Tuesday, April 25, 2017

My book is late to the trend

I recently received a rejection from my dream agent, who after requesting the full manuscript, had only positive things to stay about my writing. She explained that she really wanted to take it on, but as a YA crossover, dystopian set novel, she doesn’t feel confident enough because the market is currently flooded with this genre.

I've received some other positive feedback from agents about my writing, but haven't had any more manuscript requests and I'm wondering where to go from here. I've been told before to never write to the trend, and dystopian/sci-fi is my passion. The agent expressed interest in any other novels I might have in the pipeline, but the one I'm working on now, also happens to be a science-fiction, slightly dystopian piece. Should I wait for the market to change, or switch to small presses and persevere with querying other agents? 

Not writing to trend generally means don't try to write something you think will be popular because today's trends were acquired several years back.

You have a different problem: you like to write what's currently very trendy. And yes, that seems like a good problem to have but it's not.

I'm seeing this with thrillers right now. The market is glutted with terrific writers. Finding what we call "space on the shelf" is increasingly difficult. (It doesn't help that authors who are dead continue to churn out books.)

Your challenge now is to twist the conventions of your category. I have no idea how to do this since I don't read enough dystopian/SF to know the tropes.  This is where your knowledge of the category is essential. If you've read the canon (ie the books that are considered classics of the category) and the books that are selling well, and the books that are winning prizes, you'll be able to see what's NOT there.  And that's what you write.

These are the books that everyone hears about and says "aw damn, why didn't I think of that!" and crawls off to the Tears of Writers Saloon and Synopsis Hall.


Unknown said...

Charlottes' Web is dystopian? Whoa, I think I need my coffee!
As to the post, OP can you modify then cast the novel as Sci-Fi with a twist of dystopian verses the other way round?

Theresa said...

I share your pain, OP. As I'm waiting for my agent's notes on my book proposal, I'm starting to wonder about this saturation issue, too. Of course, she hasn't even brought this up yet, but hamsters must run on their wheels.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Yup, poop-bags.
Years ago, when walking dear little Fluffy the puppy, business stayed where it laid. It was a tip toe existence for everyone walking the same route. Cleaning the bottom of a Niki after a run is not fun. Then, a brilliant shoe scraper invented the poop-bag. The inventor made piles and piles of cash. Different colors, designs, everyone got on the poop-bag wagon. Your puppy’s poop was their bread and butter. ewwww
Walking became safe again, and all was right within the dog walking world. But, with so many bags on the market, it’s not clever and exciting anymore. What’s next?
OP, that’s where you’re at. The biodegradable, reasonably priced and beautifully designed bag in your hand is considered one of many.
Do what the Queen says, fill the niche (and the bag) no one knows exists.

My apologies to all you glazed chocolate donut eaters this morning.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

OP: The Queen has offered you her words of wisdom. Get that old Twist mat out and do your authorly dreaming. (Today, for some reason, the abbreviation OP makes me think of opa! and ouzo.)

Robert Ceres: my thoughts exactly!

2Ns: How surprisingly irreverent of you.

Colin Smith said...

Let's see... already whined/vented about reading all the canon and best sellers before you can write a genre... and, yes, I agree, the danger of not being genre-aware is you run the risk of writing more of the same that's out there.

But here's the dilemma: do you take your genre story in a direction you really don't want to go, but know will sell because no-one has gone that way before? I'd say no, because, as we said yesterday or the day before or sometime recently, the author is the #1 promoter of his/her work. If the author can't gush with genuine passion about the novel, no-one else will. You have to be true to yourself. And if that means churning out same-old tried-and-true, then I can't fault that. Maybe your voice will prove to be the "different" element that sells it? Or perhaps after a few novels, you'll love an idea that will prove to be your "break-out"? Or you'll end up self-publishing and become a hit with people who love the kind of stories you write?

But what do I know? I got another short story rejection yesterday, this time for a story I submitted 11 months ago. So clearly I'm not one to be doling out advice on what makes for successful storytelling... :)

S.P. Bowers said...

