Can Genres Die?

24 Apr

“Why are you writing a vampire/dystopian/princess novel? That won’t sell today! It’s been overdone. It’s dead.”

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably participated in a conversation similar to the one above. Trends have a lot to do with the publishing industry. If you’re lucky enough to have something written and ready to go as the trend is escalating, chances are you’ll have an easier time getting published than if you were pitching a genre that previously trended. Why? Because business has a lot to do with timing, and writing is a business. When a topic is hot, similar books will follow. And after the market is flooded with said genre, it’ll be harder to get that chance again. That is an inevitable fact.

But do genres die?

Some would say yes. Some would SCREAM yes. But I would disagree. Granted, will it be harder to get your book published if it follows an old trend, such as vampires or dystopia? Absolutely. But if your book is truly unique—if it stands out from what was previous done—your writing can rise to the top, whether or not the genre is “dead.”

Take RoseBlood by A.G. Howard for example. It was published this year, and it more or less had vampires in it. (I don’t want to mention specifics, because spoilers…but check it out.) Despite following a lot of tropes (new girl goes to a new school where paranormal, romantic interest waits…because fate), the book stood out, because it twisted those tropes into something new. Instead of blood-sucking nocturnal Draculas, readers met…well, again, you probably have to read it for yourself. But it was unique.

Not that I have anything against blood-sucking nocturnal Dracula vampires…I actually might miss them.

Genres work a lot like tropes. Some readers will pick them up solely because that’s what they love. They will read those stories over and over and over again, and they will never tire of them. For instance, I will always love a good dystopian book. But if you shove me in an arena with a braided archer who wants to take down the government…I mean, come on. There are a million ways a society could be dystopian and a million ways a government can fall. It’s blatant repetition that causes readers and publishers alike to flinch away and claim something is “dead.” But it’s not dead. It’s just…boring. And it’s boring, because it’s predictable.

If you’re a writer and wondering how you can surpass your “dead” genre, consider what is unique about your work and amplify the hell out of it. Whether that’s your voice, viewpoint, twists, or expertise, pinpoint why this story stands out. (And if you can’t, reevaluate your work.) This is why reading the genre you’re writing in is so important. By doing that, you will know what is overdone, and you will be able to avoid it (or, at least, make your version stand out). And never stop writing just because something is “dead.” If writers made decisions based on that, writers would never write anything, because—let’s be real—everything’s been done to an extent. Don’t let trends or rumors or “dead ends” stop you. Write what you want to write, trends be damned. Your voice will thrive, and your stories will thank you for it.

I’m not going to lie though. If you wrote a novel about a vampire princess surviving in a dystopian world, I would die to read it.

~SAT

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25 Responses to “Can Genres Die?”

  1. Charles Yallowitz April 24, 2017 at 3:55 am #

    Trying to think of any dead genres, but I guess the closest situation is hibernation. It’s harder in the days of indie authors because you have people writing in every genre whether it sells great or not. So there’s always a blip of a pulse.

    What is the trendy genre now?

    • Shannon A Thompson April 24, 2017 at 5:19 am #

      Right??? I love indie authors! I would say fairytale retellings are still the “in” thing. And historical fantasy. Some epic fantasy, too.
      ~SAT

      • Charles Yallowitz April 24, 2017 at 6:17 am #

        Forgot about fairy tale retellings. Those never seem to go away. It’s interesting how many of the ‘in’ things seem stem more from big movies (Disney) and TV (Game of Thrones) instead of the books. For example, I’ve noticed many people still want their fantasy dark and political like GoT. So, the themes within the genre seem to be solid trends as well.

      • Shannon A Thompson April 24, 2017 at 1:10 pm #

        Yeah, they’re not done yet. I don’t mind, as long as they’re unique, but I tend to lean toward other types of books. And, yes! I feel like many books follow movie/TV trends. But it’s kind of funny because a lot of movie/trends follow old books. It’s almost like a 5-to-10-year cycle. A book comes out. 10 years later it’s a TV show. And then more books like it come out again. If I use The 100 (from my post a few weeks ago), those books released in 2013. Now that the TV show is popular, apocalyptic is back on a ton of publiser’s/agent’s wish lists. TV/Movies & books definitely feed one another.
        ~SAT

      • Charles Yallowitz April 24, 2017 at 1:25 pm #

        I’ll admit to being worried about the fairy tail retelling, but only because I just read Disney is doing 19 live-action versions of their older movies. It’s like they find a trend and piledrive it into the ground.

