As I think I’ve mentioned before, I have no great skill at writing for the market — stuff that fits current trends and styles (see here for some discussion of that topic). The few times I think I’ve hit the sweet spot the editorial response is either “everyone’s doing that now” or “no, that’s not quite right for the genre.” It’s a topic I thought about recently in relation to Questionable Minds and The Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Both of them were a little more novel when I completed the early drafts, less so now. They’re still good (at least, Impossible should be when it’s done) but their relationship to the market has changed.When I finished Questionable Minds some twenty-plus years ago, steampunk was still in its infancy as a genre. Had it sold to anyone it would have stood out because being steampunk stood out, plus a psi-based steampunk book wasn’t something I’d seen done. It still isn’t, though I might be wrong about that (there’s so much steampunk available now I know I haven’t seen a fraction of it).
The point is, the reaction to a steampunk novel in 2022 is going to be different from if it came out in 2002. I’ve seen reviewers who are sick and tired of books all being set in London, for instance. Genre conventions and tropes have become more standardized; will not having dirigibles or more advanced technology be a turnoff for some readers? Is my novel more gaslamp fantasy than steampunk science fiction, and if so, will readers be annoyed I mislabeled it? I’m not agonizing over these questions — it really is a good book, after all — but they do make me curious.
Or consider my superhero urban fantasy, The Impossible Takes a Little Longer. When I finished the original novel back in the late 1990s, superhero novels were few and far between, particularly if you eliminate Marvel and DC tie-in novels. There’s a lot more of them now which means being a superhero story, by itself, won’t stand out. On the other hand nobody’s going to roll their eyes at the idea of a specfic novel about superheroes.
My treatment of superpowers is different in multiple ways (here’s one) from most of the superhero novels I read. But different, by itself, isn’t magic: it’s possible to be different, original, or unique and still suck. What ultimately matters is that the book’s good, not where it fits in the market. Because I can’t control the market, or predict what it’ll be like when Impossible is finally done. I have to think about marketing — Questionable Minds was my first real attempt to do so — but my top priority is having something worthwhile to sell.
I have a feeling this post was a little rambling, which may reflect that analyzing the market, let alone fitting it, isn’t my strong suit.
#SFWApro. Cover by Samantha Collins, all rights remain with current holder.