Posted on June 26, 2020
There are a lot of opinions regarding the pros and cons of traditional or self-publishing route when wanting to get your work out there. The worst part? Most people form these opinions with little to no–to inaccurate research–they find on Twitter. Hopefully this post will debunk some false information floating around there. Have you self-published? Did your book flop? Check out my post here about the ugly truth about KU and how to succeed in self-publishing.
You’ve decided to not traditionally publish (trade pub) your book, and I want you to ask yourself a serious question. And that’s: Why? Is it any of these reasons?
Or are any of these your concern:
Let’s shoot straight. If your concerns for wanting to self-publish fall into the bulleted point reasons, these are not good enough reasons. You need to r e s e a r c h. And I don’t mean read other people’s opinions about self-publishing or form your own opinions based off what you’ve heard, particularly in regards to rumors floating around on Twitter.
Twitter facts are not facts!
Trying to find legitimate information on Twitter without contacting actual publishing professionals (agents or editors/sales/marketing staff who work for actual publishing houses), authors who have trade published, authors who have trade published and self-published and making a comprehensive list of questions of comparing and contrasting information, you will not have an accurate view of trade vs. self-publishing.
So what makes me qualified to give you my opinion? Well, for one, I have Master’s degrees in both publishing and creative writing. I’ve worked as an editor for a literary magazine. I’ve worked in marketing & social media in an established, international publishing house, and I did an entire MA Publishing thesis dedicated to NA in specific regards to self-publishing vs. trade publishing. I have interviewed and collected data from all of these people–plus more!
Still, my research isn’t fact, and I’m not saying this is the end-all-be-all for everyone. But, it’s a hell of a lot more accurate and thought out than many people who post on Twitter about self-publishing being the only route for a myriad of reasons that center around myths in traditional publishing. The things is, most of these authors have only heard, from word of mouth, about these trade issues. What happens when you play the game Telephone? You start with a phrase, such as, “I really like to eat pie on Wednesday.” And by the time it reaches the last person in line, it’s somehow becomes, “I like Fritos in the eyes, but only at weddings.” The entire original point gets twisted and becomes something new. This too happens when we share what we “heard” without fact-checking it.
If any of your reasons for not wanting to self-publish fall into the bullet points, I reiterate, they are not good reasons, and I’d love to tell you why. Let’s start with:
You think trade pub is “all luck.“ This particular opinion I see floating around constantly on Twitter irritates me because it is so untrue. Is it perhaps easier if you know the right person? Yes. But guess what? That’s anything in life. This in no way is special or contained to just trade publishing. And just because you know the right people doesn’t mean you’re an automatic shoo-in. This reason is ridiculous, and I’m not afraid to have a very harsh and decided opinion on that.
You think your writing is okay, but not good enough to hook an agent/house. Okay, well, if you’ve seen the first, second, third drafts, etc. from professional, famous writers you’ll realize one truth. They’re not all clean, pristine drafts that go right to the press. Some of these professionals still get confused by tenses and switch from present to past constantly in their works! This is what an editor is for. They mark-up grammar; fix syntax, style, tone; help with pacing; do so much more. Going through rounds of edits with a professional editor when I did my MFA thesis (where I wrote a novel & went through 3 rounds of edits like I would with a publishing house) is where I developed the most in regards to a more mature writing style. They helped me with things like voice, pacing, character development, setting, etc. But where I learned to really craft creative, engaging, and fun sentences was studying what my editor had changed. I taught myself how to correct the repetitive grammar mistakes I was making and what my editor was doing to help make my sentences glide and intertwine into one another to read like a flowing river instead of a stagnant marsh. If you’re writing is “okay” then that’s fine! An editor helps even the most common of writers shine, if they’re good at their job.
You think you’ll make more money with self-publishing. This one… I do giggle a bit. And here’s why. Even if you self-publish (KU or otherwise), someone else is still always going to get the majority of your royalties. Do people typically tend to get a bigger percent of royalties on KU? They do. But do they end up making more money? Nope. Here’s why. A good self-published novel (not even great, phenomenal, or fantastic) will have had someone take on the cost of editing (developmental, line, and copy), a decent and enticing cover, typesetting costs, marketing costs (such as running ads). The reason it’s harder to trade publish? Trade houses spend about $3,000-5,000 per author, per book to cover all these costs. This is the real reason trade publishing is so “hard” to break into. The dirty little secret, is that most of these books (in trade) don’t make back the costs the publishers took on to make it. They make the bulk of their money from their “evergreen” books. Things like “Twilight” or the “Percy Jackson” series or college text books from one of their imprints that sell every year without fail. Houses are looking for books that will not only make that money back, but become their next evergreen.
You think self-publishing is easier. This has got to be one of the biggest lies I’ve ever witnessed on Twitter. Self-publishing a Goliath amount of work. To have a legitimate book when self-publishing, you need to take on not only the costs of the publisher would, but also the work of marketing and sales which each house would have a dedicated team to. When you self-publish, you become all of these roles. You need to outsource to a trusted editor. Acquire an alluring cover. Pay someone to typeset your book for consistency (both the eBook and paper/hardbacks!). Plan your own marketing strategy, social media promos, and run useful ads. And a multitude of other things. Self-publishing is more work.
I want to point out that even if you have graphic design experience and/or a degree in it and can do all of the stylistic tasks yourself, one should never edit themselves. I don’t care if you have a degree in it. I have one, and I know because of that the worst person to edit someone’s work is the person who wrote it. You will always miss mistakes and make your work look lower-quality. And you know what? To get really good the 1%—who are well-known and make millions in self-publishing, like famous trade authors—pay the these costs and take more time than you’d believe to build their brand, as touched on in the blog post mentioned up top about KU and self-publishing.