        Didn’t realize that about the apocalyptic books. It seems like TV/Movie is the goal for a lot of authors too. I know it’s crossed my mind several times.

      • Shannon A Thompson April 24, 2017 at 1:32 pm #

        Yeah, I’m generally not the biggest fan of them. Though, I have exceptions. I LOVED The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, for instance. But it’s sci-fi and beautiful and strange and wonderful. The fairytale, though obviously influencing the story, didn’t have *that* much to do with it in the end. I would much rather read a fairytale retelling from a different culture (like a Chinese or Korean myth) than the ones I’ve seen over and over again, like Cinderella or Snow White. One of my favorite podcasts, Myths & Legends, covers myths from all around the world, and I’m always DYING to listen to the other cultures…and tend to skip over the classics, because, well, I know those. It’s not nearly as fun.
        And YES. Maybe TV/Movies and books feed off one another, because that is such a goal for so many people. Not sure it’s one of mine. I think it *feels* like it would be fun, but adaptations often seem to do more harm than good. I think about what happened to Cassandra Clare all the time. That would be a nightmare.
        ~SAT

      • Charles Yallowitz April 24, 2017 at 1:45 pm #

        Haven’t read Lunar Chronicles, but I liked a new take on Alice. It was a trilogy that started with the Looking Glass War. Had a nice take on all of the characters and a fun magic system that revolved around the power of your imagination. I’m with you on the fairy tales from other cultures. There’s so many that it’s a shame they haven’t been touched on that often.

        I’m torn because my books could transfer fairly easily. The present tense style and my love of action scenes would fit in well, but I know there’s a big risk. You could end up getting two different audiences. That’s if it’s successful. A failed adaptation seems to be shrugged off by all involved, expect for the author. We’re still connected to the series, which might have other books to go. I keep thinking about Christopher Paolini and Eragon. He was big and then the movie was a bomb. Now he doesn’t come up in conversation.

      • Shannon A Thompson April 24, 2017 at 1:52 pm #

        Exactly! Not to mention that unknown myths can also be risky, because people aren’t familiar with them. A lot of readers think they want something new, but a new magic system can be hard to learn. I keep thinking about how Irish myths have never made it into YA retellings, and a lot of that has to do with how obscure it is. You’d think obscure would be good, because there’s a lot of wiggle room, but that wiggle room is what causes a lot of readers to flinch away. They want to be grounded in something before they even start. I’m not that way. I actually don’t mind being confused at all, as long as it makes sense in the end. And yes! I think authors without movie adaptations look at them with stars in their eyes without considering how awful it could be. I think it’s getting better though. Like Tahereh Mafi has a ton of say in her TV show adaptation that just got signed. Seeing authors getting more and more say is a great sign, but we still have a longgggg way to go.
        ~SAT

      • Charles Yallowitz April 24, 2017 at 2:14 pm #

        Tell me about it on the magic system. I still get people telling me how things should work because Gandalf or Harry Potter did things a certain way. I’m surprised Irish myths never got into the retellings. It’s a popular culture and people love the accent.

        Sounds like a lot of readers/viewers don’t enjoy taking a risk. That’s a shame. Risks are the only way to get new franchises going.

  2. Davide Mana April 24, 2017 at 5:20 am #

    More than die, genres can get stale. Usually the appearance of a spoof of the genre signals that the genre has exceeded its expiration date, has lost its punch.
    But even a stale genre can be revived – think about how Italian westerns gave a new life to a quintessentially American genre that was, at the time, in a rut.
    Basically, originality never gets stale – which includes doing original stuff with done-to-death ideas.

    • Shannon A Thompson April 24, 2017 at 1:19 pm #

      Yes! Great example! Originality never gets stale. Love it.
      Thank you for reading and commenting.
      ~SAT

  3. Paul Bowler April 24, 2017 at 8:35 am #

    I don’t think genres ever truly die, but I think there is a case of sequel / reboot fatigue in some instances – bit in book, film, TV, or even comic books. I think indie authors are braver in that respect, as they always seem to try and do something different and new, even if its sequel ect.

    • Shannon A Thompson April 24, 2017 at 1:20 pm #

      I love indie authors! I have found some of my favorite books in the indie industry that couldn’t get a traditional deal because the genre was “dead” by the time they applied. I’m so happy they still published their work instead of shelving it.
      ~SAT

      • Paul Bowler April 24, 2017 at 3:14 pm #

        Agreed. Some of the most inventive and exciting book I’ve read have been form indie authors.

