Write in a Genre or not?
At a writer’s conference this spring, I met a science fiction writer. With his bushy hair, thick glasses and flowing beard, he certainly looked the part of what I would imagine a science fiction writer. He was committed to his particular genre of fiction yet at a Christian had written a number of science fiction manuscripts and was trying to find a home for them. After I completed my stint on an editor’s panel, he was one of the first people to engage me in a conversation. Then he followed it up with one of my one-on-one sessions with various participants. Each time, I tried to gently tell him about the limitations within the Christian fiction market. Every now and then you can find one of these types of books but it’s admittedly rare. This tenacious author even followed up after the conference and sent me his manuscript. If you read these entries very often, you know I dislike sending rejection notices—but I sent one to this author. Since January, I’ve received and logged over 300 queries, proposals and manuscripts for few possible spots. I didn’t see any room on the list for a Christian science fiction book.
A recent issue of Publisher’s Weekly featured a story called A Reality Check for Fantasy. The opening paragraph from Susan Corbett raises an interesting question for fantasy writers, “Magicians-in-training, genies-in-exile, apprentice wizards, belligerent fairies, plucky orphans, kind dragons, kind orphaned dragons—a reader cant enter the children's department of a bookstore these days without tripping on a wand or falling into a portal. Has the saturation point been reached?” There is interesting information in this article about fantasy and whether there is too much of it or not. I concluded from reading the article that it has not reached the saturation point but publishers and customers are more selective. It’s what you face if you are writing for the fantasy genre.
You’d be shocked how often at a writers conference various participants pitch a project to me saying their book will be the “next Harry Potter.” When editors hear such a pitch you want to roll your eyes around and say, “Right.” Instead, we sweetly smile and say, “Interesting. Let’s have a look.” Why? Because that eager writer is sitting right across the table from you and you want to be encouraging and not crush their dreams. Maybe they have written the next Harry Potter type of book. I will tell you on the Christian fiction landscape, it’s rare to find much in this area. In recent years, it has opened up a bit—but only a tiny bit.
If you are writing a particular type of genre fiction (romance, horror, suspense, thriller, Gothic, fantasy, science fiction, historical, or any other genre), here’s some ideas for you. First, make sure you are reading in this genre. It happens far too often when I talk with writers that a particular story has sprung into their mind and heart and fingers—yet they don’t read in the genre. It makes the editor question if you understand the intricate workings of the genre. It’s not the type of impression that you want to make on the editor.
Next, look for a group of writers who emphasize this genre and join the organization. Each of these various groups have different requirements and standards. There are many reasons to join and you will learn a great deal from the experience. Also you will develop friendships with other authors who write in your genre and gain from the interaction. Also as you grow in your experience in the genre, it will give you a place to give back and help others.
Naturally whatever you write is your own decision. My hope is you will go into the particular area of writing with your eyes wide open to what is happening in it.