Check it as many times as you want. If you edit yourself, there will always be heaps of mistakes.
You think your book isn’t what’s “hot” or trending in publishing right now. This might seem like a good reason, but here’s why I’m going to tell you it’s not. What’s trending right now is not what’s going to be popular in a year or 2 or whenever when your book actually hits the market. Everyone who wrote vampire books after the Twilight craze are just dusting them off now and querying because they’ve made a comeback. When they wrote them while the creatures were all the craze, many were told that they wouldn’t be trending by the time the book went to market. I’m not saying don’t querying your fae books right now, but even as they’re losing steam, keep them on the back burner, because everything comes back. But that zombie book you’ve written that went out of style 8 yeas ago? Take the chance. Query it. What if the trend a year from now is zombies, and wow, you’ve got an agent and a finished zombie book perfect for the market! Just because you think people won’t want to read your “niche” book or popular tropes or what have you, doesn’t mean others think the same. Not to mention, if an agent reads your book and falls in love with your writing and style, just because the book you queried isn’t “right” at this point in no way means they’ll reject you. They can and have still signed people and then read other works by the authors and gone on to query those before whipping out that OG manuscript and finally letting it see the paper press.
If any of these are the reasons you’re self-publishing, I believe they aren’t the right ones. Especially if you’re not willing or in the position to take on every role of the publishers and hire out for jobs you can’t do yourself–which at the very least needs to be willing to take on the costs of an editor (who developmentally, line, and copyedits the entire novel)! Yes it’s expensive. But if you want a book to sell like a trade book, it needs to be the quality of a trade book.
Addressing the the reasons you want to self-publish that fall under the numbered list. These are legitimate reasons to self-publish! These are reasons that I would say, “Yes, you should consider self-publishing, and you have the potential to do it well!” I do feel like I need to point out that if you fall under this category in everything except “You have the money to pay for various editing, cover design, typesetters costs & have a solid marketing plan/team then you still should not be self-publishing your work.
You don’t want to wait 1-3 years to hook an agent, editor, publisher & finally see your book published. This is legit. Books come out about every year if you’re doing some type of duology, series, or saga, but getting initially published takes a bit longer. When you’re established, have a contract and can write your books it goes a bit faster, but it still usually takes a year in between book birthdays to drop the next in a series when you go trade. If you write fast, edit fast, are paying to have your work top quality, and can write and edit several books within a year and want to get them out as fas as possible, self-publishing will have a bigger appeal to you. This coincides with the point You want to rapidly release books (either in a series, spin-offs, or multiple standalones). This is a serious reason to consider self-publishing. Again, I feel the need to point out something fairly obvious, which is even if you’re writing and editing fast, if you aren’t retaining, listening to, or changing issues that betas and/or editors are constantly point out to you, this isn’t going to help your books sell. You can have a top-tier edited book and still have it be incredibly unappealing to readers, which is discussed in the (Un)popular Opinion of KU post.
You think you’ll have more control in self-publishing. This is absolutely true. You have final say over everything. Edits and advice you do and don’t take. Final say on what the cover looks like to the T. What the blurb says. What the synopsis says. What the final title will be. You get to choose all of this. I’m not going to lie and say you can never have control over any of these in trade publishing, but I will admit the smaller the house, the more “freedom” the author typically gets. Self-publishing is the smallest house of all, therefore you get the most creative freedom.
The last point about being able to cover the costs is self-explanatory and I feel like I’ve talked about it enough. You need to have this. If you’re going to successfully self-publish yourself, build an author brand people want to associate with, and put out quality work without going through a trade publisher, you need to spend the money.
My goal here is to help you realize that trade isn’t the intimidating, gated, exclusive community only the “chosen” ones are invited into. Is it harder? Yes! Of course, but there are reasons! It’s not because agents and publishers just don’t like you! They’re looking at every book with the potential to become evergreen, or at the very least breakeven on the amount they spent editing, setting, designing, and marketing authors’ books. You shouldn’t jump straight into self-publishing because it’s going to be “easier” or “faster.” It could be, if you take short cuts. But you aren’t going to see the revenue, engagements, and growth you want.
There are some absolute genuine and appropriate reasons to self-publish. But a lot of what I see doesn’t cut it. What I tend to see are people cutting corner to just get their books out there and then getting angry when they aren’t selling as well as other authors or as well as they thought they would, particularly when the eBook rights are all with KU.
Not sure why your self-published book isn’t selling well? Even if you’ve done all of the work and covered all of the costs aforementioned? Again, maybe this KU/self-publishing analysis post will clear up the reasons!
Posted on June 19, 2020
I’ve said before that I’m not here to be excessively nice, but I’m not here to be mean. I adore talking all things writing and publishing, whether I’m learning or teaching. I’m immensely passionate about it. But that doesn’t mean that I sugarcoat things. I didn’t with my NA post about where its past, present, and future stands in publishing based on my thesis research, even though I wanted to be biased and overly-positive because it’s something I love. I’m here to help give new, amateur, and seasoned writing facts, tricks, and a fun way to learn about something we both love so we can all get better and excel.
I lead with all of this to say, this post may sound like it’s negatively or callously targeted towards self-publishers. And it’s not. There are some self-published authors doing everything right. But self-publishing has a bad reputation in the publishing, reading, and writing realm outside of Twitter, and there’s legitimate concern and reasons for that. This isn’t an opinion only shared by publishing professionals or those highly educated in the industry that I’ve seen referred to as “elitists” solely for their academia achievements. This isn’t the sole opinion of the Big 5 board members, sipping on their 120-year-old brandy in their diamonds on plush loungers about how this new age “self-publishing” is bad because they’re losing money. They’re not.
