Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Insecure Writers: My Dystopian Dilemma

I should be able to wrap up the revision on my WIP this week. That's the good news. Just have a few scenes to clean up, including rewriting my opening pages again, and then it's off to find beta readers. The bad news is it appears while I was writing my novels, the dystopian genre has gone out of fashion again.

I don't really feel like this latest novel is a true dystopian -- even though I suppose it is. The trilogy I'm working on is set in the future, and there's a rebellion against a totalitarian-type government in the first novel, and questions about the balance of freedom and control in a healthy society are prevalent throughout. So, yeah, if I had to put a label on them for an agent, I'd probably have to go with dystopian. And that's not a good thing right now.

According to many in the industry, dystopian is D.E.A.D., overdone because of hugely successful novels like The Hunger Games and Divergent. Which only means it will be that much harder to find an agent yet again. Nothing new there, but it only adds to an already strong headwind -- apparently one rife with the smell of genre roadkill.

Sigh. It bothers me because I don't/didn't write to chase a trend. It's just how the story came out this time. And now all I hear is how hard it is to sell dystopian because of market saturation. Now, if there really are sales numbers to back up the idea that readers are tired of the genre, I don't know. Could be agents and editors are simply sick of working on dystopian stories, while regular readers still want them. In that case, it may just be a matter of finding the right agent/editor who hasn't worked on one in awhile and is keen to find a new one. Who knows. No, really, who knows?!

And, yes, I know Independent publishing is an option, and I'm seriously considering that. But I've always intended to try traditional publishing first. That's just me. So as I prepare to roll out the query letters, I'm feeling a wee bit insecure about any chance of success.

Now, if you would be so kind as to tell me in the comments that none of this matters and story trumps all, I would be most appreciative.*

Anyone ever been caught in a genre dilemma where you had to set something aside until it came back in fashion? Do you think dead means dead or merely sleeping? And should I go broader and refer to the novels as speculative fiction instead? Or maybe I should just call them Fred and be done with it. 












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*Someone needs a pep talk as she begins to mentally prepare for query battle. :)

Creative Commons photo by Loren Kerns/ mangled by me in iPhoto. 


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101 comments:

  1. Hey, everything I read said science fiction was dead. I kept writing my first book anyway and it did find a home. And sold well. (Much to my surprise.) Have faith in the strength of your story and don't worry about the genre label, LG.

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    1. Yep, science fiction is one of those genres that goes in and out of fashion with the general public, but there's always a hardcore fan base. :)

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  2. None of this matters and your story trumps all….your welcome.

    Seriously though, I don't buy it. If a book is well written, has a strong plot, interesting characters, and keeps the reader's interest, who cares what genre it fall under. Then again, what do I know. I'm still working on my first WIP. Congrats to you for finishing yours up, my friend. You're gonna rock it!!

    Elsie

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    1. Heh. Much appreciated, Elsie. :P

      That's my hope, that the story is better than just another dystopian knock-off of The Hunger Games. Blah.

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  3. It sucks to be accidentally in fashion, and even more so be accidentally in last year's fashion. But this is the story you wanted to write, and the one you wrote, which means more than anything else ever could. Now, like Cira, you just have to take a tough situation and make it work for you in the best way you can.

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    1. Cira would kick my ass for whining about this. :P

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  4. Ever since JK Rowling, writing for children has been seen as jumping on the band wagon. I do sympathise.

