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March 3, 2015

The Perils of a “Dead” Genre

Black and white image of dead tree with text: What Should We Do with a Dead Genre?

It’s been almost a week since my release of Unintended Guardian, and I’ve been getting lots of questions about how I made my decisions for what to do with my books. There are several blog posts worth of brain dump I can provide on that topic, but let’s start at the beginning:

How did I decide on my publishing path?

For that, we have to go back several years to when I first started on my writing career path. Back before the Kindle and Amazon made self-publishing a standard option. Back when traditional publishing was the only way to go. *smile*

In the Beginning… (No, Not That Far Back)

When I first started writing, my stories were more urban fantasy with romantic elements than my current paranormal romance series. Back then I was also doing the plotting thing because that’s what I thought “real” writers did. Although I love that series, the stories lack voice and need to be rewritten.

In the middle of editing the first book of that urban fantasy series for the 100th time (I’m probably not kidding—that story was my learning curve), I got the idea for a dragon shapeshifter character in a paranormal romance story. Yep, that was Elaina Drake, heroine of Treasured Claim, which is available for pre-order and will be my debut novel this spring.

I didn’t have a clue what was going to happen in that story, and I experienced the joy of writing by the seat of my pants for the first time. *smile* The strength of Elaina’s voice and personality burned away my ideas of how I thought I was “supposed” to write and taught me what my writing voice sounded like.

Back then, paranormal romance was trendy and selling oodles of books. I didn’t (and still don’t) care about trends. I wrote that story simply because it demanded to be written, but my writing skills weren’t yet up to snuff to sell.

Fast-forward several years of learning everything I could about writing, entering over a dozen writing contests to watch my writing skills progress, and querying agents in between.

By the time my writing had reached a contest-winning level, paranormal romance was no longer trendy. In fact, it was being called over-saturated and dead.

The Black Moment of My Writing Career

I started getting comments with my contest wins like, “I love this story, but I know I couldn’t sell it.” Ouch.

did get contract offers, but they were from publishers with a smaller platform than I had, so the value they could add was limited. The contracts also demanded every right in the universe, plus some (movies! translations!), even though they had neither the plans nor abilities to exploit those rights. Um, thanks, but no thanks.

One agent did want to represent me, but despite her good reputation, I was not impressed by her business ethics. At all.

(She submitted my story to publishing house editors before an official offer of representation had been made or accepted, and she never asked for or received my permission to speak to these editors in an unofficial role either. For all this agent knew, I had just signed with a different agent or had already been rejected by these editors. I don’t know what she thought she would have done if one of the editors wanted to make an offer—corner me into using her as my agent? Not cool.)

Some people might have accepted whatever they could get, and I don’t judge them. We each have to make the right choices for our situation. But I was too stubborn to accept a situation I wasn’t happy about just because of desperation. Yet the whispers of the “death” of paranormal romance became louder, regardless of the fact that readers were still buying them.

My Plan B If Traditional Publishing Didn’t Work

Long ago, a friend of mine told me that I should self-publish because he’d noticed that I’m kind of a control freak, er…perfectionist. *smile* For years, I kept the option of self-publishing in the back of my mind.

My family wanted me to self-publish because they believe in me. They wanted me to get my work out there and not wait indefinitely for an opportunity to prove those death rumors wrong—an opportunity that might never come.

So I made myself (and my family) a deal. I’d pursue the traditional publishing path—querying and pitching—until I had three books completed in my Mythos Legacy series. If I still hadn’t succeeded with a traditional publishing deal by that time, I’d go the self-publishing route.

Why three books? Because three books for a slow writer meant I could build a backlist fairly quickly.

I finished the third Mythos Legacy novel and the Unintended Guardian short story about a year ago. Since then, I’ve been studying and planning, writing business plans, and searching for editors. My genre was still being called “dead,” and it was time to pull the trigger.

My Chosen Path for Publishing

Many self-published authors create “imprints” for their books. Some want to create an impression of professionalism, some don’t want to look like self-published authors, some do it for tax reasons, and some create a company that could publish other authors in the future. I took the latter route.

Blue Phoenix Press is a publishing company I started along with family partners. The goal was to create a company that’s committed to professionalism: a minimum of three rounds of professional edits (even for my short story), professional covers, etc.

This route gave structure to my perfectionism. (In other words, it’s about being professional, not just looking professional.) But it remains to be seen how much we grow the business beyond just my books. I guess we’re keeping our options open. *smile*

So for me, the “dead genre” label drove me to find another way. I tell you all this not to claim that my way is the best way or to recommend (or even suggest) that everyone should make similar choices. My decisions were right for my situation, my family, and my personality.

That said, I’ve been very happy with my choice so far. I believe that I’d still be waiting for a call that might never come if I stuck with the traditional publishing path. Or I might have felt pressure to abandon this series and write in a different genre.

