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This Writing Life: Finding Your Niche (and a Minor Epiphany)

8 March, 2013

Earlier today, I found myself reading this post over at Stacked Books, and having something of a minor epiphany. The post is about high fantasy, a particular niche of the fantasy genre that I’ve also seen called ‘secondary world’. As with the author of that piece, it’s a genre, or sub-genre, that’s particularly dear to me. I’ve been reading it – and writing it – since I was a teenager, and it’s long been the type of fantasy I’ve been most drawn to.

However, I’d also dabbled in a few other fantasy genres, and this is where that pesky epiphany comes in. I’ve tried writing urban fantasy, both adult and YA. I’ve tried writing SF, in every variation from space opera to a sort of romance-driven urban fantasy that was futuristic, but barely SF at all. I’ve even tried horror versions of both SF and fantasy. And in every case I’ve mentioned here? I’ve not been able to finish what I was writing. I would get halfway through a story or novel, or frequently not even that far, and just lose interest.

I knew, every time, there was a problem with what I was trying to write, and decided it was down to the target audience – that I just wasn’t cut out to write YA, or for kids, or for the romance market. Today though, reading that high fantasy post, I came to another conclusion. It wasn’t the YA or the romance that was the problem – it was trying to write urban fantasy, SF and horror. If I’d been writing high fantasy YA or romance, I might well have struggled a great deal less.

And that’s where we get back to niche. Not every writer has one, of course (and it’s frequently the authors who hop about between genres who garner the most acclaim) but there are plenty who do. In trying to write other sub-genres of SF and fantasy, I effectively stepped outside the niche I’ve lived and breathed for the last ten years, and then tried to write for a new audience as well. In the process, I threw away everything I knew and loved, and ended up writing fiction I just couldn’t engage with.

I’m not saying that either I or any other writer should confine themselves to a single genre. In the future, I hope I will be able to go back to urban fantasy and SF and horror, and have a bit more luck with each of them. However, I think it pays to be aware of where both your skills and your interests lie. Chasing a market or a sale isn’t going to get you very far if you don’t even finish what you’re writing. It’s a mistake I’ve made several times, and may make again in the future – but at least now I realise that there is scope for me to try writing for different audiences. I just have to focus on writing the genre I love.

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