My Books, writing life

Finding my Niche

As I mentioned in the last post, I’m trying to deal with the business aspects of publishing so I can keep actually making a living at this. As part of that, I’ve been trying to level up on the business side of things, doing a lot of reading, attending workshops, etc. I went to a webinar this week that offered some good advice, but that also made me worry that I may not be suited to independent publishing.

One of the main pieces of advice was to find your niche and stick with it. Being consistent and delivering something tried and true is the best way to build, sustain, and grow a readership. A niche is a specific kind of book within a subgenre, such as, say, romantic comedy set in small towns with heroes who are ex-military. When you do this, you can build a steady readership who knows what they’re going to get when they read one of your books, and when they’re in the mood for the sort of thing you write, you’re the author they’ll turn to. Each book you write will have a built-in customer base.

I know this works because I know people who’ve been wildly successful doing this. But just thinking about everything I write being in the same niche gives me a panic attack. I don’t even know what my niche would be. If we go with what I’ve been most successful with, it would be light humorous contemporary fantasy with a hint of romance set in New York with adorkable wizards. You could fit most of what I’ve published so far into that niche. Take away the “New York” part and you could maybe even squeeze the mysteries in there. The YA books would be the outliers, though Rebel Mechanics fits if you remove “contemporary,” since it’s got New York and an adorkable wizard.

But I don’t really have any new ideas in that contemporary fantasy niche now. I’ve got plots for two more mysteries beyond what I’ve written. I sort of have an idea for another Fairy Tale book outlined, but am not really driven yet to write it. Right now, I’m not even reading contemporary-set books, fantasy or otherwise. I’ve tried to pick up a couple but have put them aside after a chapter because I just can’t get into that mindset. I don’t know if it’s everything going on in the world and wanting to escape right now or if it’s something else. I just don’t want to read about the “real” world in anything that looks like today, even if one of the characters is an adorkable wizard.

If I went by what I’m reading now and where my story ideas are, it would be “traditional” fantasy — secondary world, quasi-European (I’ve read some outside those lines, but I don’t know that I could write it), and set in a somewhat medieval-like past. That’s what I’m gravitating toward as a reader right now. I want castles and sailing ships and horses and forests, quests and swashbuckling. I have ideas for a couple of different series along those lines. Just about any new idea I come up with is in that realm. But I’ve never published anything like that. It would be entirely new, and the only thing in common with my previous books would be the adorkable wizards (they keep finding their way into my books), the snarky heroines, and probably the overall vibe. The settings would be entirely different from my other books, but I suspect it will still feel like me.

I may fall in love with something else a year from now, though, and want to write that. The thought of writing the same kind of book over and over again makes me queasy.

And not just the same kind of book, but the same series. That’s the other advice. And, again, I know it works. But I could only manage nine books in a series I loved before I started getting tired of it, and I even wrote a couple of other series in the meantime. The thought of writing 20 or more books in the same series, as some authors have, makes me twitchy. Now, most of these aren’t the kind of series where you have the same main characters and follow the same story arc. They’re more along the lines of the best friend from book 1 being the heroine of book 2, where heroine 1 is still a secondary character and heroine 3 is introduced. Or it’s a family, where each of the brothers gets his own book. There’s some variety there when you aren’t having to mine the same people for drama over and over again.

One of the fantasy ideas I have works kind of like that. I’m setting up a world where a lot of things can happen. There’s a throughline, but the main characters in each book will be different and there may be subseries within the series about different places in that world. I think I could have fun with that, though I don’t know if I could get to 20 books.

Really, I think I’m best suited for traditional publishing, where I don’t have to make the business decisions and where just being more or less within the same genre is good. They don’t want really massive series (unless they’re hugely successful, and then they’ll want to milk it as long as possible). Unfortunately, the kind of thing I like to write isn’t what publishers want. I keep coming up with ideas, and my agent tells me she can’t sell that. They’re backlogged thanks to the pandemic and the way that messed with publishing schedules and releases. My experiences there haven’t been all that great. I’ve never really felt like I’ve been in a situation where the people I was dealing with believed in me and backed me. I’ve never had a publisher let a series finish before they dropped me. Maybe I haven’t found the right editor with the right idea at the right time. Which means I want to keep doing this instead of getting a real job, I’ll need to suck it up and figure out a way to make it work. I think that fantasy series idea might work for me. At the very least, I could use it to establish myself in that field, and then if it does well, a traditional publisher might be interested in me. So far, what I’ve heard from publishers is that they want something like Enchanted, Inc. They don’t want to buy the Enchanted, Inc. series, but they don’t want anything that’s too different. That means I need to make my own name in something different for them to consider it.

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