Last week we discussed a bit more about Settings, and I mentioned how closely connected Setting and Genre are, as topics.
If you're writing for a Western market, your Setting has to have horses, wagons, Sheriffs, rattlesnakes, guns, desperadoes, muddy streets, maybe a herd of cattle. The Western Romance was a growing sub-genre at the time Those of My Blood and Dreamspy were first published.
About three years before Those of My Blood came out, the first novel in my Dushau Trilogy won the Romantic Times Award for Best Science Fiction. That was so long ago that the credit for it is not on their website! I still have the trophy, though.
Dushau is science fiction romance without Vampires.
If you can sell Western Romance, why not Science Fiction Romance? They just couldn't encompass the concept. Editors were convinced "mixed genre" just could not be sold -- and the evidence before their eyes confirmed that resoundingly. They had just begun computerizing sales data, and they believed the computer printouts.
A writer may know, absolutely, that there are readers who want the kind of story they have to tell, and they may be correct, but if marketers don't know "where" to reach those readers, they won't try to reach them. And the marketers are right about that.
I've seen, lately, several self-publishing writers wailing on Google+ and Twitter about how they can't sell copies of their books - even giving them away, or charging only 99cents, they can not sell books that the few who've read those books rave about.
Writing books and pleasing readers is one thing --- selling books is something else.
Here's a tweet from twitter:
twliterary 10:42am via Web (Literary Agent who has nearly 5k followers)
Author whose submission was rejected just EM that book pubbed to nice review. Truly happy for you, even w/ gratuitous "nyah nyah" note.
LESSON: don't crow when you score against the establishment, just bank the check.
So how does a market change? First comes the publication of a daring new genre, or mix of genres, or an exploration of a Setting (Ancient Egypt? Victorian England? The Moon?). The mix-mixing of a new setting with a type of characer who doesn't belong there (as far as marketers know) has to start with a few books that are marketing failures. Those novels have to get good reviews, even though they don't sell.
Then comes an imitation or two, and there's a pre-built tiny market. Then "word" goes viral, and the new genre gets a name and an identifyable market to publicize to. Then big bucks get spent on "marketing" another new item designed to appeal to that market, and that's when you hear about this new item.
This creation of a genre is a slow, tedious process, but the e-book is speeding things up.
To find out how to achieve this result, study how it happened in the past, change the parameters that technology and social networking has changed, and launch a project into that new non-market. Become a market maker.
Those of My Blood and Dreamspy are good examples. Original first printing Those of My Blood has sold for $400-$500 in collector-quality condition (that means unread). Now you can get Those of My Blood for $3.19 and Dreamspy for $3.99 (I don't control the price, the publisher does.)
So how do you think of what to mix up with what to create something "new?" Or something you haven't ever encountered before?
Think about popular SETTING, and inject a character that doesn't belong there, living through a story that's familiar from a different setting.
The same old worn-out Western story can be told in Science Fiction if the Setting has Stars, Space, Spaceships, spacedrives, and space-type hazards to take the place of rattlesnakes, guns and desperadoes. To be good science fiction, the story needs hazards that aren't now possible. The characters have to solve problems that can't possibly exist by getting over their notion that the problem does not exist.
A Vampire on the Moon, in Those of My Blood -- that is just such an "impossible" problem. The Vampire is Fantasy element injected into a Science Fiction Setting, then twisted from the Horror Genre into Romance -- another genre where Vampires don't belong (according to marketers in the 1980's).
So when venturing to innovate where marketers fear to go, mix-and-match Settings and Characters.
So suppose instead of a Western, you had a Romance with International Intrigue and Vampires. But you set the story in the midst of a Galactic War. The Setting becomes Space, but the Romance drives the plot.
There was a time the marketers didn't know what to do with such a novel.
I wrote two such orphan-genre novels (Science Fiction Romance) for the St. Martin's Press hardcover SF line in the 1980's.
Both got marvelous reviews, but St. Martins withdrew all advertising efforts from their Science Fiction line for strategic reasons. The strategy was to publish the hardcover just to distribute to newspapers and magazines for review (because at that time, certain widely read venues would not review a paperback original).
So they printed only a couple thousand hardcover copies (hence the collector price) and never distributed to bookstores. You could buy (the month Those of My Blood was published) several hardcover and new paperback Vampire novels by very big name writers who got award attention for their novels.
But Those of My Blood, a brand new hardcover hailed as my breakout novel, was not on any store bookshelves (except the Independents) the month it was published. Where Independents special ordered it for those who knew it was forthcoming, they ordered only for the customer who wanted it and didn't put any on the shelves.
And then neither Those of My Blood or Dreamspy ever made it into Mass Market.
Eventually, another publisher picked them up, and they did pretty well, getting reprinted several times but only in trade paperback, and finally going out of print.
Then Wildside Press picked them up and now both novels are available in trade paperback and e-book editions.
There are no sex scenes the way you'd expect now, but at that time sex scenes were not allowed in Science Fiction. Marion Zimmer Bradley and Ursula LeGuinn changed that, but notice how their sex scenes differ from today's.