Is reverse dystopian a thing? Cause I had this idea....

DLM said...

Robert and Lisa - me three!

2Ns - I feel so drab: I just use the bags I used to get at the store. Have been using reusable bags for my actual shopping for years, but somehow haven't run out of the old plastic ones. (I am convinced that, like tee shirts, they mate and reproduce when nobody's looking.)

S.P. Bowers, how intriguing ...

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I guess I really stepped in it this morning.

Lisa, irreverence was not my aim.
Amusing, while making a point, was.
It's funny. My boss and I have often discussed how WE wish we had invented the poop-bags. They fly off the shelves, it's big money. I thought...well it doesn't matter what I thought because perception is everything.
It's the bag that matters not what's in it.

Janet is right, right, right.
It is with utmost respect that I parallel her suggestion with the success of an item which created a new industry.

Unknown said...

OP, can you give your MC a marginalized voice? That seems to be the hot ticket today.

Colin Smith said...

S.P.: You mean a utopia where people feel oppressed by freedom and justice, so they rebel against the government and set up a savage dictator in its place? :)

Kitty said...

2Ns, I'll never again ask for a doggy bag at a restaurant.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Kitty, hahaha, your name says it all, meow.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Nobody said this publishing thing would be easy, huh? You must persevere.

As for reading the canon, I think this has been a must for myself. I naturally read a great deal of fantasy in my formative years, but the genre has evolved in time. What is classic (Lord of the Rings) might not be canon anymore so there is always more reading to do. In order to make this manageable, I chose two of my favorite contemporaries who are still producing work in fantasy, and read through each of their careers twice. I chose Brandon Sanderson and Robin Hobb, one a master of pace and plot, the other a grand master of character. Both are expert in all these facets, but they each read unique in their style and voice. I learned a lot about what works and what will not work in my own stuff. It does help albeit a touch intimidating.

Also, I can't sleep at all without reading myself to sleep. This has been true since I was 4 years old so this studying of the canon miight be difficult time wise for other folks. So choose a few books and work through them as you can. Our queen's advice reads true to me. Writing in a vacuum is totally fine. Publishing in a vacuum is not and will not work.

OP, you write well so grand that, but publishing is being its fickle self. Keep writing and see what you can do to make your stuff stand out in the crowd.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I find reading outside your usual genres is a great way of discovering fresh takes on old ideas.

Also, consider what NEVER happens in your genre and play around with whatever happens if it did.

Jessica said...

It's like this post was written for me. My WIP is query-ready, but I've been wracked by nerves because I feel like no agent will take a chance on my concept. It is zombie fiction, but even though I feel like it brings something new to the table and is very different than a standard zombie apocalypse story, I've seen agents on twitter say they'll reject it outright without even reading the pages because it has zombies in it. I've sent out exactly one query, and after I received a rejection I haven't sent any more. It's a discouraging thing to face, for sure. I hope things work out for you OP! I definitely know what you're going through.

BJ Muntain said...

A few weeks ago, Janet noted that it seems reading preferences have changed - people are moving away from dystopian to lighter reading, possibly due to the dystopian nature of our current lives.

Which may be hopeful for those of us who write the lighter stuff but haven't been able to get published because the market swung the other way for a while. But which doesn't help you, OP.

If dystopian is your passion and you don't think you could be passionate about anything else, you can do what I did and keep trying to sell what you want to write. The market will probably turn around again. You may need to revise now and then as times change, technology changes (so fast!) and other things happen to make certain parts of your novel less timely.

I remember dystopian was quite popular in 60s/70s/early 80s. The Cold War had people scrambling for stories that showed some hope after a nuclear holocaust. I doubt that, if a nuclear holocaust had occurred, the fiction would continue to be as popular (and not just because there would be fewer readers and books). People read fiction (and sometimes nonfiction) to get out of their lives. Very few people want to read books that highlight the awful parts of their lives. I mentioned a few days ago about my sister who didn't enjoy an otherwise enjoyable book where a character had cancer, because she was dealing with loved ones who were struggling with the disease.