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    1. Yes. She did seem to open a floodgate of children's writers. But the best thing about that flood is it revealed a whole new bunch of talent. :))

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  5. maybe if you do another round of years long revisions dystopia will come back into fashion again, sweet sister? :PPPP
    Methinks if you try with another genre name or just send it to a publisher who doesn't only deal with dystopia, you're safe :)

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    1. I know! I'm so frustrated with how long everything takes already. To think this could be another setback… blah. But you do know I have two novels ready to go in this trilogy now, so once I do get some traction going on publication it will be quicker. I hope. :P

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    2. just send them to a publisher already, I will give birth to a litter of baby raccoons before you do it :))))

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    3. That is why part of me is seriously considering self-publishing. And I believe I will do that if I don't make any progress with traditional publishing by fall/winter. Also, I kind of like the idea of being in control of the cover and release, so we'll see. You might get to read the novels before any breastfeeding of raccoons ensues. :P

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    4. oooh, and of course, I must say the final say on the covers :)

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    5. I would never pick anything that didn't satisfy the Dezzy aesthetic. :D

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  6. I assume you've done your own thing with it, so it should be fine. Speaking as someone who occasionally tries to sell comic fantasy to editors, there's someone out there for almost everything.

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    1. This discouragement comes from seeing agents on Twitter saying things like they'll not touch a dystopian story again for years. But, yes, I do believe there is always an audience for every genre, it's just when things get saturated like they are now the publishing task gets tougher to accomplish.

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  7. Your writing here is excellent. I think that's what matters. Maybe your novel will revive the genre.

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    1. And, BTW, I never got the memo the genre was dead. Who gets to choose whether genres live or die??!

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    2. I see it all the time from agents about paranormal romance novels being impossible to sell. And that, I assume, is dictated by the editors at the big five publishing houses who had to suffer through an onslaught of submissions trying to jump on the Twilight bandwagon. They get sick of it and look for the next big thing.

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  8. Nothing ever goes completely away. When I first started writing, everyone told me that fantasy or futuristic romance wouldn't sell. I found a small press willing to take a chance and the book was very successful. Of course, then the genre took off though everyone called it paranormal or speculative fiction. Perhaps calling your book science fiction will help get looks at it rather than calling it dystopian.

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    1. Right. Even if they do claim dystopian is dead in the water as far as sales, there's got to be some small audience who still eat that stuff up. Speaking as a reader, I don't really care that much about genre. I like good stories. Period. I'm really hoping there are open minded agents out there who feel the same. Er, and that I've written a good story. :P

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  9. YES! I totally had a book that went out of fashion in 2005, but the trend came back around in 2012. Seriously. Patience and the fire will light again. But seriously, don't give up on your book. Go Indie if no one will bite because agents are definitely NOT readers. =)

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    1. That's what I'm thinking too, that agents have a different agenda than normal everyday readers. So if I get too much discouragement from them, based simply on the genre of the novel, I'll go Indie.

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    2. Yay! I'll keep my eyes pealed for your final decision. =)

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  10. This is one of the reasons I signed with a small press for my paranormal series - it seemed a "dead genre" as far as mainstream publishers were concerned. But that certainly doesn't mean readers aren't still looking for these stories - some indie dystopian series are doing very well, because there's been so little in these genres published by the big publishers in the last couple of years. Best of luck choosing a path, and I'm sure you'll find your audience! :)

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    1. I think this is the biggest reason Independent publishing is enjoying a renaissance with writers right now. Authors just want to connect with readers looking for the types of stories they write without any of the BS in between. :)

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  11. I think this is a case of knowing too much about what The Industry thinks is a bad thing. Heck, I bet that Stephanie Meyer was reading that vampires were DEAD and no one would want her book. But she wrote it anyway. Before The Hunger Games dystopian was probably DEAD and all they were wanted were vampire novels.

    Here is what I think... People are still googly eyed over The Walking Dead (I would say that zombies are dystopian) so the people still are jonesing for it. If your story is good, there is no style that is dead. Every agent and publisher wants a great story. So, go forth proudly and confidently!

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    1. Yes! That's the kind of pep talk I'm needing right now. Really, I know this intellectually, but emotionally the discouragement you face even before you begin is just ridiculous.

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  12. Everything is dead all the time. Until it's not. When it's not dead, it's too late to do anything about it, because, by the time you write something, it's dead again. So you write dead things into life and leave it at that.

    Also, don't call it spec fic. You might as well just call it a book at that point.

