Don’t Follow The Crowd
A few weeks ago, a friend who is a social media editor, posted on Facebook that vampire stories are no longer popular — ghost stories are the new vogue. Great, you think. I’ll write a ghost story that’ll sell a million copies. By the time your ghost story hits the shelves, the fad will have exhausted itself and you’ll have missed the boat.
Today’s fiction market is crowded and competitive. To stand out, you need to have a fresh, bold, or radical voice — and that doesn’t come from following the crowd. It comes from being a pioneer and being willing to risk failure.
So how can you look at genre through a new lens?
3 Ways To Build Your Own Genre
Dust off your reading history. List all the genres you loved in the past. Did you love family sagas? Or college romance novels? Maybe sci-fi? Why did you stop reading them? How can you make them relevant for today’s reader? Perhaps those college romances could deal with sex more honestly or radically. Maybe that family saga can be told from a teenager’s viewpoint as a Young Adult novel.
Look behind the headlines. Topical news stories can give you great ideas for genre. What’s going on in the world around you? What would a spy novel look like today — would it be less James Bond and more Julian Assange? Could a fantasy classic like Lord of the Rings be about a group of characters trapped inside a dangerous virtual reality game?
Draw ‘em from a hat. Why not set yourself a challenge? Write the names of the last 12 novels you’ve read on slips of paper and drop them in a hat or box. Draw three at random and write a short 50-word synopsis for a novel that combines all three. Then draw three more … So maybe you’ll end up with Raymond Chandler’s PI Marlowe taking on the role of Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby with Daisy as the murder victim — only she’s the blond teenage boy in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and oh, just for fun, set the book in Berlin during World War 2. Would that reinvent the lurid PI novel with a strong literary thread? Who knows? You won’t know until you try.
The other route
There’s a saying: If you can’t be first, be better. I guess that’s another way of looking at it. Let’s go back to that ghost story. Say you decide to write it and make it better than any of the other titles out there — well, a good story will always get you a readership. Cream, as another well-worn saying goes, always rises to the top.