4 Reasons You Should be Taking Risks with your Fiction

Playing it safe gets boring. Writers who take chances end up pushing the boundaries and get conversations going. And when conversations get started publicity will take off.

  • Station Eleven
  • Age of Miracles
  • The Golem and the Jinni

What do these books have in common? They defy category. They took risks and they paid off. They step outside our known boundaries, but stick to universal human emotion–that’s how we relate to their worlds.

4 Reasons You Should be Taking Risks with your Fiction:

1. Memorable is better than derivative. Nothing will make people remember like something they’ve never read before. Agents included. We are always looking for things that we can’t forget. When we say “we’ll know it when we see it” this is what we’re getting at. If we can’t forget it means that when we send something to an editor that they won’t be able to get it out of their heads either–and so on. Derivative books have a place, they fit neatly into genre boxes which can be helpful, but don’t be too scared to take a chance and see where your imagination goes.

2. Blending genres and categories is what creates unique books. Not only are risky books memorable, they’re also unique. That means that when sales staff are pitching to booksellers or publicity are pitching to magazines they will know how this book is different than all the rest. Don’t be afraid of mixing up genres and keeping readers on their toes. Lots of agents I know are looking for “genre bending.” It’s on our hotlist. (Read more about genre-bending books here.)

3. You won’t get better unless you push yourself and let go of expectation. If you try to write into neat boxes you are closing yourself down before you even try something new. It’s scary to sit down at your desk and not know if that writing time is going to take you anywhere. It could be a “waste” of 2 hours. But the secret is that all writing time is productive. It gets you closer either way–whether you use it or not. The first step is getting ideas on the page, you can edit the rest later.

4. Even if you take us into new fantasy, alternate historical, or sci fi worlds you can still ground it with relatable themes and human connections. As I mentioned in the opening, a lot of the recent successes in alternate worlds revolve around the idea that we are all still human and have universal emotions: the outsider, coming of age, survival etc. If you can tap into those human emotions you can still take us on a roller coaster plot into outer space. If we can relate to the character’s stakes and struggle than the rest is up to your imagination and ability to create believability.

Q: What are your favorite genre-bending or uniquely memorable books?

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22 thoughts on “4 Reasons You Should be Taking Risks with your Fiction

  1. Great thoughts, as always. It’s great to be challenged to take risks. I get discouraged hearing stories about marketing people freaking out and turning mss away because they can’t nail down the genre. Hopefully they’re just myths. Anyway, I feel inspired to stay outside the box!

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    1. It’s true. Some agents aren’t open to genre-bending. They want romance, sci fi, or mystery neatly in those categories. Sometimes that’s good! (I rep some of those things.) But I’m saying don’t fall back on that as a default.

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  2. This is a great post. I couldn’t agree with you anymore. I have definitely taken a risk by publishing my first YA Fantasy novel ‘The Sword of Air,’ as a multitouch iBook. It’s unlike anything anyone has ever experienced before. If you are interested you can learn more and follow its progress on my blog and website http://www.swordofair.net. Or alternatively download the first three chapters for free fromhttps://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/the-sword-of-air/id954619981?mt=11. Rae

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  3. The Age of Miracles is one of my favorite books. It breaks through normal reality in many ways. I have done that in my writing. It feels good and fulfills the desire to create new pathways, to push the reader into the world you have created.

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  4. This is all really great advice.
    I really loved W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz and his other books. I don’t know if they were genre-bending, but what he did with the photographs and found objects and playing with memory is amazing to me.

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  5. Great informative post. I have just started reading “Station Eleven”. It has been chosen for the “One book, One Community” read along for Waterloo region. Seems like a very onteresting choice.

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  6. Thank you very much for this post. I could not spend ten years writing a novel unless I believed it offered something original. Most writers work from a unique idea. I would rather toil in obscurity than flourish in mediocrity. You are good to give us all hope.

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  7. Nice to hear someone say this, because lately, I’ve been hearing that querying writers are expected to be able to reduce our novels to something like “It’s like Alien, but set in a Roman fort” or “It’s Romeo and Juliette meets Blade Runner” and so on. While I know I’ve been influenced by things I’ve been reading, playing, and watching for my entire life, I’ve been frustrated by my own novels’ inability to be reduced to a merging of just two or three well-known elements.

    For those of us pitching novels, it seems like there’s a battle of the advice going on. The first piece is that we MUST know exactly, where our novel fits into the current market, which currently popular titles it’s most similar to, and who our target readers are. The other piece is that we should try for uniqueness–create our own niche and not sweat over whether one’s novel is closer to fantasy noire, or mannerpunk, or heroic fantasy.

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  8. My next WIP is going to center around a female protagonist who’s responsible for a series of crimes (some of which she committed knowingly, while a few were an ‘accident’). The book will play out as she’s on the run from the law. This is going to be a huge challenge for me. I’m excited about the depth I can bring to the character but am scared I’ll have trouble getting a reader to sympathize with her. Guess I just need to jump in and see what happens! Anyway, this is me ‘taking risks’. :)

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  9. I’m thinkin’ Zombie Horror / Romance.
    Or has it been done already? Darnit.

    Um, Hornblower meets steampunk?

    Historical romance / time travel? Argh, been done already.

    The problem with genre blending is, from what I can see, the sense that most readers are creatures of habit. Even if you leave that gate over there open that was never open before, -this- is the way to the pasture, and we’re familiar with this. That gate is risky. We’ll take the well-trodden path instead.

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  10. Thanks, Carly. I needed this. Although my query letter has gotten the attention of three agents I’m getting nervous my manuscript is too outside the box because I have written a hybrid: mystery, romance, and suspense. Plus I’ve sprinkled in inspirational and multi-POV (no head hopping–which I detest). I get bored of being in only one or two POV’s, or one genre. I like unpredictable plots. In the meantime I’m trying my hand at single and double POV. Time will tell.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

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  11. It’s true that blending genres is risky, but two greater risks are taking up political questions, and writing outside, not your genre, but your gender. Conventional wisdom from agents, et al., is to treat politics like a third rail–unless your novel takes place in the distant future or past, or in a galaxy far, far away. And if you aren’t writing just for women or for men, then mask your own gender by using your initials. In my view, both these pieces of conventional wisdom are driven exclusively by commercial considerations, not by a concern for the writer’s integrity, or identity.

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