I'm not sure I can offer ways to twist your dystopian. I haven't read the genre since the 80s. I don't even know if your dystopian is science fiction or fantasy (the dystopian I used to read could be either). But here's a start: Note all the ways your current dystopian is different from others being published now. Then see if you can figure out ways to make these differences even more different. If you have to quell some of the more dystopian aspects, you might try that.

One other thought: The dystopian fiction I used to read offered hope of surviving a current threat - the Cold War and nuclear holocaust. Recently, dystopian has often had climatological bases - is there hope after climate change? So you might consider this: What is the biggest threat you see in the world today? Does/Can your dystopian take that into account and show hope for life despite that threat?

I hope my pre-caffeine ramblings offer some help, OP.

2Ns: Nothing wrong with irreverence. We love that from you! And there's nothing wrong with talking about poop. It's a fact of life - especially when you have pets who haven't learned how to use the toilet for something besides a drinking bowl or raised surface to sleep on.

LynnRodz said...

I was thinking more in line with Animal Farm than Charlotte's Web, but that's just me.

Unknown said...

Colin, I think it already quite difficult to extensively restructure/revise a novel in response to an R&R, for which there are no guarantees. Writing to shift genre/category? That sounds even harder; with a much lower probability of success.
But, there are many stories that we could or should write, at least for me. (I’m trying desperately to constrain myself to one.) Among those stories we can pick and choose and shape any way we like. For me, even if it’s not my favorite initial pick, I know that, as I write, I will come to know and love and sometimes hate my characters, and know and love and sometimes hate the actual story as my characters come alive, make mistakes, and thus warp the story, often in ways that I don’t consciously intend. Changing genre or category at the beginning, where category and genre mostly affect setting, should (hopefully) be easier at the start of the writing process.
All that said and getting back to OP , maybe spending some time trying to shift the genre or category of this manuscript could help get into the mindset for the next one. Certainly getting a favorable response from an agent to a full puts you in a better position for book number two then if you hadn’t. So good luck.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

2Ns: I didn't think you had stepped in it. I enjoyed your humor. I did not think you were disrespectful of Janet so much as I appreciated your apology to us for bringing up dog poop so early in the morning.

Colin: You are writing and submitting. And you attend workshops and know how to work with agents. You'll get there.

S.P. and BJ: You have me thinking...would cheerful dystopia be a workable twist?

BJ Muntain said...

Um, I think Janet used Charlotte's Web as an illustration of the power of a new twist on an old subject. Pigs have been around a very long time, but Charlotte saved Wilbur's life by giving him something special in the farmer's eyes. For those who haven't read the classic, her webs spelled out things like 'great pig' (the wording may be somewhat different - it's been years since I read it) and other qualities Wilbur had. Because of this weird occurrence (spider webs talking about a pig?) the farmer spares Wilbur's life.

As for zombies: James Scott Bell wrote a trilogy about a zombie lawyer, and self-published it as K. Bennett. A new twist on an old trope right there - and it looks hilarious. I plan on reading the series someday. But I see the last novel he wrote in the series was in 2012. I may have to ask him why he stopped. Or maybe you zombie writers can ask him. Were the books not selling? Or did he just get busy with other things? He is a very busy man.

Joseph S. said...

I'm just glad my former thriller is now escapist fiction.

Same book, different label.

Lennon Faris said...

"These are the books that everyone hears about and says "aw damn, why didn't I think of that!" and crawls off to the Tears of Writers Saloon and Synopsis Hall."

Janet's writing always cracks me up.

Worst case scenario, OP, if your writing is good, just keep writing and in a few years, your book will probably sell just fine. People like good stories!

Casey Karp said...

2N, are they really such great sellers? Around here, it seems like nobody's ever heard of them. The HOA is in the middle of one of their periodic crusades to get dog owners to clean up after their precious babies. It ain't working.

OP, if the stories you want to tell are all dystopian, then so be it. Keep writing, keep submitting. Either the market will change again--it always does--or, as Colin suggested, you'll decide to self-publish. Either way, you'll have a heck of a catalog to mine.