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    1. Write dead things into life…very Frankensteinian advice. I like it!

      And spec fiction is too broad, eh? Probably so. In that case I shall own my dystopian label and wear it proudly.

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  13. When I first tried to find an agent I was greeted with a drumbeat of "NO VAMPIRES!" because of Twilight. Never mind my vampire couldn't be farther away from Twilight and there have been tons of vampire stories long before Twilight and will be plenty after, no doubt. So I can understand your frustration, especially since you've been working on this since long before The Hunger Games and the rest of the current dystopian hits. To be totally honest I find the whole genre situation to be irritating as hell since I still don't really know what genre my books fit in.

    I agree with Tonja though, your writing is so engaging here on the blog that I know your story will be totally kick-ass and none of the genre nonsense will matter. :)

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    1. See, that's what pisses me off. I don't mind being rejected if the story doesn't connect with someone. That's legitimate rejection. But to just write something off completely because of the category it falls into and not even give it a glance is maddening.

      And thank you. :)

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  14. L.G., I think we all write the stories we need to and were meant to write. I can't imagine there isn't an agent out there who will resonant with yours despite the fact that there are other dystopian novels out there. Hang in there.

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    1. This is definitely the story I was meant to write, so I will not let an arbitrary genre fluctuation deter me. It's just, you know, I'm a writer and we're notoriously insecure beings. :P

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  15. Honestly, I think story does trump all. However, it doesn't hurt to be a Kim Kardashian. I'm sure she'd have no trouble publishing a dystopian with the Big Five.

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    1. I wish the Kardashian genre would bit the dust already. Seriously. Like forever.

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  16. Don't chase trends, write what you love. Trends change so quickly and publishing moves so slowly, you can't really chase them anyway unless you indie publish. If you're going the traditional route, by the time an agent reads your manuscript, dystopian may be back in fashion again!

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    1. Yeah, I agree with that a hundred percent. There's no predicting which way the wind will blow, so just put your head down and write forward. :)

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  17. None of that matters. Story trumps all. :)

    No seriously, it does. About 5 years ago, a CP was querying a dystopian and was rejected by countless agents who told her that dystopian was dead. Since then, there have been a bunch of successful, bestselling dystopians. So screw the "that genre is dead" opinions. Dystopian can still sell. The deciding factors are appealing story and voice. If you have those, you have as good a chance as every other spec fic writer. Congrats on finishing, and good luck with the beta readers!

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    1. Thanks Lexa. I anticipate hearing a lot of "I can't sell this right now," but screw it. I like my story and I think it's got a unique female voice, so I'm going to try not to let that talk bother me. Check in with me again in a few months though. :P

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  18. One of my hiatused WIPs is a true dystopia, in the classic anti-utopia mold like 1984, We, and Brave New World. I'm frankly a bit nervous to even call it a dystopia, because of the obscene oversaturation of post-apocalyptic books called dystopias. I'm more likely to label it speculative fiction when I finally get back to it and finish it.

    I eventually came to the conclusion that traditional publishing, at the moment, isn't interested in long historicals with ensemble casts, spanning many years, even though that's the kind of historical I'm used to reading.

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    1. It is our dystopian dilemma! Yeah, it's tough when you've written something and the prevailing attitude is there's no market for it. :(

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  19. I think every genre is probably "dead". That doesn't mean people won't want to read it. There will always be someone to say, "that's been done." Just like there will always be trolls on forums. I think if you've got something good, which I'm pretty sure you do, then people will want to represent you. :)

    Loni

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    1. Ha! Good comparison to the trolls! And thanks for the vote of confidence. Seriously, when we face as many obstacles as we do in writing, it's really great to know there's a group like this that has your back and offers encouragement. :)

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    2. I think I'm late to the party; I just started watching The 100 on Netflix. I do understand where you're coming from though. I wrote a Vietnam story in the early 90s and when I tried selling it in the early 2000s, I was told nobody wants to read about VN anymore. Note: interest is beginning to come back. Keep doing what you're doing, LG. Stories like this, stories about interesting characters never get old. Out of fashion maybe, but only for a time.

