Dawn Montgomery

Don’t Chase the Genre

In #amwriting, Write Talk on April 8, 2012 at 6:51 am

Well hello reading and writing public! It’s been a minute. As the day dawns on a new quarter, we at Casa de Montgomery want to welcome you to a new level of insanity. Tina Donahue’s contest was a phenomenal success. Thank you all for commenting. So many great and supportive readers out there. Tina resonates with her readers in a way that draws the normal lurkers out of the woodwork. Her books and characters are engaging. Her style is unique. And I love her humor.

As writers, it becomes so easy to fall into the pit of despair (Princess Bride reference. Betcha didn’t see THAT one coming!). If we surround ourselves with writers and other writerly types, how can we reach out to those who want to read our works? By isolating yourself away from your reading public, you’re setting up the board for a dangerous game of clique lit. What is that, you ask?

While some would liken clique lit to the forest for the trees metaphor, I prefer the Emperor’s New Clothes as a reference. Vain Emperor is swindled by two “tailors.” These tailors had no references, no proof of their skills, just a haughty arrogance that the Emperor took as authority. The tailors told the Emperor that the clothes were enchanted so that only those who were best suited for their positions of authority and of intelligence would be able to see its magnificence. So, of course, everyone close to the Emperor saw the beautiful (invisible…aka NON EXISTENT) clothing. The rumor spread far and wide that only the most loyal of subjects and diligent workers could see his clothes. The Emperor was so impressed with the apparently divine craftsmanship that he wanted to show them to his subjects. After all…if his staff could see it and they loved it…there’s no way he was going to tell them he was unfit to be Emperor because HE didn’t see them. So he goes out in a parade, and everyone sees him in the buff, strolling along with all the dignity and haughtiness of his office. When suddenly, from out in the crowd, a child points to the Emperor saying that the Emperor has no clothes…

So where does this jive with my point? It’s simple. Too often I see authors convinced to jump on the genre train. They get together, discuss trends, chat with “genre experts” and come up with the perfect formula for the next best seller. So everyone starts writing that new genre in a mad rush. Soon the market is flooded with that new genre.

Two examples that come to mind are zombie romances and steampunk. Editors were pushing for zombie apocalyptic romances about four years ago. That was going to be the next big thing. Unfortunately for the authors who wrote those romances (I’ve chatted with five or six), readership wasn’t as open to zombies as the “market experts” had believed.

Don’t get me wrong…I adore zombie movies and some of those books were fantastic! I also know that I’m a minority in the romance readership.

The market is currently flooding with steampunk romances. I love steampunk. Adore it. I’m fascinated with the sounds, the mechanisms, the incredible clothes… I am, however, an author whose fingers itch to write it. Too often I’ve overheard (or read) readers ask…what is this steampunk thing? Where are my (insert favorite author’s name here) sexy contemporary romances about military heroes? Quite a few of the vocal readers have decided to skip the genre completely.

Now…does this mean you shouldn’t branch out? No. Explore your writing creativity. Travel the worlds of your imagination. Write. Keep WRITING! But take some sage advice while you’re at it…don’t trust that your editor has her fingers to the pulse point of readership. She may ask for a zombie romance, and you’re thrilled to give it to her, but don’t be surprised if a genre doesn’t do well. Expect that you’ll have good ideas and bad ones. Good books and bad books. Terrible story ideas and fantastic ones. Don’t let the “next big” anything push you to rely on one book.

So…why am I going on and on about this? Listening to industry professionals is very important, but don’t forget who butters your bread. Your readers are just as important (I believe they are far more important).

Real life stories for you guys. My husband, SuperChef (of Cooking by the Seat of Our Pants fame) had built the first four years of his site based on other people’s suggestions. They were good suggestions, mind you, but the focus was in the wrong place. Post every day and you’ll get more readers, more comments, more, more, more. The food trends would be the next big thing and drive everyone to seek your blog. It went on and on. SuperChef surrounded himself with industry professionals, and while they got his creative side going, he didn’t temper it with the everyday cook. It wasn’t until he started posting simple, down-home recipes that his blog exploded with traffic.

The end of 2011 tossed my world upside down. I was facing sudden medical retirement, a forced move, and the uncertainty of a new future. After all, I’d been an Airman for most of my adult life. In the midst of all this, I needed an escape. A fun story that I, as both a reader and an author, would want to read. One that made fun of itself and me. The kingdom of Werthing Ton Fallorian (or WTF 😉 ) was born. It was completely tongue-in-cheek and in one of my favorite genres of all time to read: fantasy. I was sure it was going to be a complete failure.

Several industry professionals (genre chasers, themselves) told me it would never work. Close supporters of my work told me not to expect anyone to be interested. Through it all, however, Kim Knox was there, pushing me to try. Dakota Cassidy and Lacey Savage were laughing at my blurb quirks and giggling over the title (No Dragon, No Problem). Those naysayers, however, grew louder and louder until I stopped talking about it all together.

I was worried. Really worried.

But while I wrote this little story, I was laughing. It was releasing some of my pent up tension and worries. I could escape into it without effort and enjoy reading the story as much as I enjoyed writing it. When it was finished, I polished it up and submitted it, expecting a sound rejection. What I didn’t expect was for my editor to open up the document and read the first two paragraphs (like she always does) and get sucked in to reading the entire thing. Nor did I expect an email twelve hours after submission telling me she wanted it and the series. Or the huge readership response from advanced reader copies and first chapter excerpts. Suddenly this little story is becoming the most anticipated jewel in my career to date. I’m in complete shock about it.

So there you have it…industry professionals are important, necessary even, but they don’t know everything. So take the “next big thing” and “exploding new genre” statements with a grain of salt. Don’t hang all your hopes on it, because you might just be surprised by what the readers REALLY want to read.

Keep Writing!

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