The Perils of 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.
I 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*
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!).
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)?Pin It
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!
Yes! That’s exactly why I wanted to write these stories. These were the stories I wanted to read. 😀
And again, there’s nothing wrong with deciding that bill-paying must come first. I think back in my post about author-professional vs. author-artist, I fell between the groups. So I need to honor the artist part of me too–trends or no trends. 🙂
Besides, I don’t think the genre is nearly as dead as the naysayers claim. 😉 Thanks for the comment!
Oh definitely nothing wrong with it, I think you have to possess versatility and dedication in order to make it a success though. My problem is that if something doesn’t hold my interest, even the temptation of money won’t motivate me. To my detriment, I have to feel it. It’s why I’d be no good taking a traditional route, I’m just not consistent enough (or eccentric enough to be indulged 😉 ).
Unless the fates look kindly upon me, I doubt that I’ll make much from writing. I’m far too niche in my tastes but I can live with that 🙂 Just in case though, I already know what I want to wear to any awards ceremonies/film premiers 😉
Yes! That’s very true for me as well. No matter how much money, I couldn’t do something I didn’t care for at all long term without suffering health issues.
LOL! at your outfit decisions. 🙂 I’m so not a clothes hound that I would never think of that. Now, interview questions and answers? That’s another story. 😉 Thanks for sharing!
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. 😀
I think it’s a good fit for me too. 🙂 There’s no doubt I have the right mindset for it, but for a long time, fear held me back. (All those blog posts about failure being okay and overcoming fears? Totally pep talks to myself. 😉 )
Plus, for a long time, I wanted the “validation” of a traditional contract. After I received contracts and won contests, it was a lot easier to check that goal off the list and move forward in a direction that didn’t involve endless waiting. LOL!
Let me know if you have any questions, and good luck with whatever you decide! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
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 »
Hi Carradee, Agreed! I think the label is a result of both of those to some extent. Some authors probably did jump on the trend (or were told by their publishers to jump on the trend) and released retreads of the same old thing, and the abundance of authors did spread out the readers. Then any uninspired stories encouraged readers to stick with the tried-and-true authors, which made it harder for new ones to break in. None of that is specific to paranormal romance, so this isn’t a “woe is me.” LOL! I think that scenario is probably the case for many trendy-to-dead genres (like YA dystopia, etc.). But I also agree that for the most part, the readers are still there, and trends come and go. As you said, those in the genre will be in good shape for the next popularity wave. I’m not a fast enough writer to jump onto trends when they first start (and have no desire to genre-hop that way anyway), so I figure I’ll write what I love and not worry about trends. 🙂 The “dead” label is something more applicable to traditional publishing houses than the authors or readers. If sales numbers aren’t what they want, and it takes 2 years for them to bring a story to market, they figure the sales will be even worse later. So they’re going to be the first to jump off a trend. That’s good news for indie authors really, because then the publishers won’t… — Read More »
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.
Great example! I love historical romance, and when I first started, that was a “dead” genre. But that’s been coming back strong, yet within that genre, different time periods are more trendy than others.
There are always different ways to slice a category. Paranormal romance can encompass vampires, werewolves, other shifters, ghosts, demons, angels, etc. And each of those has been more or less trendy throughout the years too.
Good luck to you whatever you decide. 🙂 Thanks for the kind words and the comment!
*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.
Yes, what a NY publisher considers a success and what an indie author considers a success can be very different things. 🙂 I owe you so much thanks for your help, support, and advice (even the quote promo images!)–you’re the best! *hugs*
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.
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)…
Yeah, back when I first started my stories, I thought they were commercially viable, but times change. LOL! I’m so glad you decided to indie publish–your stories deserve to be read. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!
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 🙂
I hear you about having the goal to at least make back the money we put into publishing a story. That’s going to be tricky for me, as my first one is a freebie. 😉 But that’s a good goal for the next ones!
I have other series I could release traditionally should that opportunity present itself. I’m kind of a “never say never” person. My bestie writing buddy just achieved RWA PAN status with her self-pub debut, so I know it’s possible. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
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.
That’s a good point about planning. Whether we plot or pants, after we’re done revising and editing, our best writing is going to be intentional. Every word, sentence, scene, etc. is there for a reason.