This isn’t an attack on anyone. This is a reality check for why your KU book may not be doing well. Or why others who seem to be doing the same things as you are generating more sales, engagement, and reviews. It’s analysis of why self-publishing has a bad rep everywhere except Twitter, the pitfalls young & naive new authors fall into when publishing for the first time, and the opinions of our society correlating to the Arts (writing in this case) which could be why your book has/is flopping.
My intention is not to be mean. But this is a brutally honest and blunt take on why the world outside of social media platforms looks down on self-publishing and KU books in general. These are serious issues that may offend, but they need to be said. I’m not afraid to say them and try to help those who’ve fallen into these self-publishing traps so that their next book(s) do better!
This blog post is truly the unpopular opinion in (self) publishing you NEED to hear if you plan to/have/or are in the process of self-publishing your work.
Jumping in! Here’s the real reason most self-published books flop. When you self-publish–this is important and nonnegotiable–you must take on the full costs a trade publisher would. If you decide to do it yourself, to have a product worth someone’s time, money, and 5-star review it needs to look and read professionally. The self-publishers who are doing incredibly well–the smaller percent of self-publishers–pay for all of these costs, and when they hit enough revenue, go a step further by hiring PR and marketing teams to further promote themselves. Most say it took about five (5) years to gain recognition without them doing their own marketing by word-of-mouth themselves which led to generating a livable wage that accounted for half their household’s income, two (2) more to gain enough to further their brand as an author to really market well, and then two (2) more to be really comfortable. That’s NINE (9) years in total, a bunch of time, determination, and money to get where they are today.
Here comes a hot take.
For some reason, writers think it’s enough to engage in #writerslifts and #f4f, get a huge amount of followers (and in turn be following massive amounts of randoms), post a snippet and/or low-quality graphic of their book with the link to Amazon every once in a while, and BAM. That should sell it.
Worse, writing Twitter (looking at the toxic #writingcommunity) engages in a multitude of negative behaviors, one by bullying those who don’t support other (all) self-published authors. Your writing Twitter is your “Author Brand.” What you endorse is there forever for everyone to see. If you don’t feel comfortable retweeting, commenting, or even liking a publishing/writing industry mutual’s tweet about their book or work because it’s poor quality, you should not be made to feel like the bad guy. What you publicly advocate and support is so important. Your name is associated with that person or product forever. You have no obligation to endorse anything you don’t want in the name of “loyalty.” Random. Mutual. Friend. No one is entitled to your time, energy, or support for any reason ☺️.
So when self-publishers engage in these soulless automaton lifts and don’t get any engagement or perhaps get tweet engagement but lack sales, we can conclude something doesn’t add up about their product. If your book is professionally edited, did the editor charge less and cut corners? Are people saying certain things about your book over and over that you aren’t listening to? Are there unaddressed plot holes? Too toxic a character(s)/plot that never grows or resolves? Unlikeable characters–in a way that makes the book impossible for others to connect with and in turn read? This is why beta and editor feedback is so important to listen to in self-publishing.
A book’s success is dependent, first and foremost in self-publishing, on its quality. Sure there are readers who don’t care about or realize there are a multitude grammatical errors. But publishing professionals, other authors, and many readers will realize the quality of the work isn’t worth the money or time they’d waste on it. The first thing people who denounce self-publishing will look for are poorly edited works! This does not just mean grammatical mistakes have been corrected. This accounts for all the mentioned elements in the meme above (plot holes, toxic and unlikeable characters and plots, poorly edited grammar), as well as: writing style, consistence, and coherency. The plot, pacing, character development. And all CMS grammar rules. (This is particularly important, because professional editors and the entire publishing industry use the grammar rules of CMS.) It encompasses all 3 sides to editing (line, copy, and developmental), which is why it’s so important to listen to beta feedback and not scrimp on an editor or editing services for you self-published books.
A disturbing number of writers on Twitter think it’s enough to follow everyone on follow-trains 🚂 and at the end of the day their 5,oo0+ followers will all buy their book, giving them a livable income and cultivating an authentic audience. This is false.
So if your book isn’t edited (or not edited well), has plot holes, toxicity that never resolves, or unlikeable characters that make the book utterly unreadable, these are some technical (grammar) and craft reasons of why it’s not selling. But let’s say your book is edited well, there are no obvious plot holes, and your characters and plot are widely received. But your book still is not selling! You’re no self-publisher who’s cut corners! And your editor didn’t either!
Have you considered your marketing strategy isn’t working? How are you marketing? If you’re only using your Twitter platform, are you hitting keywords? Hashtags aren’t so important. If I look up something on Twitter like, “shapeshifter” results with #shapeshifter will come up–along with tweets that just have the word “shapeshifter” in it as well. Don’t waste your character count on hashtagging certain themes/tropes/elements of the book that will come up regardless of a hashtag.
Another thing I’d recommend not doing? Wasting character counts on hashtagging things like #writingcommunity #amwriting #authorslife #debutauthor etc. Why? Most of the time, when someone attaches these hashtags to their tweets, more people see them, yes. But on average they get maybe 1-3 (depending on how big the account is, if it’s retweeted, liked, commented on, and how big the audience is of those actually trolling the hashtag) more than they would before. Why waste 17 characters on the writing community hashtag when you could instead talk about that slow burn aspect, or the unique sci-fi/fantasy (SFF) blend your book has, or literally a novel’s worth of other things that would get more people’s attention than the 1 other person who’s going to be seeing your book tweet by stalking a hashtag?
Right, so you’re not using meaningless hashtags. What ARE you using? Besides certain keywords that get readers’ attention, a great way to uniquely pitch your book in a tweet is to use emojis! Everyone loves emojis. They’re cute and make your book stand out. Each takes up 2 character counts, rather than 1 which may surprise some, but it’s worth it. And sometimes you can get rid of complete words by using an emoji and up your character count! I’d recommend saying the word and using the emoji. Take a tweet I made for fun about one of my WIPs below as an example!
