So there’s this book called TWILIGHT and it’s kind of popular.
Whenever there is a popular book, my inbox explodes with query imitations. There was the epic and ongoing TOTALLY NOT HARRY POTTER deluge, quickly followed by the TOTALLY NOT DA VINCI CODE phase. Often these queries boldly come right out and say they are the “next” [insert book they are imitating].
The current TOTALLY NOT TWILIGHT era we’re in blows all of the other eras out of the water, particularly when you combine it with non-vampire paranormal and/or urban fantasy tropes. Well over half of the queries I am receiving these days involve some combination of vampires, zombies, faeries, pixies, ghosts, and/or Dick Cheney.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean that you can’t write or query me with urban fantasy/paranormal. The opposite in fact. Just look at the bestseller list.
And before I get angry comments, let me also say that I’m not accusing everyone who writes in these genres of imitating TWILIGHT. I’m not saying that.
But I think it’s important to keep some things in mind if you are querying in these increasingly well-trodden genres:
1. I don’t know if I speak for other agents, but I’m getting some serious vampire/faerie/zombie fatigue. Whether it’s the misfit teenager who is secretly communicating with a ghost or the misfit teenager who is actually a vampire (or, conversely, has a crush on one), I’ve seen it all and I’m seeing it often. Now. That doesn’t mean I don’t want you to query me with urban fantasy or paranormal. But I’m not going to be favorably disposed to something that sounds like the same old paranormal story. It needs to be something different and it needs to feel fresh. I know it’s really difficult to do something different and fresh when everyone and their mom and their grandma and her mom are writing paranormal. But thems are the breaks.
2. Do. Not. Mention. TWILIGHT. Don’t mention TWILIGHT. It never existed. You didn’t read it, it has no bearing on your book, you aren’t comparing yourself to it, you’re not living on the same planar field in which that book was written. Don’t mention it in the query. Agents don’t want the next TWILIGHT. Well. Caveat. We want something that is as popular as TWILIGHT. But we don’t want a straight up imitation. And saying your book is going to be as popular as TWILIGHT just makes you look…. well, like you think faeries are real. (They’re not, are they?)
3. Understand what you’re up against. You might think that because you happen to have a novel in the hot genre du jour that it’s going to grease the publication tracks and you’ll soon be showing off to your friends with a new hardcover of the next TWI… that other vampire book that is kind of popular. Keep in mind that because there are so many people writing these novels now, the stakes are raised. Ground has been trodden. You have to either trod new ground or trod the existing ground with spectacular, mindboggling execution. It’s not, in other words, easier.
Ultimately, the same old advice applies: write what you love, write a really amazing, incredible book, and let the gods of publishing take care of the rest. Or should I say the publishing zombies…
But what about zombie cows?
Wait… I think the zombie hybrid was already done. Frankenstein's monster was a bio-electric hybrid, if I recall.
I've written 7 comments to place here and erased every one of them. Each one sounded like the big boo hoo and I don't want to be a big baby. So I'll just say this: It sucks that due to one person's extreme popularity, another person can't catch a break.
I know my vampire ms is great. I know it's completely different. I can't prove it because I can't get anyone to read it.
Sure, we all think our work is extraoridinary, but sometimes (just sometimes) we are actually right.
I've read some of the comments, but not all, and that last Anon one got me thinking.
Say you have an urban fantasy/paranormal romance novel. But there is a lot of competition in that market at the moment. Would you consider waiting a while (and work on other projects in the mean time) then trying to sell the UF/PR later, when the trend has died down a little and there isn't so much competition? Or would you just go for it now, when there is clearly the market for it, despite the hoards of competition?
IMHO – Both.
Submit now, learn what works and doesn't work with your query, synopsis and ms.
Learn the process, and if you don't get published now (and agents tell you that your ms is good but the market is saturated), then resubmit later, too.
Oh! Anon, in terms of your looking being so nice to me, I should say something important. I realized that you thought I might be querying people now.