But yes, if you can add some kind of a twist on the tropes, or a variation that Clever Agent can emphasize in her pitch, it can only help.

Good luck and keep us posted.

CynthiaMc said...

I hated Charlotte's Web and Old Yeller. Traumatized for life. Who the heck thought it was a good idea to slaughter animals in a children's book?

Unknown said...

I have the opposite problem. I try not to use trends, and people are like. Where're the tropes? I need more tropes! It's just not the way I plot stories, but that leaves a hole in the whole catch all one sentence description department.

Kate Higgins said...

2Ns; I wonder if they serve chocolate glazed donuts in colorful bags at the
Tears of Writers Saloon and Synopsis Hall (in Carkoon? )

I will never look at a chocolate glazed donut again the same way again....

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey Casey, yup, bagging your doggies business is big business. We have special containers at the beaches just for your pets last meal. Signs everywhere. I live in a neighborhood with lots of woods so we don't bag. We are careful when we hike though.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Well, now that I have ruined everybody's trip to the bakery, I would like to change the subject, but if I do I don't want my vomment misunderstood.

RosannaM said...

Sometimes it feels like we are all trying to push a boulder uphill. Or trying to keep the plates spinning. This publishing gig requires effort, nimble fingers, luck and the ability to defy gravity (er, I mean odds).

And what's with the dead people publishing? The noise their fingers make on the keyboard must be so annoying to those around them.

And "space on the shelf?" Can't we just build bigger bookstores? Speaking of shelf space, the other day I went to B&N and I looked for Donnaeve's book. They had two copies. I turned them face out. (Sorry other author who forfeited their spot). But it also got me wondering about not just how books are categorized, but the very shelf they end up on. If I am just wandering, I will pick a book that's on a shelf that is around mid-body height, no lower. How does being stuck on a bottom shelf affect sales? And how do you overcome that?

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

I used to read a lot of YA, just about everything that came out. Then I got tired of it. Checking the new YA books in both of my local libraries I saw that most of them had never been taken out, some had been out once or twice but none more than that.

I mentioned it to our librarian and she said the same thing, that she used to read it and got bored with it. And she knows it is not flying out the library door.

So is this the end for those teenager with magic skill saves fantasy world books? They seem like they are all the same. Is YA still selling like crazy and if so, who is buying it? Are teenagers too busy to go to the library or just reading on their phones? Or is there a new trend on the way that will be fun to read?

What does it say about me that my favorite books now start with the discovery of a dead body?

Julie Weathers said...


Far Rider opens with my MC's dead uncle riding up on an equally dead horse.

They say bad news rides a fast horse.
No one said anything about it riding a dead one, and the black destrier my uncle now rode toward me had died two years ago.

Are the opening lines.

I never thought about the book having zombies in it. My culture does a little bit different take on the dead, but technically, some could be considered zombies.

Even when I was querying it, agents were saying they didn't want zombies, but I had one person say, "That's a cool twist on zombies."

I have zombies? Oh, yes, I guess I do.

I don't know what the answer to the OP's problem is. Vampire fiction was dead until sparkly vampires became the rage.

If this is what you love, you have to find a twist that will knock their socks off.

Colin Smith said...

Sharyn: What does it say about me that my favorite books now start with the discovery of a dead body?

It says you've been hanging out here too long... ;)

nightsmusic said...

I neither read nor write in the OP's genre so I have no idea how to put a spin of any kind on something in that vein. I needed to say though that when I was young, I checked out Charlotte's Web from my school library so many times, they finally bought me my own copy. I cried like a baby every time I read Charlotte's death, but it also gave me hope. My family was older and they died off at the rate of two or three a year for several years. Charlotte's Web was a wonderful coping mechanism for a young child.

Sorry, I know, OT.

Colin Smith said...

Sharyn: Have you read any Gary Corby? If not, you'll love the first line of his first novel, THE PERICLES COMMISSION. :)

Casey Karp said...

2Ns, then y'all have a great advertising opportunity here in the SF Bay Area.