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    3. See that's such shame to be told that no one wants to read your story, when in fact there probably is an audience out there for it. Grrrr.

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  20. This business is a crap shoot for the most part. You wrote a great book. It will find its home. I'm convinced. :) Don't call it dystopian. Just say it's futuristic or sci-fi. Why not?

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    1. Thanks. :)

      And you may have noticed in my little "about me" thing up there I stopped saying dystopian and have instead switched to calling the novel "futuristic". #sneaky

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  21. I know how you feel. I'm revising my angel/demon book but I suspect it won't be an easy sell. I wish I could predict trends, but since I can't all that's left is to write what my muse wants and she/he (? hmm, I never thought of the gender of my muse before...) decided on angels and demons this time around.

    I think the trick is, if you're trying to get representation for something that the market appears to be flooded with, then you're going to have to write a kick-ass query along with a way cool story.

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    1. Um, yeah, angel/demons are another "tough sell" type genre right now. But you are so right. There's no way to predict trends. Gotta just hope the story sells itself I suppose.

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  22. Story trumps all.

    There are some daring sorts who would tell you not to declare it at all in the query. You're describing the story, you may or may not be giving comparables, if you've done that call it a novel and leave it at that. I'm not sure if that's the approach you should take, but give it some thought.

    And if you need eyes on your query, I'm happy to give it a look. I think I'm better with other people's queries than my own!

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    1. Yeah, I've seen some people advising not mentioning the genre. I mean, it will be obvious from the story anyway, but others suggest it demonstrates you know how to describe your novel. *shrugs*

      And I may take you up on the query critique soon. It's been a few years since I've had to write one.

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    2. It's a pain in the backside, isn't it? Send it on over any time, I'll do my best to help.

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    3. Thanks, I'll do that. First I have to get a decent version written. So far I think I have failed at this important step. :P

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  23. Wellll, if the buzz is that dystopian is dead, might as well use a different word to describe the book in your query. Story will trump all, but I think agents and publishers do let themselves get scared off by certain words. Like in romance, they say to use "supernatural" now because "paranormal" is dead. Stupid, but gots to play along if we want to be in the game, I guess.

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    1. I was reading something about that the other night, how there are still dystopian novels coming out, they've just changed the terminology. Kind of how "chick lit" went out of style. Those books are still being published, but we call them something else now. But, hey, I'm all for using stealth tactics. :D

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  24. Great post! Trends go on and off like blinking lights. I don't pay attention. I write high fantasy, not very fashionable at the moment. No vampires or werewolves or kick-ass girls in chain-mail bikinis. It seems my sub-genre is dying, but I have high hopes for its revival one day. Then I'll triumph, right? :))

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    1. High fantasy has been a hard sell for a very long time. I thought maybe it would get a reprieve with the popularity of LOTR and Game of Thrones. And maybe it has a little? Not sure. I have a novel about elves and fairies, but didn't pursue publishing it much once that market got saturated too. :(

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  25. Don't name your genre, don't bin it in a box...break the binds and go with the story. If your story is good, it will sell!

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    1. Cheers to that, and hope you're right. :)

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  26. I read through the comments and I think futuristic is a great term for you to use. Concentrate on a killer hook and write the perfect query blurb. And let them see who you are through your writing. Easy. Right?

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    1. Easy peasy. :D

      I do think I'll incorporate the term futuristic in the query. To me, that term is a little more open-ended and can include a lot of things.

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  27. I think most agents will agree that VOICE trumps genre every time:) Write well and make it really interesting--something unique--and you'll get an agent's attention. Good luck!

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    1. Well, that's the sliver of hope we all cling to. And I do know that agents want to like stuff, and aren't just sitting there with the rejection stamp poised in their hand, but it does seem like you have to bring the WOWZA factor and then some to get a reaction.

