A few days ago I consulted by e-mail with a high-level person in the ABA (secular) publishing world. He had agreed to let me bounce an idea off of him to see if it might fit in the ABA world. This idea was about a genre I’d like very much to write in.

That night I composed my impressive e-mail to him, just sure he would jump out of his skin with excitement over my sure-to-be-a-bestseller idea for this genre. I sent the e-mail late at night and since he’s in New York City, I knew he would get the email and hopefully respond (salivating with excitement) by the next morning.

When I woke up, I grabbed my iPad by the side of my bed and opened my e-mail. Ta-da! YES. He had answered. But his answer wasn’t what I had hoped for. In fact, he gave his perspective that this one particular genre that I long to write in was “dead” and that I should forget ever trying to write in that genre. He was pretty ruthless about it, too—not wishy-washy at all. I would be wasting my time, he said, to write in that genre.

Deep breath. Heavy sigh.

Now what do I do? What would YOU do?

Really, I see only two options. There are probably more, such as seek a second opinion, but to be honest, I think this guy was probably speaking the truth. A second opinion would likely only confirm what he told me. So basically, the two major options are:

A. Take the advice of this pro and drop the desire to write in my preferred genre. After all, by dropping what will likely be an exercise in futility, I will have more time to write in a genre that may succeed.

B. Ignore his advice and keep pushing to write in the genre I want to succeed in, even if the odds of success are small.

So which is it for you? Let’s say you want to write Amish time-travel novels. Or historical romances set in the ninth century. Or the true story of how your dear aunt prevailed over the end of her marriage and a cancer diagnosis. None of those are likely to succeed. So what’s your choice? A or B?

I know I’ll get some disagreement on this, but my choice is B. Let me explain why.

First, if you’ll check my archive, you’ll find the blog I wrote about having a project list with many viable ideas on it. I think there are more than 50 on my list right now. I’ll be happy to write and publish five of them in my lifetime. But I don’t know which five they will be. (Although I’ll admit it probably won’t be “Amish Kittens Run Wild” 🙂 ).

The genre that I queried the seasoned pro about accounts for only a few titles on my project list. Though I’m passionate about this genre, it’s not the only genre I’m passionate about or that I feel I can write confidently. That’s why I encourage writers to have long-range plans for their writing and not become dependent on one genre for their success.

Another reason to keep writing in a genre that may not succeed is that many breakthrough books are in fact in genres that no one predicted would succeed. Whether it’s Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness, William Young’s The Shack, Jan Karon’s At Home in Mitford or Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, there’s just no way to know if YOURS might be the next breakthrough book. Sure, odds are against it. And you do have to realize that going into it. 

It took me a few hours of digesting what the pro told me (with a writer’s usual disappointment at such news), but within those few hours I went from A to B. My initial reaction was to just forget the whole thing. Pull out my projects list and scratch off every project in this dead-end genre. But by that evening, I had solidified my answer as B. And strongly so. I’ll even admit to a bit of “I’ll show him!” attitude. Generally I don’t recommend that response. I occasionally see it in new writers who don’t understand why I won’t consider their book about the secret Bible code that reveals who the anti-Christ really is. But sometimes news about why your proposed book will never succeed is just the right motivation to engender passionate writing about the subject. The obvious caveat here is that even as you write, you do know you’re engaging in an uphill battle AND that this project is not your only hope for success as a writer—you DO have other potential projects you’re working on. Also, realize that “B” was MY answer to the question. If your answer is “A,” that’s just as valid—as long as you’ve thought through your reasons. Sometimes abandoning a dead-end project or genre IS the best option.

So, there you have it. My choice was to:

1. Thank the pro for his advice. Mull it over. Take some time (a few hours) to process my disappointment.
2. Decide what to do with said advice. (In my case, I’m going to let it strengthen my resolve that this genre is one that I’m committed to, even if I fail).
3. Not put all my eggs in this one basket. Keep several writing interests alive, not just this one pet genre that may never see the light of day.

And when I find a publisher who LOVES my writing in that preferred genre, you will be the second to know. That industry pro will be the first!

12 replies
  1. Richard Mabry says:

    Nick, first of all, sorry for the response, but I’m glad you chose to plunge on. I would do the same.
    I’m in the process of re-reading Lawrence Block’s excellent book, The Liar’s Bible, in which he discusses many aspects of writing and the publishing world. Regarding this very subject, it’s his opinion that, although a genre may be “dead” at the moment, good writing will always trump following–or trying to follow–the hot genres of the moment.
    Go get ’em, and good luck.

  2. Michael K. Reynolds says:

    I think it’s important to share that you are an author with great connections and an excellent sales track record in your resume (with bestsellers). For a brand new author this approach might be quite a bit more risky if they are hoping to be traditionally published. Writing a book is a HUGE endeavor so it behooves the new writer to really explore the market at the same time they are coming up with project ideas. It’s easy to make adjustments and tweaks in the idea stage (like on your 50-idea notepad) but not so much when the book is completed.

    But…aren’t you going to tell us what the mystery genre is? I am certain I am not the only one dying to know.

  3. Nick says:

    Thanks, Robert.

    Michael, I might be persuaded to blog about that next time.

    It might be a rant though. 🙂

  4. Nick says:

    Mike, to your point about new authors, I think they’re the most easily discouraged. I’m not suggesting they ignore the market, and as I said, option A might be best for some authors, especially beginners. I was just hoping to encourage authors who are facing obstacles to writing what they really want to write. If they can broaden their writing interests to include several types of writing, I think they’ll have a greater chance of success.

  5. Kathy N. says:

    You have just given all of us a reason to keep believing, Nick. I have a novel in my drawer that I love most of all my creations. Although the genre is dead right now, I’ve been holding out for a resurrection. In the meantime, I’m writing other things. My first novel will come out this fall.

  6. Judith Robl says:

    Come on, Richard. Have you never made a typo? 🙂

    Nick, I, too, am curious about the genre. Please use it for a blog post in the future.

    Those of us who can’t make up our minds about genre could be inspired and helped by a discussion of genres. And trends do change. I’m so glad you chose B. It would have been my choice as well.

  7. Jane says:

    The most important thing, whether you’re a rank beginner or published author is to KEEP WRITING. if I receive a rejection because my work isn’t god enough, it fuels my desire to get better. That’s why I’d choose B.

  8. Jenni Brummett says:

    Nick, your blog post a few years back about a particular genre that I love encouraged the wheels in my brain to turn. Since then, I’ve finished one book and am now working on another. It makes me excited and a bit trepidatious to step out in this way, but I’ve chosen B.

  9. Marilyn Rhoads says:


    I’m sorry you didn’t get the answer you wanted, but I love that you know and understand both sides of the coin: author/editor.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. It helps novices understand the publishing world a little better.

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