To Be Or Not To Be? That Is The Self-Publishers Worst Nightmare

Myths floating around on Twitter about traditional publishing vs. self-publishing

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?

  • You think trade pub is “all luck”
  • You think your writing is okay, but not good enough to hook an agent/house
  • You think you’ll make more money with self-publishing
  • You think self-publishing is easier
  • You think your book isn’t what’s “hot” or trending in publishing right now

Or are any of these your concern:

  1. You don’t want to wait 1-3 years to hook an agent, editor, publisher & finally see your book published
  2. You think you’ll have more control in self-publishing
  3. You have the money to pay for various editing, cover designs, typesetters costs, & have a solid marketing plan/team
  4. You want to rapidly release books (either in a series, spin-offs, or multiple standalones)

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!

Would You Like the 6″ or 12″ Sub(genre)?

Sub-categories of New Adult—The Unique, Expected, and Downright Weird

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.

  1. The city (seems obvious that an urban setting is needed)
  2. The magic
  3. The mystery
  4. The point of view (POV)
  5. The sizzle

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.

me·trop·o·lis /məˈträp(ə)ləs/ noun

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.

Here’s a source that discusses all of these elements & UF

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:

  1. Central love story
  2. HEA or HFN (if it’s a standalone, it needs a HEA; if it’s a series or trilogy, HFN is okay)
  3. Supernatural beings: witches, vampires, demons, gods, demigods, wolves, shifters, etc. . .
  4. Action, fight scenes, life & death situations, do or die moments
  5. Steamy romance, tends to be more graphic than contemporary. Some say it borders on erotica (and some books definitely do)
  6. Multiple POVs (2 or more)

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.

My friend, research enthusiast, & avid writer of PNR conferred with me on this. Check out her blog & website here!

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!

Those of you that don’t get this reference, read up on your basic adaptations of Shakespeare, you uncultured swine!

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! 🥳🌻

“We’re Sorry. The Genre NA Does Not Exist. Please Rebrand And Try Again”

What to do when your book doesn’t fit the genre market

So you’ve written an NA book but the agents and/or houses you’re querying don’t recognize the genre. How do you market it then? First thing is first. Is your book really NA? I want to reiterate that what sets NA apart from YA and adult fiction is age, sure, but as or more importantly, content. If you’re writing a book about a 25-year-old divorcee with 2 kids and a wild past who’s lost her job, moved to a new city to start over, and falls down a rabbit hole of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, you might not have and NA novel on your hands. You, my friend, have probably written adult fiction.

Right, so you’re dead set that this is an NA book, but you can’t market it to all agents or publishers as such if they don’t recognize the genre. The first step as stated before is figuring out who it’s written for. Just because you write a book about a 17-year-old who has a past of trauma, drug-use, or is in mourning for the first time and is now dealing with it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s automatically YA. Is the voice YA? Is it from an older, more mature lens or character looking back? It’s important to know why you’re telling this story and who it’s for.

If you’re writing a book on the survival of sexual assault and how it affects those who suffer the experience in high school, it must be told through a “teen” lens. This has to feel authentic to a teenager who’s gone through the experience. Some thing may need to be touched on more than an adult book about assault. Do her classmates look at her differently? Has anyone called her a liar? Did she lost friends? Is she the school’s social piranha? All these questions would be handled differently in YA, NA, and adult. The “teen” lens, though, is not just about sounding like a legitimate teenager, but is also the way the internal conflict is written on the page. This is to say, one of the biggest differences in YA and adult fiction is that, though they can both talk about a plethora of dramatic and awful events, they’re handled differently in text. YA tends to be much less graphic, gory, and discuss the events without getting into too much detail. It’s less about the actual mess of the trauma rather than the fallout. In adult fiction, sometimes the actual mess of the events are what drive the tory. They are the main point. They are what the story is about, which calls for a much darker tone and usually told by a more mature voice.

This article perfectly narrates and points out these examples by using the book vs. TV series THIRTEEN REASONS WHY and how one is decidedly YA and the other is adult.

