One of the more common topics about writing and publishing fiction is the importance of genre. Whether implicitly or explicitly, we’re encouraged to write in popular genres. Write what the majority of readers have already shown they prefer, and you’re more likely to succeed. And every time I see that argument, I have to question just how true that is. Millions of horror, romance, and crime novels are sold every year. Some of them become best sellers. Some of them turn their authors into names that everyone recognizes. So that’s where to concentrate your creative efforts, right?
I’m not so sure. You’re a nobody following in the footsteps of the big guys in a proven field. To get noticed, you have to come up with ideas that haven’t been used a zillion time. Ideas that are different from everyone else’s. In a genre that’s well-established and popular, coming up with something original is going to be damned difficult. Maybe impossible. Every time you tell someone about the great idea you just came up with for a novel, someone is going to say “Oh, that’s been done already.” You’re trying to compete in a field that’s been ploughed from one end to the other, and has experts at doing the ploughing.
The corollary is that writing in a genre that isn’t popular is an uphill battle that you’re unlikely to win. But that leads to a fairly obvious question. If you’re going to have an uphill battle to get your toe in the door of a popular genre, why is that preferable to forging your own path in a less popular genre? As a new writer, your chances of success are pretty slim unless you’re exceptional. And exceptional is, by definition, pretty rare.
Jumping on an overcrowded bandwagon reduces the chances that you’ll ever stand out. Finding a niche that may not be as popular and turning it into something outstanding gives you a chance to do something unusual: beat the odds. If nothing else, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you didn’t settle for following the crowd. And you just might write something worth remembering when the reader finishes the last page.