Rosanna, I think your best bet if you want to change your shelf placement is to change your name. I mean, sure, if you're already a best-selling author, B&N will do special displays and put your books at a convenient, eye-catching height. But the rest of us just have to recognize that names are a fungible resource.

I'm lucky in having a middle-of-the-alphabet name, so I'll be at waist or chest level if there's only one rank of shelves for my genre (whatever the heck that may be). I'm in trouble, though, if there are two shelves. Ankle height, here I come!

Colin Smith said...

Rosanna & Casey: That depends if your category section covers one bookcase or two--or more. Everhart may be on the bottom shelf of the first case in a large category, and Smith might be on the middle row of the last case. However, if your name is Zimmerman or Zwyzyzylzhon, you're screwed. ;)

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Hi Colin,
I'll look for the Gary Corby but it doesn't look like any of my library sources have it. My book buying budget is thin these days. I shop used on Amazon or use both libraries and the on line option.
I think it's the other way around. I hang out here because I like crime fiction!

Craig F said...

Hold on:

Charlotte's Web introduced boatloads of advertising jerk, secret agent types and conspiracy theorists to subliminal messaging. Tell me what isn't dystopian about that.

That alien spider is also, most definitely, a character from sci-fi.

Every plot line has already been written. Find a way to stand out and make your beta readers just say wow. If you figure that out, tell me how.

BJ Muntain said...

RosannaM: Good question about the lower shelves. I think the way to overcome that is to have your publisher pay extra money to have your book displayed on a nearby table. Of course, your book being on the bottom shelf is contingent with a) your name and b) what other names are publishing in your genre, and how many books they've sold (And, as others have noted, how many shelves the store has devoted to your genre). If you have a Z name, chances are you'll get missed... unless you write science fiction and Roger Zelazny's books have a resurgence in popularity (even though he's dead, it's not completely out of the question.) The M names aren't necessarily safe, either, since I've found my shelf anywhere from eye height to lower, depending on who's popular and who has written more books. At least I'm not far from other popular authors, so people will be looking for their books, no matter where they are, and might find mine. (Yes, as a bit of a hope-booster, I will often look for where my book will be in the book store and place my hand in that exact spot.)

S.P. Bowers said...

No, Colin, I meant where people fight against what they think is an oppressive government only to realize the checks in place are what is keeping the whole community alive. As they remove those laws and government, the people/society sickens and begins to die and they have to fight to put the laws they removed back together. Funny story about how I thought of this.

John Davis Frain said...

Julie W, I don't read your genre, but after reading those opening lines ... I'm reading your genre. Tell the next agent there's already a line forming. We just need to know the pub date.

Colin, I got a short story rejection yesterday too. Ruined vacation for about 2-1/2 minutes. Told one of my sons who said "Whaaaaaat? We'll get there." I'll say the same to you. Persistence. We'll get there.

ACFranklin said...

Huzzah! My quest/travelling fantasy with standard charactr development arc may still be safe---it's all from the perspective of the snarky, realist mentor character!

ACFranklin said...

*character ... accursed typos....

RosannaM said...

Thanks all for weighing in on shelf position. I have even seen genres switched mid shelf, so there is no guarantee of great placement, unfortunately.

BJ I have never done that (placed my hand where my book would be shelved) but I think that I will have to soon. What a great visual to hold onto and summon up when things seem daunting.

Joseph S. said...


I didn't think of the dead uncle in "Far Rider" as a Zombie (with your neighborhood friendly zombie horse) but more like a ghost(s) in corporeal form or someone lingering in that limbo zone between life and death.

I'm so naive.

I did love that start.

Joseph S. said...

Colin, That first sentence in THE PERICLES COMMISSION got to the point right off the bat, didn't it.

I have on my wish list to buy one of Gary Corby's books when I catch up on the "must reads" already on my bookshelves. My current choice is The Singer From Memphis just because of the title unless you or someone else suggests a better one of his to start with.

Colin Smith said...