  4. rmcalzada April 24, 2017 at 9:43 am #

    I can completely see how genres burn out and fall into a stasis as the next big thing starts to trend. Also, I love your point about amplifying our unique selling proposition; in this day and age, we all know that there is some unique spark within our work that will make it stand out among the hundreds of other new books in our respesctive genres. We just have to recognize it and tap into it as much as possible.

    • Shannon A Thompson April 24, 2017 at 1:21 pm #

      Yes! It might be difficult to see what the unique aspect is at first (because writers are so close to their work), but every book has some sort of spark that sets it apart from the rest. It’s a writer’s job to turn that spark into a flame (or raging inferno). 🙂
      ~SAT

  5. The Animation Commendation April 24, 2017 at 10:11 am #

    Do you have any posts on how to find a publisher or what to expect from a publisher or anything like that?

    • Shannon A Thompson April 24, 2017 at 1:25 pm #

      As of right now, I only have a post about how to get a literary agent.
      https://shannonathompson.com/2016/07/06/ww-how-to-get-a-literary-agent/
      That being said, there are other routes – like going straight to a publisher. (I have a publisher without having an agent, for instance.) The main rule is that money should always flow to the author. If a publisher or agent expects you to pay for any part of your publishing, they’re probably not legit. (I’m not talking about marketing, by the way. Marketing falls a lot on the author, no matter what type of publisher you get. But anything else, like printing or editing or your cover art should be covered by your publisher.) There are lists of publishers and agents on QueryTracker. I would start there. Just starting reading around, follow authors at certain prints, understand their submission guidelines, etc.
      I hope that helps! (If I write a blog post on this later, I’ll be sure to let you know.)
      ~SAT

  6. Melanies Muses (@MelaniesMuses) April 24, 2017 at 10:31 am #

    I am a firm believer that a good book is just that – a good book! For me, no matter HOW many vampire novels I read – you come up with a good vampire story- even with the same rules / ideas I have read before – if it is good I will read it. My husband once joked that I must have read all the vampire books out there by now …. but that is the great thing… people are always writing. Whilst trends do come and go – a good book will always be a good book!

    • Shannon A Thompson April 24, 2017 at 1:28 pm #

      Very true! A good book is ALWAYS a good book. And thank you for sharing an example of reading the same type of story (vampire) over and over again, because you love vampires. I think writers often forget that there are voracious readers for all genres out there. Just write the book that you want to. Those readers will find you.
      ~SAT

  7. Elise (The Book Forums) April 24, 2017 at 1:45 pm #

    I totally agree! One can tire of a genre but a unique story set in that genre will always stand out and be captivating! I was recently thinking about a similar topic to this because I was plotting out a story that I found sounded similar to another book I had read. I was discouraged at first but I began thinking what I could do different and better than said book to make my story stand out and stand on its own.

    • Shannon A Thompson April 24, 2017 at 1:53 pm #

      Yes! That’s great that you recognized that, took a step back, and considered your options. That shows a lot of courage and honesty! I’m always telling my clients (as an editor) not to worry about writing something similar as long as they take that step. Every person’s voice is unique. Every story is unique. It’s about amplifying that. 🙂
      ~SAT

  8. debyfredericks April 24, 2017 at 9:01 pm #

    I think that some genres crest like a wave, and some keep going. It takes time to tell which is which. So I’m recalling that Military SF and Cyberpunk both made big splashes during the 1980s. Military SF became a fixture of the field and we still have exciting work in that field. Cyberpunk, perhaps, was more of its moment in the world and it faded as political times changed. In a similar way, Urban Fantasy has really lasted and become a permanent category, but Steampunk is still blossoming. Time will tell if Steampunk will last or fade away.

    As to repetition, I think writers are inspired by things we read and see on screens of various sizes. So if Steampunk keeps being read, it will keep being written, too.

  9. lonelyboy1977 April 25, 2017 at 8:45 am #

    As you basically pointed out, genres do not die, they just get done to death once they reach a certain level of popularity. When that happens it’s only natural to become bored with books in that genre.

    This eventually happened for me in regards to urban fantasy. A decade ago I used to read any and every UF book I could get, but now I’m a lot more choosy about who and what I’ll read. Kim Harrison is pretty much the only UF author who I will read without hesitation; she’s head and shoulders the best writer in the genre IMHO.

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