Obviously pitched as a book promo things would change. But the general idea is there!
Another thing that’s so important? The image associated with your tweet! The same boring photo of your book’s cover on a phone, a book, or on a tablet template you’ve copy and pasted over is not going to keep getting you new, bright, shiny-eyed readers who are enamored by your entire pitch, including the graphic you post with it. Mix things up! Make a snippet with a bunch of graphics related to the book. Collages and graphics are so easy to make these days (but make sure you’re using royalty free images)! If you absolutely can’t do it yourself, pay or befriend those who can. You can always try to swap services with someone who has a skill you need if you can’t afford certain things. Want a bunch of graphics but can’t afford so many new ones all the time because that royalty check hasn’t come in yet? Try your luck at swapping services with someone. What can you do that they might benefit from?
DO NOT talk yourself up for tasks you can’t do. If you’ve never gone to school to edit, gotten an MFA in creative writing, or studied lit theory or editing in detail, don’t go offering your services as an editor. You’ll get a bad reputation, and guess what–people talk. In real life. In the publishing industry. And all over Twitter. If you’re a published author with viable feedback and clients someone can ask about past projects and think you can offer legitimate developmental services, go ahead. But make sure you’re just as aware of your limitations as others are so you don’t oversell yourself and end up blacklisted from the industry.
What’s something everyone can do? A E S T H E T I C S. This is my favorite topic and my friends refer to me as the Aesthetic Queen 😇 ♛. There are so many apps for phones, tablets, and computers you can use to make your own aesthetics for your books. These images should have the vibe you’re going for that somehow expresses something big about your book through images. As creatives, we should be creative! Think of a cool and different way you could market your book through images! Here are some examples of aesthetics I’ve made for my current querying title. (Note that these are from Pinterest mostly and can’t be used as “promotional” images unless they’re from a royalty free website, made from a designer for you, or made by you.)
Any of these would catch someone’s eye–and have on my own Twitter! They can be as obscure, creative, weird, or as odd as you want! I have better examples for other books with unique layouts, but you can imagine for yourself how to make aesthetics that cater, fit, and make your own books pop!
Here are some websites where you can check out free royalty-free, stock images.
If you’re doing all of this and more when it comes to marketing yourself on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram–whatever else kind of social media– you’re using to promote yourself for free, now you need to think about spending marketing money. Every single successful self-published author I interviewed, listened to podcasts about, researched, etc., all ran ads on a numerous of platforms (such as Facebook, Amazon, or Google).
This blog post isn’t dedicated to me explaining how to succeed by professionally marketing yourself as a self-publisher. There are countless how-to articles, videos, books, and podcasts on the topic. I will tell you that depending on where you decide to run ads, you need to thoroughly research each platform, because different tactics and practices work on different online platforms. I studied this extensively at my publishing house in regards to Facebook and Amazon in particular. I personally don’t think that Twitter or Goodreads ads are worth the money. If you’re going to spend money on Twitter, I’d use it boosting book promo tweets rather than running ads. Facebook and Amazon (heavy emphasis on Amazon, especially for those who have their eBook rights exclusively with Amazon on KU) were most successful in my experience. As always, do you own research! I was running specific, niche-heavy, campaigns that worked best for the digital marketing audience of Amazon and Facebook’s platforms. Take into account your audience, their ages, the types of social media your top demographic is using most of, and go from there.
If you’ve paid someone to edit your book well; have received praise on character development and plot; have a professional and pleasing cover; are running promo tweets that mix it up, are fun, interactive, engaging and eye-catching; add aesthetics to mix up promo posts; are using emojis; have an authentic fan-base; are spending money running ads; and still aren’t seeing the revenue you wanted, remember my findings from the beginning of this post, which was successful self-publishers who were doing everything right took, on average, 5 years to grow a decent enough fan-base to support half of their household income. It’s going to take time. It’s not going to fall into your lap overnight. Life seldom hands us fame on a silver platter. Even the 1% of trade published authors had to fight to get where they are today. You might just need more time and products.
I want to end with something that will be highly contested by some. But it holds truth and needs to be said. Everyone thinks that they can write a book. Most professional writer’s have more than one horror story about being on a date, hangout, at a party, and mentioning that they write books for a living where someone pops up in the most annoying way about how they wrote their very own book. A memoir! And though they don’t read memoirs (or, you know, even read) you surely would love their writing. Why don’t you buy their book and give them yours for free and they’ll do you the curtesy of reviewing it. Everyone thinks they can write a book. That writing, is inherit. That someone can write and write and rewrite and because they’re writing so much they must be getting better. Without ever studying literature, literary theory, craft elements of writing, or in any way educating themselves with scholarly books and research on how to write and write better.
What am I trying to say? Writing is not something that just anyone can pick up and “do.” Does that sound mean? 🤷 It’s true. The society we live in tells people that the Arts are something anyone can do. Maybe you’re thinking you agree. Maybe you’re thinking you know someone who knew someone who never read and or tried to write and then wrote an amazing story and is now a famous or semi-famous author.
Think of it this way. Why can “anyone write a book” but not everyone can just, oh, casually build engineering equipment in their spare time? They, what? Need to study the material to be able to make something worthwhile? Society tells us that anyone can write as a “hobby.” Fine, write as a hobby. People also build robots and clocks in their spare time as hobbies without researching how to properly make one. Writing a book without the intent, discipline, drive, and ambition to learn the actual craft is equivalent to an amateur building a robotic blueprint, making a subpar, sputtering mess of bolts and gears that chokes up every 3 seconds while leaking oil, and then wondering why the hell NASA won’t buy their design.
