What happens when the types of YA stories you write become outdated?
I know I’m not alone in this dilemma. In the past few years I’ve watched many YA paranormal romance authors who started around the same time as me fall off the grid. It happens without fanfare. Often without notice. As a mid-list author, when trends change and suddenly your passion stories are seen by publishers as tired, you have to be flexible about what you write or risk becoming obsolete.
This isn’t a “poor me” post. Y’all know I like to be transparent. Some would call me an oversharer. But when readers are messaging me with a hint of frustration asking when I’m going to put another book out like Sweet Evil, I feel the need to explain.
I want to.
After finishing the Sweet Evil series, high fantasy and fairy tale retellings were beginning to hit a crescendo, and paranormal was “out.” This saddened me terribly, but then I got the idea for The Great Hunt, and I felt extremely lucky get another publishing contract. Funny thing though…the tons of readers that made my Sweet series hit the New York Times bestsellers list did not carryover to my fantasy series. It was something I’d worried about. Just like actors, authors can get pigeon-holed into certain genres. Readers have come to want a certain thing from me. They want that real-world urban fantasy feel. They want my paranormal bad boys, and I want to give it to them. So, what’s the problem?
From what I’ve seen, contemporary (realistic) fiction always has and always will be “in,” though the sub-genres can vary in popularity. But fantastical trends rise and fall almost severely. Publishers and booksellers get burned out on seeing the same things. When a new series of a differing genre hits it big, they chase that direction. It’s the nature of the industry. It sucks for those left behind. And then there are real life issues, like politics, war, and the overall state of society that affect the book market. Basically, it’s out of an author’s control.
Last year when I was looking for a new YA idea I polled the readers in my private Facebook group to see what they wanted from me. I ask them this question every year, and the answer rarely varies. They overwhelmingly want PNR/UF. This time when I asked, it turned into a crowdsourcing of ideas for a series. What we came up with together was a dark magic paranormal with a bad boy warlock. They got me super excited about it, bringing me back to my roots as an author, and I wrote up a full synopsis and sample chapters. I went on submission with the idea, but nobody picked it up. I was told paranormal is a hard sell. Too familiar. The time isn’t right for it yet. Please don’t mistake this as me badmouthing publishers. The industry is a beast made up of many cogs that have to line up to move the wheels. Agents are at the whims of editors, who look to marketing for permissions, who seek approval of booksellers, etc. It’s a behemoth cycle.
After speaking with many author friends at events, it seemed YA authors across the board were having the same issue, even in other genres. The market was saturated. Many of us were turning to other sources for work and income–for me I picked up editorial work. Many were stopping writing all together. I have to admit, I thought about it. It’s a terrible feeling when one day you’re living your dream job, and the next day it’s crumbling around you and you’re grasping at anything you can to stay in the game.
It’s been six years since Sweet Evil published. Last week I posted this question to my readers on Twitter. As always, they excitedly begged for paranormal. You can see their responses for yourself.
I know what you’re wondering. Why don’t I just self-publish it? I’m no stranger to self-publishing. I’ve got 4 books on the indie market. But from what I’ve seen, few teens buy books online or read ebooks. Most of my teen readers want to shop in a brick and mortar store and have a hard book in their hands. Majority of my online ebook readers are adults. It’s hard for me to swallow the fact that I’d be writing YA and not able to reach my target audience. Yes, I could raise the ages of my characters and make it an adult series, but that gives my tummy a sinking feeling. I have a heart for teens. I want to write the stories I desperately needed when I was in high school. So I’ve made a pact with myself that my adult books can be self-published and my Young Adult books need to be with a publisher who can get them into stores.
It might take awhile. And maybe my dark magic book isn’t the one that will get me a deal. I have no idea what’s going to happen. All I can do is promise my readers that I’m not giving up yet, and to be patient with me and other authors as we wade through the politics of this crazy process. In the meantime, I beg you to please support the authors you love by giving their other genres a try. The tide will roll back around eventually, though it will undoubtedly look different from before, and that’s not a bad thing. Thanks for reading this far. Please let me know if you have any questions. Sending each and every one of you a big hug! Happy reading.