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  28. I agree with Carol. From what I've heard it's all about the "hook" and the "query" to capture their attention. Once you have that, they're bound to fall in love with your fabulous writing style. You are destined for success, Luanne!

    Julie

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    1. Thanks, Julie. :D

      And for next month's IWSG I will probably write about how rusty I am at writing query letters and synopses. I really do hate that part. :- /

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  29. Call it science fiction and you're done. Besides everyone says vampires are over too, but vampire stories are still being sold. I don't think the genre will break your chances. It's the story that will get it sold.

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    1. I pity the author who just has to tell that vampire story right now. And yet you know there are readers out there who will never get enough of that stuff. So, yeah, I kind of feel like there's no way to figure this stuff out. Just write from the heart and move forward.

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    2. That's pretty much all we can do--write from the heart. Anything else just doesn't seem to ring true.

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    3. 'And should I go broader and refer to the novels as speculative fiction instead'

      YES.

      For both of you. Screw the word dystopian and see what your imagination pours forth when that word isn't hanging over you anymore.

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    4. Blah to labels. Except when they sell books, and then yay! But I get it. I shouldn't get hung up on the genre title. The story is such a mash up of stuff anyway, it probably doesn't matter what I call it. The broader the description the better.

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  30. We writers face all kinds of dilemma. I think if you believe in your story then you should stand behind it. Every so often this or that genre is declared dead and yet books are still being sold. Here's hoping you find a publisher who loves your story, no matter what label it carries.

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    1. It's true, isn't it? I have to wonder sometimes, too, if a lot of that talk of dead genres isn't just hype and market manipulation. In order to create the right balance between supply and demand in business you have to tamp down surpluses and chase down the next hot thing that is in short supply. So it's just part of doing business. But the rejections still sting as if they're personal for the writer.

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  31. Story trumps all!
    I'm sure of it.
    :)
    Keep moving forward.
    Heather

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    1. I do believe that, but I'm all for a little sleight of hand when it comes to labels too. Just got to find the one that's in fashion. :P

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  32. As a reader/writer who reads much more than she writes, I definitely agree that story matters more. I'll read a good story that hooks me in unrelated to the genre it belongs in. If your story is a little hard to label, that's even better. Who wants to read only what's in fashion? :) Good luck!!

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    1. Yeah, genre doesn't matter to me that much when reading. I'm a true omnivore in that sense. But it seems the publishing side of things likes neat little boxes to organize stories into.

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  33. Hi L.G. Good luck with this. I don't think dystopian is just a fashion. It will always be with us so hopefully your ms will be accepted.

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    1. I agree there will always be dystopian stories published, but I do wonder if some agents and editors tend to avoid overdone subjects like this for years before they'll consider them again. That's limiting, even if the story is good. Could mean fewer people willing to take a chance to find out.

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  34. None of that matters and story trumps all! And truly I see people reading dystopian all the time still.

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    1. I was in B & N yesterday, and of course my antennae were up looking for displays of dystopian novels, and they were everywhere! Mostly YA books, but it was so prevalent. I just hope people don't shun it all together out of an over-familiarity.

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  35. Love the Monty Python bit, but I don't think any type of genre is ever dead. If you like it, chances are others do too. Besides, things go in cycles. By the time you get it published there may be an uptick again. Just look at vampire stories...they keep calling them dead and yet they come back every year or two. (No puns intended). :)

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    1. The Spamalot version of that scene (which I linked to) is hilarious. So funny. It's such a metaphor for my agent search. I'm not dead yet! And neither is my genre! I think we'll go for a walk now. :P

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  36. Aw, hell, call it a futuristic thriller. Or a post-dystopia, where things are slowly regenerating (that's what one of my novels was). Or just say why, in your cover letter, it is bigger and badder and fresher than all the BS wimpy dystopia out there!!! If it is a unique story it will be read and appreciated on its own terms. Vamp books sold to editors after the supposed vamp bust, you know?