I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again (mostly because this was an actual sub-header in my thesis):

CONTENT IS KEY

Again, the age isn’t the only defining trait. What else matters? Content! I’ve added up to 29 on NA, but if you’ve read the New Adult Is Dead, post, you’ll have seen I talk about the bell curve where most NA ages tend to stem around 21-26, and even I personally think 27+ is be pushing the “norm” NA age. Regardless, if you write a book about a 27-year-old just graduating and starting her life, she could still be a new adult. And like my previous example, you could have a main character who’s 25 and dealing with drugs and have moseyed your way into writing an adult book.

It’s not that YA doesn’t cover the same topics as adult, it’s that they’re done differently–but that’s not to say some themes aren’t much more prevalent in YA than adult (and vice versa). Take for example: coming of age vs. existential crisis. One is blatantly more adult than the other.

So first thing’s first. Is your book too mature for YA readers? I want to point out here that if you’re writing a book with war, death, or traumatic events, this doesn’t mean it’s too “mature” or “gory” for YA readers. I think a lot of people take for granted how much teenagers are aware of, what they’re watching, what they’re seeing in daily life, and what they’re exposed to. (And let’s not even get into the fact that basically 50%+ of YA readers are actually middle-aged.)

So within content, let’s talk about what that means, specifically in regards to themes in YA and adult. Briefly touched upon above, YA does not mean “censored” writing ideas, themes, or content. Many people think that YA means that certain topics can’t talked about. This simply isn’t true. The key difference are how these themes are explored. Aforementioned, if a book contains trauma, is about the trauma, and the trauma is the focal point, YA and adult typically go about different ways of painting the picture on the page.

YA fiction covers more so the aftermath of an internal conflict with regards to the event(s) and how it’s changed, shaped, and warped the character in every manner. This includes how they deal with it, PTSD they may have, how they react to/around others, how they now view the world, etc. (Is it always unsafe? Does blood family mean nothing? Did certain events transpire because of the affected character’s actions and/or past attitude.)

*Note: If your novel (YA, NA, adult, etc.) focuses on trauma and/or internal conflict as the main plot, your book is character driven! Here’s a blog post that helps categorize character vs. plot driven novels!

So if your book does deal with trauma, drug-use, gory memories–or the like–is it explicit in the text? Are the scenes written out in detail? Are the events thought back on, shown, or expressed on the page in a graphic way that makes the reader feel like they’re with the character(s)? This isn’t YA. While all types of trauma, lifestyles, and life events, can be and are in YA, it’s simply how it’s shown to the audience (readers) that dictates the genres typical boundaries.

Now that we’ve covered the age (and how it may not be too much of an indication which way you should market yourself as) and content, let’s address the thing affected by both which also affects who your book is more geared toward–voice. Quite possibly the most important diving force of the novel that separates YA from adult. This not only embodies how deep into events or trauma you’re writing are shown, but also the way the characters react, talk, and think! The way the world is viewed through the eyes of a teenager. We’ve all been there! (Or are there now?) Teens think very differently than adults. Even if you aren’t out of your teens yet, you’ve noticed that adults behave a bit differently. Maybe they take time to think things out, say no to things you want to do for what you think are “stupid” reasons, or overall do things you think are to just make you upset. It’s because adults have the life experience over teenagers that usually makes them stop and think of all the things that could go wrong…because they’ve experienced them! Teenagers, meanwhile, haven’t fallen victim to all the consequences of bad decisions yet. This can create a big divide between teen and adults (in real life too!), particularly within a family environment.

I won’t get into this much more before the third paragraph of the opening really touched on this, but who is this tory for? Readers of YA age? Readers who have been YA age and want to reminisce (or masochistically ponder) the high school/YA experience? The voice should reflect this. It should be authentically teenage if you’re wanting to tell a story through the eyes of a teenager, and just as genuine of someone remembering said YA years from a more mature and adult voice.

Let’s end with this: Give YA protagonists room to mess up! Teens don’t always make the best decisions. I’m just going to call it how it is. They aren’t the smartest. My friends weren’t the smartest teens. I wasn’t the smartest teen. I did some risky things that I only really realized all the possible consequences of later on in my 20s. People often remark that YA books “read too young” or that the main characters are “too immature” but, hell, have you met a teenager? They’re moody. They’re temperamental. They’re confused. And they typically have less independence and control over their lives than they crave.

