Switching Genres?

In my previous post I warned against taking the advice of writers/editors/agents who suggest you turn a non-fiction memoir into a novel.

Today I met with a writer friend and a related topic came up. This author was working on novel that she could write as “prairie” fiction. That was what she wanted to do. But she was told that prairie fiction doesn’t sell right now, so she should try to recast it in another more saleable direction.

I understand the reasoning behind that suggestion, but let me offer a couple of reminders before she goes to all that work. First, it may be true that prairie fiction is not selling as well now as it once did, but that can change. By the time she finishes the book and a publisher is secured, prairie fiction may once again be all the rage.

Fiction genres are cyclically popular. One year biblical fiction is hot, the next year it’s cooled off. Amish fiction has been around for a while now and still sells pretty well. I can remember, though, when Amish fiction was non-existent (except for Joseph Yoder’s Rosanna of the Amish which I carried in my Christian bookstores). Can you imagine if someone had told Beverly Lewis to forget about her desire to write Amish fiction and focus on something more marketable? What about Jan Karon? What if someone had read the synopsis for At Home in Mitford and talked her out of writing it? What about The Shack? Or Left Behind? Or This Present Darkness?

Even Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly, the breakthrough prairie romance, was a gamble for Bethany House. At that time, in most Christian bookstores, Grace Livingston Hill was still the most popular fiction author on the shelf…and that was decades after her death.

A second consideration is the actual writing of the book. As the saying goes, “No tears in the author, no tears in the reader.” I believe a writer writes best when they’re writing in a genre they love and are comfortable with. When that also happens to be a popular genre, so much the better. But if it’s not popular, just keep writing. By the time you finish, it may be that your genre is climbing the bestseller lists.

One caveat. Yes, there are some genres that are always going to be harder to sell than others. That’s a factor too. But if you love your preferred genre, just remember that all of the titles I mentioned above were breakthrough novels in their genre. Someone had to go first. Maybe you will have to pioneer your genre. You will have to write very, very well, but writing to your passion is, in my opinion, the most important factor in deciding how to write a novel.

Frankly, I have to believe if an author writes a stellar prairie novel, I can sell it to a publisher. I’d rather try to sell a stellar prairie novel than a mediocre contemporary romance.

And remember, never rewrite a proposal or manuscript based on one professional’s opinion. Ask three or four trusted colleagues to weigh in before you go to all that trouble.

1 reply
  1. Joanne Reese says:

    I had an agent give me the same advice at Mount Hermon this year, Nick. It takes a lot of fuel to reach the end and get that last word written, not to mention the polishing needed to make everything sparkle. Writing from my heart has been the most painful but exhilarating experiences I’ve ever known. I tried conforming to what’s popular but I just didn’t get the same result. Thank you for this wonderful reminder. It really is worth honoring what’s inside instead of listening to all the noise.

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