Gaining skills by reading in general, your genre(s) or others, still isn’t enough for someone to claim they’re an expert or qualified to be an experienced writer. To put it another way, this would be like an avid Law and Order fan, deciding that since they’ve seen every episode ever, tomorrow they’re going to successfully try and win their very first criminal case with no law degree or legitimate training. Likewise, it’s comparable to a baker deciding to try and intubate someone because they’ve seen all 16 season of Grey’s Anatomy, though they’ve never taken a human physiology and anatomy class or gone to med/nursing school. I’m not saying you have to go to school and get an MFA in writing or English. But you do need to read literature and academia, take workshops, find a mentor, rely on CP’s (critique partner), beta, and editing advice to get better. By pursuing multiple avenues that teach you expert techniques to improve your talent.
This applies to those who have degrees or higher ed or have taken CE (continued education) classes in their profession. It’s not just writing. Many professions (law or medicine are the obvious ones) you have to keep up with the latest rules, techniques, trends, etc. It’s not just “I’ve written a book and now I am a professional.” It’s a lifelong continued experience of bettering and teaching yourself how to stay fluent and experienced in your profession. In any profession you must always keep educating yourself. Having an M.D. doesn’t make you a good doctor, just how having an MFA in writing doesn’t automatically make you great at writing. Continued practice and drive to be better is what makes the best in their field shine.
Another reason why KU is looked at as “amateur” is because most of the people who are publishing, are–in fact–amateurs who have no desire to put in the work to get better. This might sound mean, but literally no one says this about any other profession. So why do we take the Arts, and writing in particular, for granted as something “anyone” can do. Clearly that isn’t the case. And KU is proof of that. It’s clogged with poor-quality robots (books) and writers on Twitter complaining that NASA (the Big 5) won’t recognize or pay for their work.
This is a standard and wholly agreed upon viewpoint outside of writing Twitter. Here’s a Twitter thread that speaks more to it!
Of course in any field you have your prodigies. But as He’s Just Not That Into You taught us, they are the exception. And you, my friend, are the rule. We are all the rule! The vast difference in my writing from before I went to school to study it to now is incredible. I tell people as often as I can, if you want to make this a career and are in any way considering doing an MFA in creative writing, do your research, find the perfect school and APPLY. But even after being out of school for more than a year, reading, educating and continuing to write, my writing only gets better as time and energy go by.
This Hot Take™️ is the (un)popular opinion in self-publishing. Which basically translates to mean: this is how the entire publishing world views self-publishing and why. Except for the one sect of Writing Twitter. This isn’t to be mean. This is an honest and blunt account of why people have such a low opinion of self-publishing and ways for you to rise above, if this is the path you plan to take. There are a bunch of self-published authors doing. it right! Pippa Grant, C.N. Crawford, K.F. Breene, Emma L. Adams, Suzanne Wright, Shayne Silvers, etc. But they all put the time and money into it. And they all had a slow and painful climb to the top. That’s how it is in any profession. Why should writing be any different?
Posted on June 15, 2020
Shall we start with defining a subgenre? NA, YA, MG, adult, all of these are genres, in the sense of how you classify where to place a book, based on age-range. Within those genres, we have categories (which can also be genres themselves on their own). Such as a fantasy, a sci-fi, mystery, realistic fiction, etc. And within those? Even more categories we can call subcategories (subgenres)!
Example: subgenres of fantasy include but aren’t limited to: dark fantasy, fairytale retellings, high fantasy, low fantasy, epic fantasy, medieval fantasy, etc. In sum: Within all genres (ex: YA) are categories, (ex: fantasy) and within those categories are subcategories (ex: dark fantasy). All of these subgenres–and more–are in NA, but there are a few trends in NA that are a bit specific to the genre!
**Note that not all are only specific to NA and any can be used in any other genre, these are just the current popular trends**
I think the biggest confusion with any of these subgenres is what constitutes a book as UF (urban fantasy) and what makes it PN/PNR (paranormal/paranormal romance). While the two can be very similar, there are specific things that need to happen in both. I believe the others are more self explanatory, so I’ll be digging deepest into UF and PNR and the differences first before touching on the other poplar subgenres of NA.
Urban fantasy: Arguably, one of the most popular genres in new adult fiction is the urban fantasy subgenre. As always, let’s define what it is we’re actually talking about: “Urban fantasy is a subset of contemporary fantasy, consisting of novels and stories with supernatural and magical elements set in contemporary, real-world, urban settings, as opposed to ‘traditional’ fantasy set in imaginary locations.”
Urban fantasy is an important subgenre in new adult that needs to be discussed in length. In a way, it’s a mix of multiple genres, and it also could be said to be the bulk of new adult novels, aside from contemporary (particularly in regards to KU).
Let’s start with the basics of UF. For a book to be considered an urban fantasy, there are 5 things it needs.
Let’s start with the city. This doesn’t mean just in any city. Not a small coastal Nicholas Sparks city or a medium-sized forest village or a “what-have-you-city” that’s basically a normal city not set in the country or dead wilderness. The city needs to be a metropolis.
A) the capital or chief city of a country or region. “he preferred the peaceful life of the countryside to the bustle of the metropolis” Similar: capital (city); chief town county; town county; borough administrative center.
B) a very large and densely populated industrial and commercial city. “by the late eighteenth century Edo had grown to a metropolis with a population of nearly one million” Similar: big city; conurbation; megalopolis; urban sprawl; concrete jungle.
The New Yorks, LAs, Londons, Paris’ of the book’s world building (if it’s set in a different world). The thing with UF is that it can be set in the real world where magic exists (that society either does or does not know about which will be discussed in point 2) or it can be set in a fantasy world. However, the city always need to be a hustle and bustle of your NOLAs and Tokyos. This means a high, densely-populated city with the sophistication of modern (or future) technology. And typically the “laws” of the world are introduced quickly, along with the setting of transportation and the deal with law enforcement in the world. UF is all about who is in charge (cops? angels? witches? shifters?) and the typical way a citizen would get from point A to point B (subway? trolley? bus? bullet train?).