The thing that drives these actions is the voice of the novel and the perceptions that the main character(s) have over their world. Because teenagers act and react differently, certain tropes in the genre are popular (ie. love triangles, self-discovery, friendship, and first loves). These are things that teenagers tend to focus on more than adults. This is what makes the voice sound like a bona fide YA protagonist–by having them obsess, cry, yearn, etc. over things that teenagers are concerned about.

Content is key–and that content is told through the voice of the main character.

The take-away from this is to be conscious what your POV’s voice sounds like.

This article touches briefly on YA vs adult content, age, tone, and voice if you’re still confused!

Still have questions? Feel free to leave a comment or DM me on Twitter! (And don’t forget, as I shall continue to scream it from the heavens, a Google search can usually clear up confusing questions you have!)

I’ve made a fun, little Buzzfeed quiz for wether to pitch you NA book as YA or adult. It’s in no way official and it was rather difficult to make because just because there’s no, say, excessive drug-use in the book, that doesn’t mean it’s automatically YA. But still! Hopefully I managed to make to relevant enough to help!

TAKE THE QUIZ HERE!

New Adult Is Dead. Long Live New Adult.

I’m going to start this post out by being super honest. I definitely stole the title of this post from my MA Publishing thesis. As well as most of the research and findings that I’ll cover in this post. I’m hesitant to post sources, only because most of it, apart from the few I used for specific things that cover sub-genres and other specifics that pertained to my thesis, were all done by me interviewing readers, writers, published authors, editors, and publishers of YA (young adult), NA (new adult), and/or both.

There’s so much I could say about NA. So much so that I think I’ll break this up into sections, especially since I’ve already been asked to talk more specifically about the differences in YA and NA and why things are marketed as YA or adult, what it means, and how NA could change the landscape. All of which I studied on my own for about a year our of curiosity before taking another year to research and craft a thesis over the subject. The thesis paragraph of my thesis (heh) is as follows:

And while publishers will tell you that they tried new adult and that it did not work—that it is dead, mainly in the paperback sales channels—the reality of the situation is that new adult continues to thrive under publishers’ noses in its own way, through its own channels. There are successful new adult authors self-publishing and making it on the USA Today bestseller list. They are making enough—mainly in eBook sales but also in paperback—to sustain their lifestyle, and sometimes make millions. They are making a name for themselves, without the help of a traditional publishing marketing and publicity team. New adult is indeed alive, and publishers need to shape up and adapt to this by taking it on again, or they will continue to lose out on the genre that they are trying to convince the world they killed.

That was my thesis. My hypothesis. What I set out to ultimately try and prove–but theses don’t always end on positive notes. Sometimes you set out to prove something and are thrown for a loop. Sometimes, you end up proving the opposite. That isn’t exactly what happened in my case, but the conclusion of the thesis isn’t as positive as the starting hypothesis was.

I want to take a moment to point out that the language is extremely formal and noticeably different from how I blog. Which–anyone who’s read any of my fiction will also be able to tell you–my non-fiction narrative voice is vastly different from my fiction prose. That’s to say, my thesis has my academic tone (I mean, seriously, when do we ever not use contractions in conversations except when writing formal papers for the tone and, let’s not lie, word count), my blog is written much how I talk, in long and fast sentences. With excitement and enthusiasm about my topic. And my fiction writing? Well it differs depending on whose story I’m telling. I strictly write (novel-length!) fiction in 1st person POV. It’s my thing, my preferred style. This means that most of my books are seriously different from one another, not only when it comes to world building. If you’re confused at all about any of these topics, don’t worry! I plan to cover them and more later on in different posts.