The same concept applies to our career: The choices we make should be intentional. It’s fine (great, actually!) if unanticipated opportunities present themselves, but the choices we make for how to react or embrace those opportunities are what matter. There’s a reason I talk so much about knowing our goals here. 🙂
I really wanted that gatekeeper/validation earlier, so I understand. After years of improving my skill, I was lucky enough to get positive feedback from several sources, and it was only after that point that I was really comfortable with the idea of self-publishing. (And even after that, I still insisted on 3 rounds of professional editing–developmental, line, and copy. LOL!) Thanks for the comment!
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!
LOL! Thanks for that feedback–and for the congrats! 🙂
And I must congratulate you again. You nailed the chemistry and the non-human aspect added some freshness to what I tend to find very “same ‘ol,” even with my limited intake of romance. The patch of feathers was a surprisingly sexy touch. I could almost feel it and…mmm.
I had some issues at the beginning because I kept picturing things differently than you did and having to re-adjust my mental image but I’m glad I pushed through that because in the end I really enjoyed the story and wished it had been longer.
Aww, thanks! The rest of the stories will be longer, but will also have open door sex scenes (in the genre, known as “very spicy” but not erotic). Some people will like that aspect and some won’t. I just write what my characters tell me to write. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!
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…
I love paranormal romance series with a full world of beings, so you know the audience is out there–both for the demons and for the “rat ton” of characters. 😀 I’m glad your family is supportive too! Good luck and thanks for the comment!
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.
Exactly! If a story is what we’d want to read, hopefully other readers will be out there for us too. 🙂
I haven’t done a post about the imprint set up yet, but I’m working on a guest post with a lawyer for that topic. (I’m sure I made many mistakes, and on a subject that could result in tax issues, I’d rather people get advice from an expert. LOL!) Thanks for the congrats and for the comment!
Yay! So glad you decided to self-publish!
Very excited to see your great rankings on amazon, too! Congrats!
Thank you for the congrats and your support! 🙂
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.
That’s a great question! Hmm, I might expand this into a post all on its own, but my short answer is that I’m a teacher at heart and truly enjoy sharing what I learn. So I kind of stumbled into blogging initially, discovered I loved it, and now I don’t want to have to shut up about lessons or insights I could share just because I’m published. 😉
Aww, thank you so much for the kind words! 🙂 And thanks for the comment!
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).
What can I say? I’m a slow writer and slow to the starting line, but I got here eventually. 😉 Thanks for the comment!
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.
I could probably write another blog article to answer your questions, so I think I will save that for another post. 🙂 That way I can better explain the options and why I did what I did. I’ll get there–promise! LOL! Thanks for the comment!
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!
I hope this helps! Good luck for whatever you decide, and thanks for the comment! 🙂
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.
Hi Glynis, I would love to be able to answer those questions for you, but I can only speak for my experience. 🙂 As a romance author, I had an abundance of contests for unpublished authors to choose from. There’s a Yahoo group called ContestAlert for RWA chapter contests. In other words, the romance genre is really on the ball about contests. LOL! For other genres, I’m afraid I don’t have a clue. You might be able to do a Google search or look through Writer’s Digest or something. I know some contests outside of the RWA chapters are run with questionable rules or stipulations (giving rights for an anthology publication, etc.), so definitely look deep into any rules for non-RWA organizations. For self-editing, I didn’t use any programs because I have extremely low patience for the nitpicky word stuff the programs out there usually focus on. In other words, the programs I know of (AutoCrit, etc.) focus on word-smithing, and that’s a very small aspect of what we need to do for editing. I’d recommend getting the Revision and Self-Editing for Publication book for insights into the most common editing issues, and then rather than paying for a software program, you could do a lot of the same word-smithing by using macros if you use MS Word. You’re absolutely right about saving money on editing if we’re “clean” writers (especially at the line and copyediting stages). I was able to get “clean” discounts from my editors. 🙂 Before I… — Read More »
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.
Thanks so much for sharing! As I said, I haven’t worked with most of these programs, so I appreciate your insights. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
[…] other stories kept me busy while I was trying the query route, and my plan was that I would try to fight the “dead genre” issue only until I’d finished the third novel. So other than the usual procrastination problems, […]
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