Instead, I now have one book out and three more on the way this year. The support from all of my friends and readers here and on social media has been astounding, and I can’t thank you enough. I’ve been getting misty-eyed on a regular basis at the thought of how many people have bought my books and/or shared my news. Even my cover model, Sean Smith, came out to support me. How cool is that? *grin*

Sean Smith post

Unintended Guardian is now free at all retailers (except the non-U.S. Amazon stores—I’m still working on those). (I’ll be sharing my reasoning for going free with this short story in a future post.) And over the weekend, it climbed the bestseller rank in several categories (and is still there!).

Amazon Best-Sellers Rank

And super-huge thanks to those who have left reviews. We all know how important reviews are for all books, especially new ones, so every review (even a negative one) is greatly appreciated! *hugs for all of you*

P.S. On an unrelated note, if you missed my Twitter #RWChat about Story Structure this past weekend, Angela Mayfair created a Storify of the main tweets from the chat.

So do you have any questions for me? Have you been told your genre is dead? Have you struggled with how to proceed with your “dead” stories? What direction are you leaning toward and why? What would you have done differently (and why)?

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What do you think?

43 Comments on "The Perils of a “Dead” Genre"

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Lara Gallin
Lara Gallin

Congratulations on your debut 🙂

My personal feelings are that you should write something that you would want to read. For me the status of the genre is irrelevant, it should be about the writing, not whether or not something is fashionable. Maybe I’m being too idealistic, that kind of thinking doesn’t pay the bills!

Besides, who’s to say you can’t be the one to resurrect a dead genre!

Pam

Jami,

I never post here but I have been reading your blog for years, and have been following a very similar path. I commend you for taking the chance of indie publishing. I think it’s a good fit for you. Congratulations!

I also have been teetering on the brink of indie or traditional. Your blog post is very inspirational and thought provoking. Thank you for sharing so much great info and insight. Keep up the great work. 😀

Carradee
I believe a “dead” genre just means one of two things: 1. the genre’s gotten to be a fad among writers, producing myriad “copycat” authors who are just jumping on the fad train and being bland/faddish in how they handle it 2. the genre’s not enough of a fad among readers for them to gobble those copycats So sales numbers drop, both due to sales being spread across myriad authors and due to the many authors just producing the same ol’, same ol’ (or close enough to it that readers feel saturated). Some readers even get tired of the genre. But there will always be fans who still want to read that genre, producing a reader niche that is possible to hit. Some niches are too small for a publisher to be able to target and make money—or, at least, the publishers think the niches are too small. One benefit to self-publishing is that, if the author handles the publication wisely and is able to reach their target audience, they can make a profit even with a small niche. And then, since fads go in cycles—and have minor eddies as well as the major tides that “everyone” knows about—someone who’s self-publishing a “dead” genre will be in a position to increase their readership when the genre (or something about how they write it) hits a “popular” wave again. …Not entirely sure I’m making sense. In any event, I have a dark urban fantasy series that I’ve had to work on… Read more »
Kim

I write what I would want to read. I write historical fiction, which, as far as I know doesn’t ‘die’ as a genre, BUT, time periods go in and out of fashion. I started researching about Vikings about four years ago just because I wanted to and decided to write a novel about a character I read about in a saga. This was before Vikings became a big deal. By the time I’m done with the trilogy the Viking era will most likely be considered ‘dead’ for fiction, but I don’t care!

I’m constantly debating in my head whether I want to go traditional or self-publish. I’ll probably go indie when the time comes.

Congratulations on getting so much traction with your novella! It’s a fun read. I enjoyed it.

Angela Quarles

*raises hand* yep, time travel romance was the kiss of death for my debut as it hasn’t been trendy since the 90s, lol. Like you, I tried traditional, got an agent, and got as far as second reads with two NY publishers, but it came down to a bad combo: debut author PLUS non-hot genre. Too risky and I can’t blame them for that. But it was an opportunity for me, because there ARE readers for this niche, just not enough to satisfy NY. I also turned down two small press offers, for the same reasons as you. I’m so glad I went indie.

Laura
Laura

Ok, I am *definitely* going to self publish, then. Mine is a time travel paranormal romance with Greek gods and a starship captain from 1200 years in the future. And aliens. And the world being destroyed, and occasionally snarky Fates. No one will ever touch that… lol.

Angela Quarles

Self-pub that! Sounds great, and yep, if they wouldn’t go for a more conventional one like mine (set in late Georgian period on the cusp of the Victorian era)… Indie publishing is great, because we can fill niches that are too small to make it worthwhile for NY to spend money on. There area readers in this niche that are dedicated readers of it, so carry on! It made me realize that my steampunk was even less likely, since its niche was even smaller, so I self-pubbed that too. I’m going to wait to approach NY until I have one I think is more commercially viable (in their eyes)…

Amanda

My genre’s not dead (contemporary is always in style, even when it’s not), but after FRACTURE was rejected by a couple of publishers, I decided to self-publish it. Not the best or smartest reason to go indie, but my CP had so much confidence in the story I went ahead, found an editor, and decided to take the leap. I’ve had my doubts along the way, and I still have major doubts about its success – I’m virtually unknown and don’t have a large social media presence. My goal is to make back what I spent on it. If I can achieve that in a few months, I’ll consider that a win. I have another (also rejected) book coming out later this year, and a Valentine’s novella and a third book coming out next spring – and probably something else next fall. Provided my brain doesn’t melt in the process. I love being able to set my own release schedule and not have to keep potential readers waiting for the next book, plus I can release books that I don’t think fit within a publisher’s box.