All you need to know that a 1st person POV story is from “I” and “me,” instead of 3rd’s “she” or “he” or “they” and definitely not from 2nd’s “you.” Don’t know what 2nd person POV is? Like I said, I’ll cover it! It’s not important right now except to know that since I write (books) in 1st person POV, my stories center around the main character’s internal monologue and the story’s perceptions come from their understanding of the world and other characters. You don’t know anything they don’t (unless breadcrumbs are left for plot twists that you figure out before them). You find things out as they do.

Anyway, enough about my different styles of writing and back to NA!

Gaw, there’s so much to say about NA that I’m not even sure I know where I want to start, but I guess what I’ll do in this post is discuss what NA is, why it’s relevant and warranted, and end with my thesis hypothesis–what I actually found out after researching through interviews with professionals and fans, (and some not-so-fans) and what the actual conclusion of NA in publishing and being marketed as such decidedly was in Spring of 2019.

I do want to take a small second to say there’s been a bit of a change since then, a positive on in my ending opinion, but we’ll have to get through some saddening and disheartening facts (if you’re like me and enthusiastic about the genre) before we reach our happier…(ish) ending.

So before my publishing thesis I was a bright eyed, bushy-eyebrowed dreamer. I was determined NA was a thing. It was going to come back. It had to. I mean, not only was I in multiple Facebook groups dedicated to the authors where they contributed in the group, but I was actually friends with them on Facebook! I saw their success. I saw their groups grow. I saw them gain recognition in the year I’d started to follow them and found even more authors publishing NA from them! It was happening. They were making enough money to survive. They were publishing NA! They were…on Kindle Unlimited.

To get into a discussion about Kindle Unlimited is going to be not only infuriating to some, but also a thing in and of itself. And I’ll be posting a blog topic under the publishing part of my writing lifestyle blog because this has to do with (writing, yes, but) publishing standards. I’m going to address all the whispers and rumors floating around about Kindle Unlimited when it comes to self-publishing, debunking and confirming information that may make some mad. But read the tag line: All the fresh, unpopular opinions in publishing you didn’t know you needed to hear. I’m not here to be nice–per se–and I’m not here to be mean either. I’m here to be real and talk about why things are they way they are in publishing and why some things come across the way they do. Such as self-publishing, yes, but pertaining to this blog post, the assumption that NA is all erotica.

I think it’s important to start with this misconception because we need to get into what the hell NA actually is. And the definition is a lot more simple than you’d think.

New adult—or NA—is simply a story in which the protagonist is between the ages of 18 (out of high school) and 29. This is a rough estimation, as the ages can vary some (though the main character must be out of high school). Anything younger than 18 is young adult or YA, which is defined as literature for kids 13 through 17, and generally cannot go past the high school experience. On the other side of the age spectrum, at 30 or older, the books are generally marketed as adult fiction.

I’ll be discussing the actual erotica misconceptions and real sub-genres of NA in another blog post! (I just thought this was a good segue into the actual definition.) It’s too much to fit in this overview on why NA is needed in publishing in the first place.

Why is this distinction important? Why do we need a genre that separates YA novels from adult? One could argue, I suppose, that at 18 (the oldest a typical YA protagonist should be–emphasis on should) is the start of adulthood. Therefore it makes sense that the category that comes after is adult, right? Consider this. YA ages are typically 13-18 (sometimes 12) generally around the time they’re teenagers. And most of the literature focuses on the high school experience. Like NA, MG (middle grade) at one point also didn’t have a proper place in publishing. The industry, influenced by the Big 5, were the ones that decided that it didn’t need shelf space. That it wasn’t worth breaking into the genre and changing the flow of things. However, the issues were, then, that there was no proper bridge or middle ground for what was YA and what was children’s. Would Percy Jackson’s series go into YA or children’s? What about the Magic Treehouse books? Neither were quite ready to be in YA, but at the same time, the readers were out of the “children” experience. They were in a new stage of life–middle school (typically).

