I’m Writing the Wrong Genre

I’ve seen two kinds of scuttlebutt online about “what to write.”

A: Write what you love and what you want to read!
B: Research the genres that are selling and fit your writing to that mold.

One of my personal rules is to maintain my own integrity, so I’ve been following advice A (which is how I ended up writing a 63,000 zombie apocalypse gamebook/CYOA). And yet I have fits of anxiety when I see things like this:


This is an edited version of a list of agents who will be at DFW Writer’s Con and what genres they have a particular interest in. (I added the highlighting and cropped out the agents’ names. You can find the full list here.)

The yellow areas are Middle Grade and Young Adult respectively. Look at all those delightful excited happy faces!

The blue area is science fiction. Only 3 happy faces and one big ugly poison Do Not Talk To Me About This.

Hm.. Zombie apocalypse. Gee, where does that fit?Β  Blue column of sadness. Maybe horror (it’s not really that scary, though) or humor (because being a zombie is funny!). Well crap. Those columns are pretty depressing, too, 2 and 4 happy faces respectively.

The agent pitch sessions are one of the most exciting parts of DFW Con, but dangit, I don’t think I’m going to have a lot of success this year. I’m in all the wrong categories. (Though I feel a certainty in my bones that just about every adult would get a real kick out of determining their own path in a zombie uprising book. I was talking about it with a friend in a restaurant and a passerby interrupted to say “excuse me, did you just say zombie apocalypse CYOA? Cool!”)

And my prior novel that I’m not actively pitching? Squarely sci-fi dystopia. *sigh*

I have no real interest in writing YA or MG (aside from a dalliance with The Boxcar Kids, as a kid I never even read books that would fit those categories!), but seeing this kind of heavy-loaded listing is depressing and has made me wonder if I should be trying something different. It’s hard to do while continuing that whole “to thine own self be true” stuff, though.


Filed under Conventional, writing

18 responses to “I’m Writing the Wrong Genre

  1. Please don’t change to fit the market – seriously. Maybe it is just DFW Con that is heavy on the young reader groups. I really want to read your CYOA book and I love what you post here. So don’t change your formula!

  2. I have a similar problem in that I write science fiction for adults. Worse I write hard science fiction and graphic novels for an adult audience. Most of the time I am proud of that, but I do get crap from certain family members if I only wrote in a more “popular genre for a younger age group” then I could sell millions and billions of books. I personally think that if I tried to write for a younger audience, I would suck at it. I might come off as pandering or worse patronizing. Part of it is I don’t have kids nor am I really a kid person. Plus I was reading adult fiction since age 10. So I think the questions to ask about any project is 1) why do you want to do this? does the project interest you at all or are you just feeling blue about your current sales and 2) do you understand the market enough to do it well? Or would it be a waste of time –even if it is a hot genre?

  3. Susan May Oke

    You can only write what you love. Anything else wouldn’t be worth reading by the time you’d finished. There’s no point in trying to write to current trends. Write where the juice is, and enjoy yourself.

  4. Katja

    I’m going nuts. Where’s the blue are in the picture?

    • Oops! WordPress was cutting it off. I’ve fixed the picture: the blue is over “science fiction.”

      • Katja

        Hehe, ty. πŸ˜€ Was wondering if I truly just didn’t see it since nobody else mentioned it.

        There’s no column for apocalyptic? Sci-fi is such a wide range of things.

  5. Katja

    Meant to say dystopian…

  6. I’m sticking squarely to option A for the time being, even though I’m convinced that the kind of stuff I like to write will forever be utterly unpublishable. Ho, hum…

  7. blakevaughn

    Och, this is rambly.

    I see it as a kind of a high-gain vs. low-gain investment dichotomy, the difference between being a hunter and a scavenger.

    Culturally, we don’t see much nobility in the scavenger; we like our success stories big (Rowling) and flashy (King), but both survive, so long as the prey runs. (That article you posted about “How Do You Define Success” made that distinction very well.) The outliers that push the margins of style–the hunters, like you and I want to be–are mutant animals trying to eke out a new niche in the food chain. Each of them cultivates a voice toward uniqueness that they hope some (large) segment of the population will find a taste for.

    I’ve heard that when King sold “Carrie”, horror fiction was a pretty thin market, but because there was no comparable competition there, no rock star of the genre at the time (the way Gaiman is a rock star now). King’s FOUR-LETTER, ALL CAPS last name created unity across his works and was built up into a marketing powerhouse. They found a way to sell his name and King kept up his end of the bargain by keeping true to his voice. In this example, finding a niche wasn’t necessarily just about being a unique writer, but finding a presently-untapped market.

    When you’re well-read in the “genre” you love and you feel an ache in your heart for a story that isn’t being told, that’s it. That’s the market that wants to be filled.

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