Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Writing in a Saturated Genre

Welcome to the 2nd edition of Agent Tweets, a weekly post that highlights and responds to
 publication-centric comments from agents and editors, gleaned from Twitter. Here is installment #2.


#3: Sometimes the rule is…that there are no rules.

I've been reading a couple of ms in a genre that I have been emotionally up-to-here with (no, I won't say which one) & they were rather good//This is why we don't like to always talk about themes/genres that we are fatigued w/...b/c we can always be surprised by something awesome

I'm thankful for the publishers who take a chance on the truly wacky proposals I send out & the authors who write them. You know who you are

I love when my intern is all, "I started reading X full manuscript and got completely sucked in! Read it next!”

Why this is hard:  No one likes to be told that their book falls into the "market is saturated with this" category - even if it's true.

Why this is encouraging:  What I love about all three of these tweets is the idea - whether implied or stated - that agents love to find authors who break preconceived notions. Their work is so dynamic that, even if it does revisit old territory, they do it in new and refreshing ways. It turns heads - even with the publishers. 

Bottom line:  This is possibly the most nebulous advice anyone could ever give a writer, but here goes: Stay the course, but keep a pulse on the realities of publishing. In other words, don't abandon your project (unless you just really feel led to), but also stay in tune with what is trending onto - or off - the radar, or what simply isn't trending at all.

Yes, yes....I hear you saying: What the heck is that supposed to mean? Well, the "don't give up but hold the reins loosely" clause can evidence itself in one of several ways:

     (1) Your tale is in old territory, but with a new spin. This is the sort of thing that tweet #1 is referring to, I think. There may be a thousand Happy Panda stories out there, but your Happy Panda is nothing like anyone else's. In fact, by the time the agent picked up your manuscript, she was halfway through before she even realized that a Happy Panda had entered the story. Because you went about it in such an unorthodox way, she fell in love with it anyway, despite "genre burnout."

     (2) Your tale is in old territory, and NEEDS a new spin. All the buzz indicates that Happy Pandas are on their way out. This breaks your heart, because you've really become attached to your Happy Panda and, besides, the story really isn't about pandas anyway. It's about courage. Love. Faith. The absurdity of growing up in a ninja nudist colony. And then you wonder....well, what if the tale wasn't about a Happy Panda? What if it was about Angry Iguanas instead?
     Yes, this will take some reworking. Iguanas don't have fur, for one thing, or big moo-cow eyes. They're cold-blooded, eat totally different things, and probably wouldn't live in a bamboo forest and play with kittens. But...if you did rework the book with iguanas (much as it would pain you to do so), you might even be able to communicate your idea more effectively. Iguanas are more prickly and less lovable, and more likely to offend your relatives at a dinner party. They would raise tension. Up the stakes. Increase conflict. Make the bittersweet ending that much more bittersweet.
     Sound unreasonable? Hold on ~ take a moment to remember that one hard (but encouraging!) truth we reviewed during last week's AT:
Sometimes it takes a while to discover the story you're trying to tell. Sometimes it takes an entire failed book. Sometimes two. That's OK.
     (3) Your tale is cycling out of season...but it will cycle in again. Ever notice (if you're old enough - you high school whippersnappers probably haven't spotted this yet) how certain book series tend to cycle in and out of fashion? Nancy Drew? The Boxcar Children? Agatha Christie? Little House on the Prairie? Heck, even Edgar Rice Burroughs is facing an unprecedented revival  - WITHOUT Tarzan - with the upcoming 2012 movie John Carter.
     The point is that, while your "Happy Panda" genre is on the way out, it may well cycle back within a few years. After all, there will always be another generation who will come along and think Happy Pandas are the coolest thing since iPods and skittles. When that happens, you'll be ready.

     (4) You send your tale out anyway - and are rewarded for your efforts. So the market is saturated with Happy Pandas - so what? You've put too many bleedin' years into this effort to turn back now. So you agonize over that query, manage to focus your summary on the more action-driven points of your tale, and - voila! You get a full manuscript request. You send it in.
    And end up with a scenario like tweets #2 and #3 - a publisher who takes a chance. Or an intern who, while filtering manuscripts for her boss, realizes that your tale really IS about Faith/Love/Courage/Nudist Ninjas --- Happy Pandas be hanged! It is a GOOD book. It's phenomenal. It's just what a burned-out public is looking for, to restore their faith in the world of highly desecrated Happy Panda lore.

     NOTE: I do understand responses #2 and #3 are not only unpopular, but require a long-suffering writer to take the long view in mind - a far longer view, in fact, than many of us are willing to endure. At the same time, if you know the market is saturated - why not conserve your energy and work on developing the next big idea? Who knows. You might be the next trendsetter....and then everyone and their brother will try to copy YOU. :)

I know this is not the sum total of all that can be said regarding this topic.
What did I miss? What are YOUR thoughts on writing for a "burned out" genre?

Missed the first "Agent Tweets" installment? You can read it here.


FYI: I do not name agents and editors quoted in these posts. 
The quotes listed here are indicative of the spectrum, and 
just happen to be the most compellingly worded variations. 


  1. I wish we lived in the kind of world where the oversaturating genre was Happy Panda fiction. ...Though maybe without the nudist ninjas.