Next up, the magic. A fantasy (urban or not) needs some type of fantastical element. This extends from the magic of witches/warlock, vampires, werewolves, faeries, shapeshifter gargoyles, what have you. There needs to be some type of magic and supernatural element involved. Basically any type of preternatural element is considered okay for urban fantasy, but to achieve the “sweet spot” in a good urban fantasy, the main magic stems from some type of spell or ritual (most times gone wrong) by either your main character, or another character, which typically is the inciting incident of the novel. It should be noted that UF can take place in the real world where supernaturals/magic is “hidden” from society (humans) or in an AU (alternate universe) where the world is Earth, but magic is out in the open for whatever reason. Same two types of world rules apply for a made up fantasy world.
What the plot is really about: the mystery. The central, standard plot of an urban fantasy is a mystery. Some type of conundrum has occurred that usually spurs a misunderstanding that the main character gets involved in. Typically, the MC has been falsely accused or set up to take the fall for the mystery and then must set out for the novel to prove their innocence. This leads to major players consisting of law enforcement agents, cops, PI’s… UF fans love a good whodunit mystery in their fantasy.
No one can tell you how to write your book–but I’m going to tell you that the general and 4th element to a good urban fantasy is POV told from 1st person. What does this mean? Simply the story is in the head of the main character. It’s “I” and “me” instead of “he” or “she” or “they” when referring to the MC. This is typically because 1st person POV leads to a stronger voice for many writers, and a UF needs a strong voice. We also see the ideals, laws, and lens of the society/story told though what the main character perceives and knows to be truth.
Last, but in no way least, the s i z z l e. I’ve gone and told you that NA is not erotica. Erotica is its own genre in and of itself. What the majority of NA does have? Some 🔥 romance. UF is no different. To have a good (in the sense of a traditional) UF, there’s got to be some sizzle between characters. I can tell you that this generally happens with someone the MC is forced to be paired up with (usually someone in law enforcement that is either helping prove their innocence or trying to prove the MC did, in fact, do the crime) where they fall into some serious lust along the way. This doesn’t mean a few sideways glances, a “manly-man” handing a poor woman his coat because she’s cold, or chaste kisses that make our MC bug-eyed and freeze. I’m talking about some witty banter cloaked in innuendoes, some intense, lusty stares as their eyes bore into the MC (or vice versa) where the characters know they’re undressing the other with their eyes. A good UF has some seriously hot and heavy petting, making out, and sex in the most inappropriate of places, like a bar, an alley, or when they’re on the run from the real antagonist of the book. Because who doesn’t love a romp in the hay when they’re being chased by a psycho killer? It certainly always works out well in horror movies.
Paranormal: So what sets paranormal & paranormal romance (PN/PNR) apart from urban fantasy (UF)? Just the way there are tropes within plot (enemies to lovers/best friends to lovers/brother’s best friend), there are popular tropes within these specific genres. UF, as we just saw, has 5 typical elements & tropes that are what make a book urban fantasy. So let’s start with how PN/PNR are different.
Typical plot tropes in PN/PNR:
A quick touch on each. The love story in a PNR is the central theme in the book. The heart of the book is about the love story. The external and internal conflicts (plot vs character) are centered around the feelings and happen because of the MC(s)’s love. They’re also almost evenly distributed. (This means the antagonists are causing plot problems because of one or both of the MCs and their attraction/feelings, as well as the internal conflict coming from the MCs mental/emotional torment because of those same attraction/feelings.)
HEA (happily ever after) and HFN (happy for now) is a general theme to a PN/PNR’s end! There needs to be a bright, shiny light at the end of all that struggle that is either within reach for the characters–or bathing them in a golden glow by the end.
Self-explanatory, but a PN/PRN needs paranormal creatures. This can be as many or as few as you want, but there needs to be at least one humanoid species that isn’t a human!
Also obvious: action scenes which contain some good fights and typically end in someone’s death (at least once in the novel, but usually many times) should be present in a PN/PNR.
So the romance. Let’s get a few things straight. While PNR tend to get steamy 💨 and some say border on erotica, this does not encompass the entire genre. Common plot tropes in PNR are: forbidden love, enemies to lovers, friends to lovers, soulmates, second chance (reincarnation). They also typically feature alpha men who are fated mates to (usually human) women who tend to be strong in their own regard, even if they aren’t physically a match. And while there do tend to be a lot of books with morally grey alpha behavior (throwing around dominance, rough in bed, trying to force some type of CONSENSUAL sexual submission) this does not mean rape to lovers or rape of any kind is tolerated or the norm for this genre. Actually, any type of sexual assault infuriates the (dominant) men of most PN/PRN novels. So, while steamy sex scenes are not only appreciated, but expected, there’s still a line drawn in the sand about how far is too far in a typical PNR book.
Lastly, POV(s)! The fun thing about PN/PNR is that there are typically 2 POVs, one from the female MC of the novel and one from the male MC (whom are destined by some fate to be together) told from 1st person POV, though sometimes limited (or “close”) 3rd is used. PN/PNRs also tend to be series–with a new set of MCs for each book. So if book 1 focuses on the alpha’s love life, you can bet book 2 is most likely the beta’s (or someone similar). It’s also usually hinted at by the end of the novel whose book will be next. The MCs can absolutely be the same sex in an LQBTQA+ PN/PNR.