I’m still pursuing traditional publishing, too. I believe there are things trad publishing can do for me that indie can’t, namely not having to spend my own money on things like editing and cover art 🙂

Sharon

Jami-
You are one of those writers who inspires me – because you’re not afraid to give a hand-up to those on a lower rung than you by sharing your experiences – good, bad and ugly.
I think it’s great that your family supports you, and I know your publishing path will lead exactly where you want – because you planned how to get there from where you are now. My family wants me to self-publish, too, but even though I have had one contract – and haven’t entered contests so I don’t know if I have what it takes to win or not – I’m still unsure I can write well enough to deserve to be published. So, I need a gatekeeper. Or that’s my crutch.
I’m excited to follow you on this journey.

Ashley
Ashley

Well, congrats! At least one part of your strategy is working: while I’ve enjoyed your blog for a while, I didn’t think I had any interest in your books because paranormal romance isn’t really my thing. But, since it was free… and Amazon pointed out that I could download a Kindle app free… I downloaded it and will give it a try!

Leslie Bird Nuccio
Leslie Bird Nuccio

Hi Jami,

This post couldn’t have come at a better time. Just yesterday I had an editor tell me that the demon-angel thing is a hard sell these day. I don’t doubt the editor is correct, so I had a 24 hour mental hand-ringing meltdown. I contemplated changing the demon (there are no angels planned in this 12 book paranormal romance series) aspect but it’s such a large part of the story arc. But I didn’t want to have just demons in this series so I created 21 original paranormal species, some humanoid, others not. I have demons, paranormal species, mythology; a rat ton cast of characters as my editor puts it. And I love it, the species, the characters, the worlds. I can’t bear to change them at this late date. I’ll be self-publishing the 1st book this year, and I’ve already finished the 1st draft of the second book.

Anyway, thank you for this blog post. It was exactly what I needed to grit my teeth and let go of the fear that my genre is dead. As my dear hubby said last night, “A good book is a good book, no matter the genre.” Such a wise man…

Sonia G Medeiros

Congratulations, Jami! I’m so excited for you.

I’m also a slow writer. So much slower than I’d hoped to be. You give me hope. 🙂 My genre (*cough cough* zombies…though very different than the “traditional” zombie) might be considered saturated but I believe in the story. Even if the genre is dead by the time I finally publish, I’ll still go forward. It’s something I’d want to read, so I hope that means others will too.

I’ve wavered back and forth on the publishing route. I lean towards indie with maybe my own imprint. I’m also a perfectionist. 🙂 And impatient. I don’t want to delay publishing any long than it takes to create a polished, professional novel. Did you already do a post on how you set up your imprint? I’d love to learn more.

Congrats, again. I’m running right now to Amazon to check out your book.

Sonia

Laurie Evans

Yay! So glad you decided to self-publish!

Very excited to see your great rankings on amazon, too! Congrats!

Emerald O'Brien
Emerald O'Brien

Congrats Jami! How exciting!
I wonder how you came to the decision to start this blog and dedicate yourself to it while you’ve been writing/ prepping for publishing?
I probably would have done the same as you in regards to deciding on your route of publication, if I felt like I wanted to have a traditional publishing deal right off the bat. For whatever reason, when I made my decision almost two years ago, self-publishing was always the more appealing path I wanted to start off with.
Just FYI, I was chatting with a writer friend, and she pointed out that I reference and share your blog posts (as well as Kristen Lamb’s) most often with her. We decided you’re my go-to’s, so I’m really pleased that for whatever reason, you decided to keep up the blogging with the writing.

Meg Justus

You did exactly what I did three years ago (except that I didn’t wait until I had three books, and you’ve got a heckuva better platform than I do).

Laura
Laura

Jami – thank you much for this post. I knew I was going to have to self-publish, but I never would have had any idea about creating my own publishing company to publish them under. Was it hard to do? What platform did you use for the formatting and publishing (if I can ask). I’m on Smashwords because I had read you can then publish it to just about anywhere, but I haven’t actually published anything. Was the formatting hard? I can’t even get Scrivener to flow to Word the way it’s supposed to… lol.

Anne BB
Anne BB

Thank you so much for this post. It came at the right time for me as I am questioning my choices. You are a godsend!

Glynis Jolly

You asked for questions so here goes…
Could you give out a list of online sites that have contests for many genres and for those of us that have yet to be published?

Can you recommend any software programs to help with self-editing? Because editing costs so much, I’m thinking that the more I can do for myself before handing my work to a professional might help with this cost.

Carradee

I’m more of a line editor, so here’s my experience with programs: You have to have some idea of what you’re doing before they can help you.

On that front, though, my personal favorite is EditMinion, because it focuses on flagging things as potential problems rather than marking things as definite problems.

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