If we apply this same principle to YA, NA, and adult, after high school comes what for many? College. Or at least some type of certification or trade job or entry level job into a market that these “new adults” start to train themselves for. Are they adults? Sure, technically. But (those of you who are old enough) are you the same person you were in your early 20s? Even those that are younger, are you anywhere near the same person you used to be 3, 4, 5 years ago? Just the way MG bridged the gap between stages of life between YA and children’s main characters/readers, so does NA bridge the gap for the years where being an adult is new. In some places (the US) you’re old enough to get married, own a house, buy cigarettes (depending on the state), but still can’t drink, rent a car, or go to a casino. You’re an adult, sure, but a new one. You’re newly introduced into this life. And when you are over 21 and the whole world is open (except where you need to be 25 to rent a car) how do you respond? How does it change you? What shapes you? Maybe some will find this hard to believe(?), but from high school to achieving the life goal of turning, we’ll say 30, you’re a completely different person. You don’t come out of high school all of the sudden with the life experience and attitude of a 30-year-old. It makes logical sense to add a category to bridge the gap between stages of life, and your 20s is very much a stage all unto itself.

So now that we’ve established what NA is and how it benefits bridging gaps that are currently in the publishing industry and why it needs to be there, let’s dig into the differences between YA and NA, because most people think it’s one thing. YA with sex. I won’t lie. I’ve read a lot of NA over the years. Trade published (traditionally published by a publishing house) and self-published works on Amazon Kindle’s Unlimited. There is generally sex in there. You know where else there are explicit sex scenes? In almost every single published series Sarah J Mass has ever written in YA. While I dig deep into that in my thesis, all I will leave you with, is that in two separate series, there was talk of “his seed spilling into me.”I’ve read some steamy NA in my time–never have any of them mentioned this…old-fashioned and frankly disgusting phrase of someone’s cum being in them. Honestly, the actual cum (the liquids and lubrications produced during sex) isn’t mentioned nearly as much as I believe people think. The act of coming (orgasming) or “I came”/”He comes with a loud groan,” is generally the only come I read about. (I really don’t want to get into the cum/come debate, but according to CMS, which is the editing style that Trade Houses use, these definitions are not up for debate. “Cum” is used for the substance while “come” is used to describe the feeling of sexual pleasure.)

So yes. There’s sex. And yeah, it’s a bit hotter than the “allusion” scenes you read in YA or even a simple little sex scene. It’s hotter than Sarah J Mass’ work as well, with added bonus of better phrases and sexier language. But what else? The obvious was just discussed. The phases of life. If YA can be surmised as the genre of “firsts,”

  • First kiss
  • First love
  • First sexual experience

The NA can be considered (in general) the genre of “ends,”

  • Last first kiss
  • Last relationship
  • End of innocence

While most of these are referring to romance, which I would argue is the biggest driving force in both genres, I’ve read plenty of NA where the MC learns a truth they’ve thought their whole life as an adult is a lie. I think this is important because I feel like a story with this type of betrayal hits harder at an NA age. Learning everything you thought was a lie at 16-18 is hard yeah. But what if you were 21-25? A bit more devastating, in my opinion.

But what about those “upper YA” novels you ask?! Upper YA shouldn’t be a thing. At least not the way it’s portrayed right now. I agree that there are different levels to YA, but upper YA shouldn’t be these Sarah J Mass novels with protagonists that are 19 and older and having some seedy sex on the beach or on a table covered in paint. Just how there are differing levels in MG as well, NA also has an “upper” stage! College romance books are definitely the lower part of NA. They’re in a completely different type of life and style and situation as NA books I’ve read about protagonists that are 22+. I’d consider them (college NA) the stepping stone or maybe introductory books into the NA genre. The characters are still pretty young and immature and figuring their shit out, usually the hardest way possible. Not to mention reminiscent of YA protagonists just with different types of decisions and consequences but the added bonus of alcohol and university life drama in the mix.

But these NA books that are being placed in the upper category of YA are generally done so because of mature themes and sex. And most of the MCs are old. Too told. They’re not upper YA books. They’re the lower NA novels. Books such as AFTER are a perfect example. Published in YA as a college romance. Totally done for the marketing strategy. It’s not the markers fault. In fact, it’s the smartest move at this point in publishing’s life to get the most sales. The publishing industry’s influencers (looking at you Big 5) are the ones who refuse to make NA a category. Books are marketed into the wrong category all the time. Most of the upper YA fantasy with female protags are put in YA when content and age wise, it needs to be in, well, at the moment “adult fantasy.” But does it not make sense that if NA were a thing it would solve the problem of these books purposefully being marketed wrong to get the best possible reach of views? There’s a stat in my thesis that says MG and YA readers (of the actual intended age) are reading 3-5 years above their own. So when that 15-year-old, innocent freshman picks up that seedy sex novel, they’re in for a big surprise, aren’t they?

