takes years, so by the time a writer sees a trend, writes it, finds representation, gets it sold and the release date arrives, that trend is way long gone.

That doesn’t mean, however, that if you adore YA Paranormal or Dystopia (or any dead genre, for that matter), that you shouldn’t write it.

I don’t regret that time I spent working on that manuscript that I had to put away. I learned so so much from it, and I still hope one day to be able to share it with the world.

But I’m not going to pretend that it was an easy experience to get over.

I will forever and always advocate that writers write what they want to read (and, for that matter, want to write), and if that’s another Paranormal or Dystopian or otherwise difficult genre, more power to you. Write it, make it awesome and don’t be afraid to dream.

But at the same time, it’s good to be aware of the market and know if you’re trying to break into an especially crowded area. It’s good to know that you love your manuscript, but maybe things are really tough right now for that genre, and you might have to put it away for a time. It’s good to try anyway and hope for the best, but in the meantime, consider working on another project. Because what you’re doing is tough, and it’s only tougher if you don’t have another manuscript dream about and hope for.

Agent Sarah LaPolla gave some very relevant and concise advice couple days ago:
So if you’re writing in a dead genre, I think it’s awesome and brave and if that’s what you love, then keep at it. But make sure you’re open-minded when considering future projects and always always keep a close eye on the market, so at the very least, you know where you stand.

What do you think? Have you ever written in a dead genre?

Twitter-sized bites:
What are dead genres and how do they affect writers? @Ava_Jae shares her thoughts on this publishing phenomenon. (Click to tweet)  
Writers, have you ever written a dead genre MS? Share your experience at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)


Susan Sipal said...

All so true, Ava. And often times it's so difficult to know that you're writing in a dead genre when you're doing it, especially if the genre is just starting to close up. Often times the transition between hot and dead happens very quickly. Thanks for sharing your journey!

Laura Pauling said...

In the traditional, yes, the market is saturated, but the readers who buy and read paranormal are still out there. I've seen way too many paranormal Indie published books fly off the virtual shelves for it to be dead in the real world.

Emma Adams said...

Great post! I'm getting the impression that YA as a whole is hard to break into at the moment, but paranormal and dystopia most of all. I was lucky to find a publisher for my upper-YA paranormal/urban fantasy (although it being on the cusp of New Adult helped a bit), but I knew I'd have trouble getting an agent's attention so I queried small publishers only. It's really hard when you write a story you love, but it's in an over-competitive genre - balancing writing what you love and writing what sells can be tricky sometimes!

Ava Jae said...

That's a great point—when I first started that YA Paranormal MS, the genre was far from dead. Sometimes it's hard to tell when you first start writing a manuscript whether or not that genre is going to last.

Ava Jae said...

That's very true, and why I specifically mentioned traditional publishing as far as writing to trends go. Traditional dead genres seem to still do rather well in the indie market, which is nice to see. :)

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Emma! You're definitely right that YA as a whole is a tough market to break into, though in that case, the category is far from dead, there's just a ridiculous amount of competition. You're also right that balancing writing what you love and what is selling can be pretty tricky, but the good thing is what's selling and what isn't changes, so there's always hope later on for a MS of a saturated genre. :)

jezzell19 said...

I do believe that you have to first write what you love. If that's vampire romance, so be it. Just do it well and try to make it your own. If it floats, it floats, regardless of genre saturation. BUT, being aware of what the market is looking for and tempering your expectations is HUGE. If you're hellbent on traditionally publishing your YA dystopian, understand you might have to look a long time before finding an agent/editor willing to read it. (That query letter better have a huge neon sign that reads "THIS WILL BLOW YOUR MIND! NOT HUNGER GAMES CLONE! btw :)

As it applies to self-publishing, there really aren't dead genres so long as you're willing to go where the readers are. So my general advice is the same to everyone: Do what's best for each story and your writing career. If all you want to write is paranormal romance, maybe look at building your own platform and publishing independently. If it's just one story out of many you plan to write, and you think it's different than anything else out there, start circulating it. But work on something new while you're waiting.

Ava Jae said...

Yes yes yes yes yes and yes. I completely 150% agree. Write what calls to you, do what's best for your career and keep aware of what's out there on the market. I really don't have anything to add. :)

Darth Lolita said...

I found out very recently that adult urban fantasy is a hard sell because it's close connection to paranormal romances and because there's just so much in that market.

I've only been writing my novel for two months or so, and I'm only 20k words in. I could give up right now and start something that isn't smack dab in the middle of a dead/dying (sub)genre.

But I've fallen in love with this book even though I've only known it for a short time. I know it might never sell, but that can be true for anything I write. For now, I'm going to enjoy the writing process :P

Robin Red said...

This is one of my fears. I worked really hard on a YA urban fantasy MS, I'm absolutely in love with the characters and world I created, but I'm afraid urban fantasy is plateauing, especially after City of Bones became a movie. There are no vampires, werewolves, or angels in my MS (though there are witches), but the stigma is there.

Ava Jae said...

I think your attitude is perfect—if you enjoy what you're writing, I don't think there's any reason to stop, even if it is in a dead or dying genre. As you said, something not selling could be true of any MS you write. As long as you're aware of the market and you understand that it may be an especially difficult sell but you want to keep at it anyway, I think you're in a good place. :)

Ava Jae said...

The thing is, if it happens, it happens, but how the market progresses is completely out of our control. The best thing we can do, IMO, is write the very best book we can and believe in our work, but also work on something else while we're submitting.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Sounds very much like the reason a lot of writers (including myself, writing YA paranormal dystopian!) self pub.

Ava Jae said...

It definitely can be, as dead genres aren't as much of a problem on the indie market. :)

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