So the main differences? PN/PNR can be told in any setting. City, environment, size, etc. does not matter. The supernatural element in PN/PNR usually comes from many preternatural creates and focuses less on magic and more on the actual races of different creatures. There doesn’t have to be a mystery in PNR, and if there is, it certainly comes second to the romance, unlike UF. While they both should have some kickin’ romance, PNR does tend to be a bit wilder, graphic, and “adult.” Another thing is UF’s usually are series (but don’t have to be) with the same MC for the entire series arc, where sometimes the author will make spin-off series featuring another character from the books (again as a series with that one MC for the protagonist in all books). Whereas PN/PNR are a standalone series, where books can be read out of order, are plot resolved by the end, and go through most of the main and side characters stories by the series end.
With those out of the way, we’re going to quickly address the other popular subgenres of NA. If you were just here for the differences of UF and PN/PNR… Well, I’d still want to read on, but that ship has now passed for this post.
Shifter romance: You might be wondering how this differs from PNR, since many of PN/PNR center around or have shifters in them. It’s a slight difference, one you may have to pay close attention to. Firstly, most shifter romances only have shifters as the supernatural creatures. Typically they center around wolf shifters, though other popular animals include bears, cougars, jaguars–basically any Felidae or Canidae that can eat your face off. The popular plot trope in this one is “fated mates” typically where an alpha male is mated to a human female who appears too weak. Though, it should be noted that almost as popular is an alpha male destined to an alpha female, whom, for whatever, reason has decided to never love/mate again. Witches, zombies, necromancers, etc. generally don’t pop up. Though sometimes vampires will make appearances in some (touching on that age-old trope of vampires vs. werewolves or “shapeshifters”). This doesn’t mean they can’t have them, right, these are the general specifics of the subgenres. For informational purposes of this post, shifter novels typically only feature other like-wise shifters as far as supernatural creatures ago.
Billionaire romance: Honestly, if you can’t figure this one out…
Plot twist: I don’t.
Right, so, billionaire romance. You’ve got a guy. He’s got money. You’ve got a girl. She typically doesn’t. It’s your basic Cinderella, man comes to rescue damsel cloaked in soot and grease from working tirelessly (usually at his own company). This book also likes the typical high school trope makeover scenes, where the geeky coder girl who wears glasses brushes her hair for what must be the first time in 10 years and puts in a pair of contacts, and the MC male is like, “Wow, who’s that hottie, and why haven’t I banged her yet?” And his friend so helpfully chimes in, “Bro, that’s (MC female)!” And they both ogle her, because, wow! She’s beautiful with makeup. Who’d have thought she’d look so different with actual paint on her face. Amazing. (Clearly I can’t get enough of this subgenre.) There are definitely authors who make it different and fun–check out Pippa Grant’s America’s Geekheart to see what I’m talking about–but the majority tend to stick in a very damsel-in-distress vibe that I find is played out most of the time. What I love about Pippa’s rom-coms (and her in general when it comes to a self-publisher who’s doing it right) are that her heroines embody Meg from Hercules. And yet are still all vastly different from one another.
Reverse harem: For your entertainment, and participation trophy for reaching this far in this post, I’ve saved the fucking weirdest, most erotic, and downright strange (for mainstream Western culture & societal rules) for last. Also, as an anthropology BA, I love pointing out certain ethnocentric themes and unaccepted cultural viewpoints of other countries that we (Wester societies) denounce because they’re different. RIGHT. Moving on.
What’s a reverse harem, you ask? Well, a harem, historically speaking, was a gaggle of women who were available to a male in power (a king, a lord, an emperor, etc.) who serviced him. And no, I don’t mean they changed his oil and filled his wiper fluid. I mean, we could argue his oil was sperm and the wiper fluid was his need fill up on grapes, but I digress. These women existed to cater to his every sexual desire. They weren’t jealous, they shared him, many times participating in a threesome, foursome, how-ever-many-some he wanted. So if we reverse that…
Ding, ding, ding! A reverse harem is a book that centers around a female MC who ends up romantically with several men, all of whom are there to pleasure her with whatever/whenever she needs. They all get along, share her, share space with each other, and are one big, happy family! These are really popular with 2 different types of setting. One: a fantasy in which the MC is some powerful goddess divine, succubus, queen of whatever, you get my drift. Or, it’s set in the real world, where some poor sap of a woman is being attacked and a team of Navy SEALs (or any Special Ops group) protect her whilst sexing her up one-by-one until they all fall in love with her.
For anyone wondering about the validity of this subgenre and its popularity, not only has it grown and is continuing to grow (in KU), but it started as a thing in traditional publishing, (though more than often not focusing on a ménage a trois rather than 4+ men and one woman) and took off in self-publishing since its inception, starting only in 2016!
For the scoop on how to capture (or read about) a Harry, Dick, and Tom, check out this article!
In retrospect, this could have been two articles, one comparing UF and PN/PNR and then one discussing the other popular subgenres of NA, but congrats! You made it to the end and now can confidently talk about that reverse harem you want to write, and floor your writer friends when you explain that their UF is actually a PNR! Go forth and prosper. And as always, RESEARCH! 🥳🌻
Posted on May 11, 2020
There’s confusion about what exactly a character driven novel means, and vice versa, what a plot driven novel means. This post is to help to clear up those misconceptions you might have seen and provide examples of both (and even a third *gasp*) to help you further see the differences. This is important to know! Why? Agents will specifically ask for one of these many times in the myriad of places you can find their requests. So let’s get started!
**I just want to add that having a specific writing style (such as plotting/planning, pantsing, and plantsing) in no way contributes to the type of driven novel you write. If you know all the information, know none of it, get it from your characters through writing, decide it all on the spin of a dime, this in no way impacts the type of novel you’re writing. You can be a plotter and write a character driven novel. You can be a pantser and write a plot driven novel. You can be any kind of writer and write any kind of driven novel. Learn here which type of planning writer you are!
