Several authors have come to me, wanting to write in different genres to chase the trends. The biggest one last year was the epic fantasy trend. It was booming. It was doing great. Lots of authors wrote stories to fill that hole. Several more were try to create the trend. And then the books bombed. They’d launch okay for the most part, but they never sustained critical mass.
Many of the authors I talked to or listened to on my feed wondered what was going on and why this happened to them. Did the market bottom out? Did they gamble wrong? So, I did a little investigating and I think I discovered the reason why.
They completely missed the fact that they were writing in a different genre.
Let me explain.
Each genre has it’s own voice and trope approach. High fantasy isn’t simply a story told on a different world. It’s written to a different reading level, the narrative, story-telling elements, and scene focus are also different. You can tell an author who specializes in romance, for instance, because the narrative is loose, the storytelling elements are character-based, the action is dialogue heavy, and the scenes focus less on world-building, and more on clothing and emotions.
As an author, you certainly can write anything you want. You can tell whatever story suits your fancy. But when you enter into a genre and you don’t study the genre norms, you’re going to be pulling in your readers, but you are going to struggle to capture the casual genre reader because you’re not meeting their expectations.
This is frustrating for your loyal readers. They find your story and like it, finish it, get the hang-over and start looking for another book to read in this genre to fill that hole they now have, only to discover that they don’t actually like the genre. They only liked your book. So that hangover never gets answered. It never gets filled. So, they walk away from your series, knowing they won’t get the hang-over answered after they read the next book. They might say they’ll come back after the series is finished, but chances are they won’t even remember it after it’s done.
The genre readers might grab your book because the premise is interesting, but when none of the genre norms are met, they’ll put the book down and never pick you up again. They enjoy reading this genre for many different reasons, and they put you down because you didn’t meet them on the most basic levels: writing style, voice, and storytelling approach.
So, how do you figure all of this out?
Read the Genre You’re Hopping Into
This should be a no-brainer, but this is a crucial step that a lot of authors overlook. They’d prefer to go to someone who studies the trends on a daily basis so that person can tell them what to do.
That’s great, but the only reason to do that is so you can blame that person when it all falls apart. This your career, so take ownership of it. Someone who studies the trends can’t tell you how to write the book. That comes from you. They can tell you the current tropes. “Princesses are out right now. Dragons are king.” When I try to tell clients how to approach the voice, I’m informed they can’t write like that and that they’ll just “write the story the way they want to because Author X did it this way and it worked for them.” But when you look at Author X later after the launch money runs out, you discover they’re not making anything off the book anymore. They may have made the money back on their ad investment? Maybe not? But the book burned bright for a half-minute, and then it’s gone.
When you’re reading the genre, understand that you’re reading for money. It’s a similar concept to writing for money. Don’t read the books that “interest you” if you’re looking to make/build a successful launch. Don’t chase what Author X is doing. Read the books that are regularly selling on the bestsellers lists who are also indies. The books that are on the lists every week, not just flitting up to the top for a day and then snuffing out. Look at their:
- How long do they focus on world-building elements?
- How do they handle background information?
- Do they focus more on action, story-building, dialogue, or internal narrative?
- How long do they focus on emotions versus circumstance?
- What reading level are they writing at?
I had an author come to me about a year ago stating that her sci-fi never sells. So, I looked her up and did a little research and discovered that her “military sci-fi” is a “romance in space.” The story was good. However, the way she told it presented itself as a romance—even though the romance arc was basically non-existent. So, what made her not-really-romantic military sci-fi a romance-in-space book? Let me show you.
- Hard, gritty spec fic narrative
- Detail heavy when it comes to ships, ammo, and warfare
- Heavily detailed fight scenes with emotions sprinkled through to make it real
- Heavy on science
- Heavy on research and world building, including solar systems, ships, technology, and history
- Reading level: 6+
Romance in Space
- Light narrative, easy to bond with
- Light on details on world-building, focusing on character interactions instead
- Fight scenes focus on dialogue and emotions, and action is sprinkled throughout using action tags
- Light on science, but might focus on one fact or idea that is science-based
- Light on world-building, but does include history
- Reading level: 4+
*reading levels based off of reading level searches I performed for the basis of this article using https://readable.com/
When looking at these comparisons, it’s easy to think that romance is the dumber genre, and a lot of readers who prefer spec-fiction, which is generally written at a higher reading comprehension level, state that. Repeatedly.
Romance readers aren’t dumb, though. They’re typically overworked, underpaid, and overly stressed. So, an overly complicated story just isn’t what they call a fun time in the 3.2 seconds they get alone in the bathroom to read.
However, the true-blue military sci-fi readers choose to read this genre because they get these challenging details. Those details, the complicated story-line, and the geek-joy of feeling the amount of research done in order to make the story work, is what draws them to this genre. They don’t want an easier-to-read story. They don’t want character-based. They want grit. They don’t want light narrative. They want it to be hard and detailed and in-your-face. They want romance. They enjoy romance, and they sometimes enjoy sex scenes as long as the scene doesn’t take over the entire book.
So, when you’re looking to hop on a hot trend in a different genre, be sure to do a little homework. Read the genre. Figure out what you need. Test it out with some flash fiction pieces first to see if you’re even able to stretch to those new heights.
And then jump in and write a story that meets the genre.
But only if this is a career decision with the intent to sell. If you just want to write a story for fun, do whatever you want because there are readers out there who will enjoy it.