No. I may have the political instincts of a lemming, but I'm not a total moron (at least most days.)
I start grad school tomorrow, plus f/t work; I won't be looking toward my own work and agents for a couple of years.
I was talking in the hypothetical. That was scary enough.
I don't think you're a moron – nor do I think you are an underhanded author.
You are a witty and bright. I realize you probably didn't see the other side of the situation.
When the time comes… think of the agent who DIDN'T miss the opportunity to represent you… and not the one that did. Let ‘em go.
You'll publish one day…I have no doubt.
Faeries categorically ARE real!
Although I've never heard of any of them emigrating to California, so you might be safe.
I'm rewriting my query now to clarify that there are no misfit teenagers in my novel, that should do it.
Anon, thank you. Your post really touched me. Brought tears to my eyes, actually.
What you said meant alot.
Mechelle Fogelsong says
Recently, I was shopping for some new YA fiction to read, and I passed over every single vampire-related book available. Didn't even read the back covers. I mean, enough is enough, right?
It reminds me of the way we were inundated with reality shows after Survivor hit the big time. I watched every episode of Survivor when it first came out, but I haven't been tempted to watch a reality show since then. Not the least bit tempted. I eat my grandmother's apricot pie once in a while, but do I want Grandma's apricot pie every single day for the rest of my life? Uh… definitely not. Variety is the spice of life.
So what did I buy at B&N, when I passed over all those YA vampire novels? Two Way Street by Lauren Barnholdt (Simon Pulse). It was a fun, light-hearted, silly summer read with absolutely no vampires whatsoever. And, while reading it, I didn't feel like I was missing anything. I love Grandma's apricot pie, but I kind of hope she brings blackberry cobbler to the 4th of July get-together, if you know what I mean.
perhaps my comment is somehow overdue, since so many good opinions were posted here (and responded, which is rare; thank you for that!).
Nevertheless, I feel compelled to add one more: I agree entirely with you. It is so tiresome to see so many YA novels with teenage vampires and similarities. And zombies? Please!
I also understand that since so many books on these themes have been published, there is an obvious market for fantasy novels to be explored (cannot agree more that it's all about execution). But one could ask the writers to, please, innovate! Change just one bit of the formula is not innovation, not creativity. It is much harder to create something new, but should also be more fun, and rewarding.
On the matter of querying, I’ve also heard from many sources that it is interesting to indicate a book or author the writer identifies most with, to assist the agent/editor on accessing whether the book is right or not for him/her. As you said, it’s not just about Twilight. Saying that one’s book is the next [insert title] is pretentious and, in my opinion, unprofessional. The author is simply admitting not having creativity at all!
Ok, that might have been too harsh, but the point is that (in a perfect world) every author should have their own voice, instead of trying to copy the voice of others that succeeded before them.
All the best and thanks for the great post!
Now, you see, to me I fail to understand why any writer would want to do this. As a writer, the last thing I would want to do is follow in the footsteps of another. I liken it to a form of idea plagiarism.
I am writing a book right now in the sci-fi/supernatural vein (on the recommendation of a college professor). I am totally out of my element and level of comfort but have taken on the challenge. I am doing my homework, I am researching, I am reading, but what I am NOT doing is trying to write something that has been written before. Granted, you can only make up so much because so much has already been done and in those cases I put my own original spin on it. But I've also come up with some new, original ideas I have not seen before. And I am loving it. Hopefully, when the last word has been typed and if it has legs (something that I can be proud of) I will peddle it. Time will tell.
I've thought about this quite a bit, I would since I write YA paranormal/romance. When I started writing my latest novel I thought a lot about Twilight (I have no problem saying the name) but not because I wanted in any way to copy it. I also thought a lot about Harry Potter and any number of other successful books.
I didn't look at the themes of those books, I looked at the things they have in common. And that's what I think writers ought to be looking at, I wouldn't mind betting it's what publishers and agents have already figured out.