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    1. Oh. Post-dystopian is most apt. Truly, one of the questions I wanted to tackle with my novels is what's allowed back in a "free" society after it's been under the thumb of tyrants. And of course it is full of woman warrior badassery. :P

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  37. If you write to the trend, you'll always be behind it. Write what you love, what feels good to you. It will show in your writing. Best wishes!

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  38. There's still an audience for most genres. People throw around the accusation that this genre is dead or that genre is dead. And then it never is. So send out your story. It's sure to land in the right spot! :)

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    1. So it's just maybe sleeping. :) I hope you're right. I hate the idea of something having to go out of style just because it got very popular for minute or two in history.

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  39. Write what you love, story matters trumps trends any day! And besides, I don't think dystopian is dead. I think the market is still pretty strong . . . my kids still read it anyway. :)

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    1. I agree there are probably core audiences for each genre, no matter the timing. I suppose what makes a genre "in fashion" for a time is its crossover appeal to other audiences, and maybe that's what has died down for the time being. I guess I can live with that. :)

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  40. Well, crap. So much for originality. Tyrean already said exactly what I was gonna say. (Except for the part about my kids... maybe my grandkids, though...)

    But really. I think it's best to write the book you want to read, and don't obsess with its genre. There's so much cross-genre stuff these days. Heck. Why not make up your OWN?

    Good luck! Maybe your book will be just what the industry needs to breathe new life into dystopia.

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    1. It's so true! I never even realized as I was writing this novel that it was dystopian. I never thought of it like that while writing it. Somewhere about two thirds in I realized that's what it was, and I was a little surprised. I always just thought of it as an adventure story set in the future.

      And thanks!

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  41. Hi Luanne - you're not in it for the fashion stakes - you're there for the story ,,, and by the look of it everyone's saying the same thing - just go for it ... we're around to start the story ball rolling ...

    Happy editing and querying ... it will work - we'll be right .. there's more of us!! Cheers and all the best - Hilary

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    1. You are right! I mean, I do think there will be resistance based on genre, but we don't let those things stop us from trying. Geesh, I wouldn't be worthy of writing a hero story if I thought that way for long. :D

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  42. Ugggghhh. All this marketing stuff is for the birds, I swear. We're supposed to be experts in that as well as writing, and not write what's not selling, and yet we're also supposed to write the story we HAVE to write, genre be damned. It's a bit of a catch 22 sometimes!

    Honestly, I think that all we can do is write what we want to read - and if that happens to be dystopian, then so be it. It might make it hard to find an agent, but then again, if an agent falls in love with your work, he or she will want to represent you regardless of the genre. And all we can do is try!

    Good luck - and you DO have a waiting audience, at least in me! :)

    Also, I don't have a ton of free time right now, but if you're looking for a reader and have some flexibility with WHEN that happens, I'd love to read for you.

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    1. (I sent this in e-mail, but I think you're a no-reply blogger)

      Anyway...

      I may take you up on your offer to read. Wouldn't have to be the whole thing, unless you want to. It's sort of longish, though. 118K on the word count. And I'm hoping to have feedback by August, but it's always a moving target. Let me know if you do find yourself with some time to read later (I should have it ready in a week or so after I go through and do some minor editing stuff). I'd love your feedback on as little or as much as you want to look at. :)

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    2. I'm no reply? Well, since I don't know what that means, I obviously didn't do it on purpose! Shoot me a quick line at lizblocker@gmail.com so I have your email address, and I'll respond that way :)

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    3. Yeah, it's a setting in your Blogger profile or something. You have to go into settings and allow your email to be shared. Lots of people don't realize they have it set up that way.

      But, yeah, I'll email you. :)

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  43. Yes, I've wondered the same thing about fantasy and sci-fi genres. There, it's simply a difficult market to get into, but I think it's better to write what you love. Your comment about readers still wanting it, though agents and editors might be challenged to SELL it strikes me as pretty close to the truth.

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