The overall point I want to make is NA bridges a gap in YA content when it comes to age and content/life experiences.

The first and foremost difference between new adult protagonists and young adult protagonists is their age. And with age comes various stages of life, which is also an important factor in deciding if a novel is young adult or new adult. As discussed before, new adult protagonists start from ages 18 who have graduated high school to around the age of 29. However, these two ages—and the ages close to them—are not the bulk of new adult protagonists. If we think of new adult protagonists like we would a bell curve, we would see that the protagonists ages between 18-20 and 28-30 fall into two percent each, for a total of four percent out of 100. This means that the bulk (96 percent of protagonists) fall between the ages of 21 and 27.

To explain this visually, see the diagram of the new adult age range below.

Right, so now that we know that, I’ll quickly get into what the actual conclusion of my thesis was. Basically, I started out as a naïve country girl from Ohio who moved to the big apple to make a name for myself…and fell prey to every trick and trap in the book, hardening me into a bit of a more cautious and reluctant believer in NA. Not believing that the genre isn’t good and doesn’t need to be there. That opinion has never changed. But I started off with much promise, thinking that what was happening on Kindle Unlimited would surely sway publishers. That editors and publishers I talked to and discussed this with would come back with a resounding, “Yes, we’ve seen the popularity of it in self-publishing, and it’s something we intend to capitalize on.” What I really got was more along the lines of, “Yes, we’ve seen the popular trends of NA on Kindle Unlimited, and it’s going to stay there for now, possibly forever.”

What was my official conclusion?

When I first started this paper I was very enthusiastic about new adult and where I thought this paper would go, how I would feel when it was over, and how I would help make my mark on the new adult world. Was I naïve or what? The outcome could have been much, much worse. I could have run into much more negative feedback and opinions from the industry, authors, and editors, but it was overall, a pleasant and engaging experience. I want to be clear, I am not less enthusiastic about new adult than I was before, but my opinions on what the future holds for new adult have changed.

I came into this thinking that when I was done I would still hold the view that new adult would make it into the publishing industry faster than any of us know. But after talking to a multitude of people, my view slightly morphed into one more closely held by Reader 1. It isn’t that I think new adult will never make it into traditional publishing as I have shown a number of times that it has already been here. But I honestly believe that it will be a while before NA is fully accepted by publishers as a legitimate genre they are willing to fight for.

I believe the future for new adult is in self-publishing for the moment, and that it will fester and grow here like a mold in the nooks and cranny of a house. But I want to relay that I’m still hopeful that—like mold—it will one day make its presence known in the industry, I just think it will take time for that to happen. New adult books are popping up on USA Today bestseller pages and hitting charts that might have felt impossible just a few short years ago. The genre is very much alive and thriving in its current environment; I just believe that it will have to stay here for a while before it makes more headway. There are a few big publishing houses with new adult imprints such as Kensington, Sourcebooks, Entangled, and Bloomsbury Spark. However, these are mostly digital imprints—which just goes to show that new adult most certainly can throve in the right environment. Even if that environment, for the moment, is just in an online, digital platform.

I do want to add though, the little bit of sunshine I said would be coming at the end. The Big 5 have a lot of power in publishing. Just like their name implies, they’re the 5 houses that make the biggest profit off of books. But, even since I graduated a year ago and did this research the year before bleeding some into 2019, independent publishing houses have been popping up and claiming to outright publish NA novels. They’d been around the years I was researching, yes, but the difference is, in the last year or so I personally have seen these smaller houses grow in recognition. There are pros and cons to publishing with independent houses, just as there are when you pit them up against any of the Big 5 imprints. But the fact that so many are gaining a name for themselves through the publishing of content that people want–yes! People, we, I want NA!–they’re gaining momentum in publishing. Even if the Big 5 take years to fully accept and try to add NA to bookshelves as its own section–or never do–there’s still hope. There’s still a ray of light. There’s still hope. And the Hunger Games trilogy taught us what?