They have MC's we can relate to and present fantasies we'd all secretly like to be part of based in a reality we can see as possible if we really squint our eyes. The DaVinci code does the same.
As a kid, I'd have loved someone to swoop in and tell me I'm special and get me the heck out of there, like Harry. As a teen, I'd have loved to fall in love with the handsomest, most intriguing guy in the school and have him love me back. I'd have especially loved someone to tell me that I didn't have to die, I could live forever. Heck, I'd still love to hear that.
It's not about vampires, boy wizards or any other particular creature and smart authors know that. It's about giving the reader what they dream of and probably don't even realize it until they read your book.
It's just the same for every other genre. You can write what you love, and you should write what you love, but it doesn't hurt to think a little about what your audience is going to love to read too.
That's way more important than putting a vampire or a boy wizard in there. To do that is the same as dressing like Elvis because you think it'll get you a recording contract. There's plenty of good reasons for putting a vampire in your book, that just isn't one of them, as far as I can see.
I think it's when a book captures just that right bit of fantasy or escapism that it really works.
It's all very well to criticize Stephenie Meyer and her books, but I think our time would be better spent trying to figure out what it was she did RIGHT, what she gave her readers that they were obviously craving, and admire the heck out of her for doing it. I'm neither a fan, nor a detractor, but I AM a studier. It's pretty silly if you want to be successful not to be.
That's my opinion anyways. Time will tell if I have any sense or not I guess!
Christopher Goodwine says
The Gods of Publishing… Like Nathan?
Actually, that probably isn't as inaccurate as it might sound. I wonder: Is there a direct relationship between the length of a fiction fad and how long it takes for the agents to get physically ill from them?
I've heard enough about Twilight to not have read it.
And I'm not writing paranormal. However, I do still wonder whether faeries just might be real.
Scary Mary says
Argh… I was one of those rare "original fans" of Twilight, back before it became popular, and now I'm sick of it from all of the over-exposure… Anyway is a reference to Twilight within the story bad?
“Oh, please,” I told him. “Vampires can’t read minds. Who do you think she is- Edward Cullen? Get a grip, Kennan."
Teehee- my main character is as sick of Twilight as you are.
Sarah Erber says
I don't know if your still answering questions to this posting, but my YA urban fantasy has vampire angels, and a crossbreed of a goblin and vampire. (I know that sounds weird, I've got the basic plot on my blog.)
So my question is, are you receiving a lot of these kinds of hybrid creatures in your queries?
(I hope not…) *grins
Brigitte Dionne says
Not to mention the twilight set totally soiled Canadian grounds. And the red carpet. Now the red carpet is just shit-brown!
I tried to read it, because it was "cool".
but I wanted to rip my eyes out
so I stopped before hurting myself over a vampire story.
Did everyone forgot about the Buffy era?! When vampires didn't sparkle or go to highschool?!
You know I have nothing to say…but yes you are right and you just made me even more depressed that I will never get published other than POD. How about a vampire re-boot (great buzzword these days) that other book is nothing more than oh let me think 'Lost Boys – Part Deux'. Anne Rice-LITE, I could go on but I wont. Therefore I digress…if ya ever have the chance being busy and all..check out my site
yes its about a vampire – I know I know…but what the hell
Jessica Agnew says
Hello, I am first time writer and I just finished my book. It's a vampire romance and it's seems I always get one person who says I hope this isn't another twilight. My story has nothing to do with twilight. makes me wonder have theses people ever read a book or saw a movies that came before twilight. Dang, dracula, lost boys hello I could go on, but I want. Thanks for the advice.
Jessica Majzner says
This gives me hope for my Vampire/Werewolf. People are responding very favorably to Beyond the Veil on Wattpad and Booksie, but no agent bites yet. That's ok. The market is there, I mean the number one ranked series on Amazon is "A Shade of Vampire." Vampire books are definitely still selling, but I think it's the right time for a well written, classical, gritty Vampire novel to come and shake the market. I can only hope I wrote that one 🙂