The life and health of undead subgenres
Once upon a time, up to and including five years ago, publishing followed a sad and somewhat predictable trend. A book would become an unexpected blockbuster. Publishers would rush to print “The next Stephen King / Anne Rice / Dan Brown / Stieg Larsson / JK Rowling / Stephenie Meyer”, and flood a formerly diverse genre with only imitations of the blockbuster. As sales dropped due to the consumers getting their fill of that particular variant (or just not liking the imitations enough to buy them), the publishers would then declare the genre “dead”, and cease publishing all but well-selling backlist, the blockbuster names, and a tiny trickle of frontlist.
I had to explain recently to an indie author that “Vampires have been killed multiple times. That’s why it’s an undead genre!” was not a joke about vampires per se, but about the number of times that genres with vampires have been declared “dead”, and the number of times editors have declared “the vampire craze is over.” (The first time I personally remember was when someone was exclaiming, “How did this Anne Rice person get a movie deal for a vampire interview? We all know vampires are over, and nobody’s buying it!” This was years and years before the same ‘plaint was cried about Twilight’s sales.)
Back when the Big Six (Now the Rather Diminshed Five) ruled publishing, declaration of the death of a genre, and consensus at the right NYC cocktail parties, was a guarantee that readers were going to have to head to the used book store to find more of what they wanted. And then came indie.
Now, with hybrid authors bringing their backlist back into reprint, and together with indie authors putting whatever they want on the market, we’re starting to see signs that formerly dead subgenres, like Bela Lugosi, are rising again.
The latest popped up this week on Bookbub, which has enough reader demand for differentiated market, and enough content to fill it. They’re splitting their mystery list for email notification, and adding new lists in: Crime Fiction, Cozy Mysteries, and Historical Mysteries.
So much for “the cozy mystery is dead.”
And what’s more, I saw the “urban fantasy is dead” come over the transom, as the taste-makers tried to change the market again. But most of the authors I know failed to get the message. Those who did looked at it, and shrugged, because they know paranormal romance and its near-twin, urban fantasy, are selling gangbusters in indie. When you can see the money being made in Author Earnings reports, the declaration of death works as poorly as an atheist in a horror movie trying to ward off vampires with the cross he doesn’t believe in.
So go forth, write good stories the readers will love, and worry not what has been declared dead. These days, rumours of death are greatly exaggerated. (Sadly, Mark Twain is really dead this time.)
And because I love this song (over eight minutes long with full intro, which is time enough for the DJ to slip out and smoke an entire clove cigarette, and if you know it’s coming, you join him out behind the bar for some relative peace and quiet, without the dancers being any wiser!), and it’s topical…