How to stand out in a genre…maybe

I asked my wonderful agent, Ginger Clark, the other day, for some blog ideas, and one of the things on the list was, “How does Deadworld stand out from other Urban Fantasy?” At first glance, the automatic response is, “Of course it stands out! Duh, I wrote it, didn’t I?” Okay, I’m not so smug as that, and in fact, authors in general worry about this sort of thing on a continual basis. With so many stories out there, how does the story stand out? What makes it so different and unique and original that people are going to want to buy it over anything else out there? There are tons of good stories out there to read, and I certainly want people out there to pick up my book over others if given the choice. If you snag Deadworld off the shelf with any other random UF books, I want you to choose mine. I want my whispering little voice to chime in over your shoulder, “Pick Deadworld. It rocks.” And then, you’ll turn to my smirking little bookseller angel and say, “Why? What makes it stand out over these other ones?”

This should be a question readers ask. When given the choice between good books, what makes your story stand out from the rest? What makes it different? Notice, I say different here and not better. There’s always the danger here, when authors tout their books, to come off as condescending toward other authors. The point is not a matter of better or worse. I readily admit there a lot of writers out there who are better than I. But when the reader is browsing through the shelves and sees an endless parade of weapon-wielding women on covers and a blurb indicating a plot involving kick-assery against paranormal baddies, they want to be able to choose the one they will likely enjoy the most. So again, the question becomes, “How do you stand out from the crowd?”

In hunting down writing advice, you will often hear, “Read the genre. Know what you’re up against, so you aren’t writing a rehash of what’s already out there.” This is pretty good advice in my opinion. So, did I go out and scoop up a dozen UF books to see what the market was producing? As you can probably guess, the answer is no. When I developed my ideas for Deadworld, I had not read a single UF book. Why, you ask? The funny thing is, I didn’t think I was writing an urban fantasy. The bulk of my reading had come in straight fantasy and thrillers. I was reading Koontz and Martin, not Harris and Hamilton. I had it in my mind that I was writing a paranormal thriller. When I got the call and was told they were buying it as UF, I was like, “Oh. Really? Ok, then. Guess I’ll have to check into that.” Perhaps it wouldn’t have taken nearly two years to sell it if I’d been pushing it as UF instead of thriller. Live and learn.

To me, Deadworld is still a paranormal thriller. It’s high stakes crime fiction with a nasty villain who will keep on killing if he isn’t stopped. It just so happens, the villain isn’t quite living anymore. There are ghosts. There’s a not-quite-living guy who’s also trying to get this villain. And yes, I mean vampire. I wanted to write a vampire story or at least a story with vampires in it. But, I wanted to take it in another direction. I didn’t want the classic, gothic mythos vampire, which spawned my different take on what a vampire is, and spawned the hero of my series, a former old-west sheriff, turned vampire. The heroine, Jackie, is tough, but not full of the stiletto-wearing, ninja-skilled, kick-assery that has become something of a stereotype in the UF genre (yes, I know there are plenty of other character types, but there have been enough of these types of characters to create a perception in UF). I like characters who are fairly flawed. If you want a reasonable analogy and have read the books, think Chess Putnam from Stacia Kane’s Downside books sort of flawed. I wanted a character who has some serious emotional issues that interfere with her ability to function well and jeapordize her ability to succeed. Jackie is a woman who thinks she is better off than she is because she can’t face what is wrong. I have a psychology degree, and exploring emotional issues is a lot of fun for me, so I wanted a story that would allow me to do that. There’s no hot vampire sex in Deadworld, though you do get the beginnings of a romance. The characters just didn’t allow for anything like that to happen. Relationships and men are a difficult subject for Jackie, and that plays out in Deadworld and the series as a whole.

On the grander scale, Deadworld is a reference to that world which exists beyond our own. I’m fascinated by “what if’s.” I love to speculate on things like the afterlife. What happens after we die, and what if it isn’t at all what we figured? I wanted a broader story canvas that would allow me to do that, and this series is going to explore that direction. Deadworld sets the stage for that, but I really enjoy epic stories, so as this series goes on, things are really going to step beyond the normal world. I’m totally jazzed by what’s coming down the road with this series.

So, is Deadworld different enough, unique enough to stand out from other equally good books in the UF genre? I hope so. I hope my coming at this story without any real knowledge of the UF genre as a whole will grab reader’s attention. Only time and the readers will tell.

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3 responses to “How to stand out in a genre…maybe

  1. Sounds interesting! Exploring the psychology behind the character would make your book stand out and make it more interesting. It sounds similar to Lilith Saintcrow’s Dante Valentine books; although Dante does somewhat fit the ninja-skilled kickassery stereotypes, she’s also deeply flawed.

    I’ll have to check it out.

  2. These are great questions to ask–what makes my book different from the other books in its genre. I think this is also a good thing to ask even when we’re writing our queries. How can we pinpoint its uniqueness from day one?