So those of you who dream, like me, of publishing your rightful NA books in its category, keep hope. Let the publishing houses fear our determination and zeal toward pushing this category into its deserving place, nestled between YA and adult. Let us hope, because we’ll conquer their fear, one way or another in the end.

🌞

Plotter, Pantser, Plantser, OH MY!

Dun, dunn, dunnn! We hear so much about plotting vs pantsing when we’re in MFA programs. And there’s a good reason! Writers fall into either one of those categories when it comes to how they plan out their novels. Can we deviate? Of course! A traditionally fantasy-inspired writer who pantses can decide to write that cozy mystery they’ve been thinking about forever and plot out the novel. And a traditional plotter who has to know every detail (at least the main plot points including the beginning, middle, end, and any twists) could decide to wing it by the seat of their pants and plan nothing! But what do these terms mean?! I’m glad you asked–or at least clicked on the blog to find out!

Let’s start by defining each term to dig into them.

Plotter: organized writers. Plotters have outlines of the story, generally what will happen in each chapter, what (important information) will be revealed when, what will be exposed at which point. Know most of the smaller details of your novel before you even start writing that either make it into the story or even the things that don’t. Basically, if plotter was a zodiac trait, I’d put it down for Virgo. (I’m a Virgo, and no, I am not a plotter.)

Pantser: the “free spirit” writer. Doesn’t know where the story is going when they start, or may have a vague idea of how it ends, but start with absolutely no plan on how to get there. Really and truly starts a story by “winging” it. May just have a character’s name and personality in mind and run with it. May have an idea for a shocking ending and just start to type to see how they get there. Pantsers I’d put down as Gemini.

Plantser: doesn’t have the whole thing planned out, but has a more general idea than a pantser. Possibly have their opening scene, inciting incident, middle point, ending, or any combination of the aforementioned planned out in their head (and may even be inclined to write it down). A true “in betweener.” Plantsers have certain future scenes planned out in their head and write to get to that point, not knowing at the time how they are going to get there. This one was harder, but after some thinking and comparison of traits, I’d personally label plantsers as Libra.

Check out this website’s bullet point traits for each style!

Generally, most types of writers are plantsers–this new term. When the plotter and pantser were first coined, many stuck themselves into the box that “most fit,” but the general consensus is that the biggest percentage of writers are a mix of both. And I want to let you in on a little secret. I’ve finished novels as 2 out of the 3 options. I have at various times embodied both a pantser and plantser. I’ve written fantasy with a general idea in mind and a character with a certain attitude, but I knew nothing else. Not the opening, middle, or the way it would end. I decided maybe 2 or 3 chapters in who the antagonist would be. (My chapters are around 5,000 words each on average, so this is a bit into the book, isn’t it?)

Then there have been the books that I knew more about, or at least had various scenes in my head that I knew I was writing toward, and how it would end. I just didn’t know what would happen in between writing to all these certain “plot point” scenes I imagined in my head. For me, outlining these exciting, adventurous novels was a no-go. The one time I tried, I got the same sense of satisfaction I get from finishing a novel and promptly lost all desire to actually write the prose! There was no surprise. There was no intrigue for me. So I lost interest. The same goes for when I write out of chronological order and try to write random scenes and piece them together, which I’ll cover in another blog post, because that is also another part of being a writer that is uniquely each snowflaked individual.

And then there was the WIP (that is still being outlined) that’s out of my usual genre, and while it’s taking longer to really get started on, I felt like I needed all the plot points, chapter piques, and twists down and on paper in an outline before I started writing.

You can absolutely embody them all at different times for different WIPs. You can also be decidedly only one of these options for every project you work on. Humans are wonderful snowflakes–no one is exactly alike. We thankfully have others who do certain things similarly so we can compare and learn and keep bettering ourselves, but no one writes exactly like you, and that’s a beautiful thing! Because it means no one can write the exact story you’re writing.