Joseph: I would start at the beginning--but that's me. Even if it's a series of stand-alone stories with repeating characters (like Corby's), I like to follow character progression from book to book, and be able to get the inevitable back-references in each subsequent story. Seriously, though, they're all great books in their own ways, so whichever you choose, you can't go wrong. :)

Here's the reading order:
DEATH ON DELOS (coming July 11, available for pre-order)

Claire Bobrow said...

I think Janet needs a spiderweb in the top corner of her blog that says SOME AGENT!

Steve Stubbs said...

If the agent cannot sell your book, she is not your dream agent, or not for that property, anyway. She may be a dream agent for another book. If she declined to take it on in the belief she cannot sell it, she did you a favor.

If she knew what the book was and requested it, then declined after seeing it, there may be a problem other than a flooded market. This may not be the case, but you might want to seek an opinion. You have a green light to submit more material. It might be worthwhile to be sure there is not a problem before sending anything else.

Agents like to say it is "highly subjective" when something does or does not work. But the stuff I've seen that does not work does not work for highly non-subjective reasons that are easily fixed.

One fellow read me something he wrote in which every fourth sentence was, "I don't want to bore you." I appreciated the courtesy, but after hearing "I don't want to bore you" four times, I was about ready to scream. Some may think this "highly subjective," but I urged him for crying out loud to take that out. I do not recommend apologizing for boring people periodically in your story.

Another problem that is not that subjective is zero tension. I read a crime novel a good friend wrote in which there is no crime, or not until about two pages before the end. I think I can objectively assert that a crime novel should contain a crime. Or some tension, or something. This lady is a very talented writer, BTW. A crime novel without a crime is like a ham sandwich with no ham and no bread or mustard and no pickles or lettuce.

More recently I read part of a work by another very talented writer that contains great descriptive writing but no tension, no hook, no hint of a plot, and tell but not show. As an editor once said to me, "No show, no dough." Meaning if you want to get paid, you have to show and not tell. Yes indeed, life is a bummer.

These are all technical issues that have nothing to do with talent. It disheartens me that writers are left in the dark when these things are so easy to pinpoint.

I will stop there. I don't want to bore you.

Julie Weathers said...


Her uncle isn't yet. The spirit walkers are. That's why they can walk between the realms of the living and dead. They've been dead and have been brought back to life. The ceremony they try to perform in the catacombs was to reunite his spirit with his body, but he had bound his spirit in another place so he could tell someone what happened. So, the ceremony just shreds his spirit.

Anyway, it's an odd type of zombie. They aren't really zombie-like unless the body has been left too long before the spirit is reunited. Then it gets interesting.

Donnaeve said...

Rosanna, That made me giggle. Thank you. I've done the same thing. I've also MOVED my little book into the Best Sellers area. ;)

Looking for what's not been done with regard to writing is key. Of course, there's great voice too. I'll read just about anything if the voice of the MC or characters in general stand out.

Well. Maybe not EVERY thing, but I do love to read a book with a strong voice. Currently I'm reading I WILL SEND RAIN by Rae Meadows. It's written in 3rd person, but all I can say is wow, she's done a great job with all the characters. I'm so there with them.

Donnaeve said...

And I'm also reading my comment and thinking I should've taken the time to edit. Oh well. Basement flooded today, so it's been THAT kind of day.

Unknown said...

Donnaeve, what!? You mean after you publish a book, life still goes on? Real life, like with flooding basements and stuff? No one told me that! ;)

Chris V said...

OP, I'm sorry to hear about your plight. I'm in a very similar boat in that I love writing dystopian-style stories (heck, a small press published my YA dystopian novel just a couple years ago). I'm also currently working on a sci-fi book with a "slightly" dystopian bent, and this post makes me wonder if that will also make that book difficult to market/get an agent with. If you don't mind my asking, what makes your latest story "slightly" dystopian? My book at its heart is a sci-fi time travel tale with a twist about 5/6 (so toward the end) that makes it straight-up dystopian. Now I am scared.

Tanis Mallow said...

The flip side of this is when you write a story that is "NOT there" and agents say your writing is terrific but they have no idea how to market something so different. Sigh.

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