Character driven novels are simply novels that focus on the specific MC(s) of the novel! This means, without the particular MC(s) the novel would be completely different. While character driven novels have, in the past, been tended to be labeled as “literary fiction” that’s far from the truth. It used to be a standard that literary was character driven and genres like mystery or fantasy were plot driven. After all, they’re born and bred to fight off a certain plot element. I don’t find this to be 100% true. I think that good genre fiction is a mix of both, and I really hate to say “mix them both” because it should be said that even plot driven novels should have, if not an actual internal monologue of the main character(s) struggling with interpersonal issues or decisions, then at least some type of outward cues that they’re struggling. Everyone struggles in real life, even if they brave it with a smile. There’s are always cues. No matter how miniscule.
Some things a character driven novel should include:
Plot driven novels are novels that focus more on external issues rather than internal struggles. There is an outward force driving the novel or plot, such as an evil antagonist that needs to be defeated or natural disaster that have changed the course of the characters’ lives. Unlike the character driven novels, while some characters might be important, it’s more about the journey or completing a mission or whatever the over arching goal of the story/series is. Plot driven novels have easily identifiable plot points. A clear inciting incident, clear points where the novel is advancing throughout the story, and generally have at least one twist.
A plot driven novel will have:
Consider these examples:
Let me lead with an example I have and then a published series that I think embodies both and why to help clear up confusion. In a specific series I’m working on, I have a MC who is a dragon shifter. In her futuristic fantasy world, dragon shifters are thought to be extinct. On top of this, she has a type of magic that’s labeled as black magic from the government of her world, and therefore must hide her shifting ability and her magical abilities, trying to pass it off as something else. She does an okay job of this at first when she’s living in a cute, little costal town away from the hustle and bustle of the government’s capital. When she has to move to the capital because her sister (whom she is guardian of) gets offered an internship in a government held position, she gets thrust into a dark world where keeping her secrets is the difference between freedom and imprisonment–most likely leading to death.
If this story were told from someone else’s POV, let’s say the younger 17-year-old sister who knows nothing of her sister’s secrets, magic, or fear of the government, the series would look vastly different! The audience (readers) wouldn’t know of the older sister’s abilities until the younger MC found out herself. She wouldn’t know about her sister’s past, the illegal things she’s done, or the fact that their mother was also a rare dragon shifter.
This series is partly character driven because the story revolves around the main character(s) and their internal conflict! If this book were from the younger sister’s POV, the LI’s POV, or the LI’s mother (who is the series antagonist) every single aspect would basically be different. Yes, the characters would still have the same types of magic, personality traits, and possibly behave the same, but the same events would not occur, in any of these four stories. Each story would be very different. The whole story I’m telling about the woman with illegal magic as a suspected extinct type of shifter, is half what drives the story! It drives her actions and how she responds to all the aforementioned characters, and in turn, that affects how they respond back. Say the book was from the younger sister’s perspective, and she found out her sister’s secret. She might turn her into the government, and the LI’s mother, and the older sibling would die. Or if the story was from the LI’s perspective and he found out, the series would most likely revolve and be driven by his torn internal thoughts and loyalties between telling his mother what the dragon shifter really is and his feelings for her and the fact that she’s basically innocent except for possessing magic she couldn’t help be born with.
While there is an overarching plot of “will she, won’t she” get caught and her eventual betrayal towards her government which sparks the antagonist to hunt her down, the novel equally is about an internal struggle she is having with her illegal magic and the external conflict of being what society considers a “bad” person because of her inherit magic.
If you’re still confused by how a book series could be both, consider this published example. I want to use a series that is typically stored under “plot driven” but I think can embody both, especially towards the end of the series. The Harry Potter books can be considered… *drum roll please!* Both! In a quick explanation, if the book were centered around Hermione, Draco, or Snape, do you see how the series would change? What drives most of the story in all of the Harry Potter book, are that it centers around Harry, a boy who grew up 11 years, thinking he was ordinary, only to find out there was an entire world of magic he was thrust into. There are massive external plot elements to overcome in this series, as well as the over all series external goal of defeating Voldemort. Take this against the backdrop of if Draco were the main character. A pureblood who’d known about Hogwarts, dark magic, muggles, and Voldemort his entire life. While some things might happen the same way, the story would be very different. We wouldn’t know even 3/4ths of Harry’s life that we got from the originals, and we would get to see Draco’s descent into the dark side and get a more internal and personal look at his final choice to take a stance against the Death Eaters at that final battle. The sotry from Draco’s perspective, bluntly put. would probably focus more on his internal struggles between being “evil” and “good” because of family blood and expectations than the mix of internal and external plot points of Harry Potter with Harry as the main character. The Harry Potter books as is are driven, or compelled, by the plot and characters.
HP from Draco’s POV would have been bangin’ let’s not lie. The angst, the emotion, the DRAMA!
**Please note, that many people will say everything from: Harry Potter is both, certain books are plot while others are character driven, or that it’s all character driven. While it could be argued that HP is indeed all plot driven (Voldemort is the over arching series thread which shapes why Harry acts why he does), the examples I gave are still valid. Yes the whole plot centers around stopping Voldemort, but could anyone else have done it? Or was it only The Boy Who Lived? I think that answer is fairly obvious.
What’s the verdict? Honestly, these terms can be very subjective. Specifics differ person to person about what makes each, but in my opinion, with what I like to read and write, unless a story is slated specifically for literary fiction, a novel–fantasy, mystery, romance–should encompass most of these elements bullet pointed in both character and plot driven sections.
I’m not going to post any other articles, mostly because there’s a bit of controversy, but these points I’ve highlighted above that coincide with plot and character driven elements basically can’t be argued. If you see your novel has a good deal of both, congrats! That’s what many want to see and write. If it falls more firmly into one, still fine. At least you know what you’re writing now!