If you want to write a great book, write Young Adult. And particularly fantasy. Even more particular paranormal, but not just paranormal; Paranormal Romance. (Is there any other kind?) But let’s go even further. Edgy, dark, urban, paranormal vampire YA romance. If you write this, your book will sell.

Edgy, Dark, Urban, Paranormal Vampire YA Romance* is what every agent and editor in the industry is hoping will grace their slush piles. It says so right on their submission guidelines. All you need to do is place all the components in a can, shake ’em up and voila. You have a winner.

I know, I’m laying on my sarcasm pretty thick. I’ll straighten out, I promise.

Genre is not what makes a great book.

Age group is not what makes a great book.

Wizards, Werewolves, Vampires, Zombies, or Angels do not make a great book.

In my (humble and unprofessional) opinion, there is an undue focus in the writing community on genre, age group, and trends. I believe this is because the publishing industry has come to the forefront of the writer’s eye. Agents and Editors are writing blogs, speaking at conferences and sharing more and more what it’s like on the other side of publishing. They’re telling us how it “works.” In many ways, this is hugely helpful. We’re no longer floundering in the dark wondering what it is they’re hoping to find in the slush pile, or what mistakes they see over and over. But in some ways I think it places an unintended pressure on writers to write certain things and for certain age groups.

All agents and editors have specific things they are looking for. They share what they enjoy and can get very specific such as “I’m looking for dark, edgy urban fantasy,” or “I prefer character driven middle grades with a strong voice.” The guidelines are to help you place your book in the right hands, not to tell you what to write. They specialize in the categories they list. They enjoy those kinds of books and know how to sell them. They want certain types of books to be submitted to them, but what they really want is a great book they can sell.

But when all the writers gather around these things and try to break down the magic formula of the “great book” or jump on the trend-wagon we get a lot of rehashed leftovers of yesterday’s beef. It’s a cop-out and the leftovers just aren’t as good after being mashed up and microwaved. Rubbery. Furthermore, grasping for all the things that have been done and sold well causes a very bad six-letter-word to appear: Cliche. The sin of all writing sins.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t look to other writers to learn how to write. I’m a firm believer that reading and studying great books is key to learning your craft. Read, read, read and figure out what principles and techniques the author used to make you cry, or laugh, or sit on the edge of your seat turning the pages as fast as you could. What I am saying is that we should not look to other writers, or editors, or agents, or the market, or your best friend who really thinks headless horsemen are the next hot thing, to tell you what to write. There is a huge difference.

Yes, it’s taking risks, but I’ve never read a great book that didn’t take any.

So my firm belief is this. Let the agents and editors and marketing team do their job and you do yours. Learn your craft, pull ideas from your own head and write a great book, or article, or whatever it is you write. Chances are there’s a category for it. If it’s selling hot right now, lucky you. And if there isn’t, the marketing team will make up a new one, like New Adult. The publishing market is ever evolving, but principles of great writing and storytelling (principles, mind you, not rules) have basically remained the same over the centuries.

As Rachelle Gardner said so well on her blog “The book’s the thing.”

*In no way am I bashing on Edgy, Dark, Urban, Paranormal Vampire YA Romance. I really like it.


3 comments

  1. So well put, Liesl. Sometimes I wish the things I like to write (YA fantasy and sci-fi) weren’t so in right now, because then I just look like a tagalong:)

    And I’m totally hoping that new adult genre catches on. The manuscript I’ve been querying since last summer features a 19-year-old MC. I’ve been marketing it as YA, but several of my manuscript rejections have come simply because it wasn’t YA enough. And so I chug along…

  2. But wherein will you catch the conscience of the king? I still don’t know (or haven’t paid attention to) what kind of book you are writing. What’s your AGE group? or your canned sub-genre?

    • Liesl

    • January 19, 2010

    • 12:24 am

    Michelle I’m in the process of a follow-up post and all will be revealed. In my profile I state that my current novel is YA. Ironic, I know. It gets better…

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