Genre “Experience”

Sooner or later, everyone in the biz is going to hear it. “But you’ve never done [genre/topic] before!”

For some reason, audiences get this ludicrous idea that writers, musicians and yeah, even artists, should “stay in their lane” regarding what they produce. I can’t say why this is the pervading wisdom, but being asked these questions feels like a job interview against (not with) an obstinate hiring manager.

I too have experienced turbulence when I made the transition from contemporary horror to low-fantasy. And again while introducing those familiar with my tie-in fiction to my original work. I’m not the only one. Other franchise writers have been miffed when their debut homebrew fails to make a splash, despite being published traditionally. Friend Manuel has faced similar problems as a graphic designer, for no other reason than never having worked with a particular product before.

As if new folks can’t or shouldn’t break into the field in question.

To be the devil’s advocate, sure. Maybe there has been undesired media as a result of cross pollination. There might be something you cannot see, something that holds your manuscript back. Then again, if people couldn’t change, we’d never appreciate these unexpected gems…

The advocated solution, at least for writers, is the use of pen names or some other form of DBA (doing business as) so as not to “tarnish the brand.” Yet if directors did the same thing, would studios have suggested James Cameron use a pseudonym for Titanic? Just because “he had never done anything like it” before?

Now there’s a thought…

Honestly, I’m more concerned about the creator who just wants to do one particular category and nothing else. There’s a degree of… balance or well-roundedness that can feel absent. As if their work wipes away the very human elements that appeal to the audience. There’s no such thing as “pure genres” and there never was. Even more niche tastes like science fiction and fantasy have sub-genres, and borrow heavily from history, psychology, sociology and so forth.

Genre is a fuzzy grey concept of what audiences want, and many a reader have exceptions to their usual preferences.

Still, we’re all going to run into this obstacle sooner or later. Yet there are solutions available to bridge the gap between what we do and what we want to do. Should you run into these frustrations, I would recommend the following path.

First, take a step back and consider your audience. Spend some time on associated Reddit and Facebook groups and you’ll realize that fans of genres can and will be notorious picky. Doing so helps humble your expectations. You cannot please everyone, even among the genre advocates. So take that pipe dream out of your head.

Second. Keep researching. Keep writing. Keep your head up, both psychologically and for opportunities.

Third, avoid temptation to self-publish. There are occasional successes, yet the odds are comparable to the lottery. For every one author who rises from obscurity, there are hundreds if not thousands who devolve into being human book-bots or languish out of frustration at their lack of salesmanship. If you want to earn the respect of those fans, you have to wow the tired editors who have seen it all before.

Four. Stay away from houses who offer token payments or vague promises of only royalties. Ten years ago, I hoped some of these would rise from modesty to be the next big thing. Instead, most of them shut down, and those who remain never allow their rates to budge. New and daring publishers usually start when editors from the big five split to do their own imprints. And they’ll usually pay market rates.

Finally, five. Don’t be comfortable. Don’t be content. Read your old work and compare it to the new. If you’re jumping from science fiction to fantasy, look at the language and ask yourself if you’re really changing your prose. Think about your anachronisms, your word choices. If you’re getting rejected, it’s for a reason. Change what you’re doing, because your current endeavors are of little avail.

Fact is, if you can impress the editor who is bored senseless of the same drek, you’ve accomplished something huge. You’ve climbed above dozens if not hundreds of other writers, standing apart in someway that makes your work memorable. If guys like Tor, Orbitz or Gollancz are willing to say, “I will pay $300 to $500 for this story,” you can safely bet that paycheck that genre fans will at least give you a shot.

When you switch genres, you’re starting over. You’ll have to jump through hoops all over again. Yet defeat, rejection and loss just make victory all the more sweet.

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