Here are some other sources and fun extras!

The comments on the last one are also fun and interesting–writers talking about their experiences as each writing style/alignment!

Character vs. Plot Driven Stories

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:

  • Rich back history
  • Compelling character arcs
  • Internal conflict
  • Well defined POV from your MC(s)

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:

  • External conflict galore
  • Easily ideftifiable plot points
  • Highly developed concept plots
  • Plot twists

This website goes more in depth in each of these points

I think a good novel has both, though it may focus on one more than the other.

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.

Here’s an article on character vs. plot driven novels and examples of how some are both

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!

Yes, People Really Fight About Topics They’ve Never Researched

It’s a bit unbelievable, but people will give strong opinions on topics…that they have never even researched.

My first and foremost rule for aspiring authors, new writers, or seasoned authors (so basically everyone) is that if you hear a term you don’t know from someone online (looking at you, people on Twitter giving advice to others in subjects you’ve never studied or, hell, taken the time to look up and for some reason have formed an opinion about a topic), is to GOOGLE the term!

There’s a a lot of talk about what certain things are. You’ll hear terms like “character driven” or “plot driven” novels, “plotter/planner” or “pantser” or the newer coined term, “plantser.” You’ll hear people talk about the different ways they get information when writing. You’ll hear conversations about people who “talk” to their characters, who talk to their characters, and others who have no contact with them. There are people who set out to write a book, and it follows that plan precisely. Then you have the instances where you have a clear path in your mind, and when you write your characters, the story suddenly takes wild turns.

I’m going to address what all of these terms are (and more!) as well as provide links to sources that perhaps go more in depth. Everything I talk about are things I learned while pursuing my MFA in creative writing (and my MA in publishing), from conversations with others with MFAs, other authors, people in industry, and articles (trusted) that I ever looked up at one point or another to strengthen my understanding of a concept.

New/baby authors, or even authors who have writing experience but not any in literary terms or other conversations surrounding writing, I urge you: When you read that post, Twitter thread, or blog post on what a term is or advice on how to write something unfamiliar and outside your comfort zone (maybe with another culture, ethnicity, or mental illness you don’t have, have never experienced, or have no contacts in the field about) always do you due diligence and look up professional articles to (hopefully) backup what you’ve learned from a stranger on the internet. Is it an annoying extra step? Maybe. But it’s one that is totally necessary.

Example: I see a lot of miscommunication about what a character driven novel is. (The next post will be addressing this more in depth with backup sources!) For now, I just want to point out that those saying a character driven novel is so because their characters talk to them, and they are pantsers (they do no plot and don’t know where the story is going) is totally and completely false. This important to get right because if you query and agent saying, “I have a strong character driven novel where they told me the plot, and it’s a wild ride you’ll love!” or what have you, the agent will snort, delete your query, and pass on your book. This is so crucial to get right because it affects how industry professionals see you. And it absolutely influences if they decide to work with you or not.

It takes Google, what? 00.2 seconds typically to come up with millions of sources. You type in “character vs plot driven novels” and you will, within the span of a second, have more information to either back up what you’ve read online somewhere, or you’ll find more credible sources and be able to confidently query that agent next time about you character or plot driven novel, and why it is so! (This particular difference is important to know, because many agents will come out and say on a website, tweet, or MSWL that they are seeking specific character or plot driven novels.)

The lesson? The internet is awesome. You can learn so much–quickly–about a subject you’ve never come across before. Everyone has access. The downside? Everyone has access. So what you’re reading on that Twitter thread, Facebook post, or blog or a person you don’t really know can 100% be totally inaccurate. So do your homework! Is this person qualified to be talking about this subject? If they aren’t or you aren’t sure, have they included articles or any sources where they learned what they’re talking about? If so, give them a click! And then still do that quick Google search to make sure what you’re seeing everywhere is the same information.

If you have any questions, want to know about specific things, or need anything you’ve heard cleared up, send me a DM on Twitter!