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"Dead" Genres (1 Viewer)

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luckyscars

WF Veterans
*MOD Note: This might be more of a publishing topic, but I think it extends past publishing...*

Was skimming through the blogs and found a couple references to dead genres -- i.e. genres/subgenres that, for one reason or other, are sufficiently unattractive to publishers that simply by a book being categorized it will likely be rejected.

For the most part, this is due to saturation in the market. In some cases, it is down to cultural shifts or change in reader tastes over time. I did some more research and the following were commonly cited as being so out of vogue as to be described as 'dead', currently:

- Dystopia, particularly YA
- YA science fiction
- Epic poetry
- Epistolary novels
- Westerns
- Vampire romance
- Zombies anything
- Pirate 'swashbuckler'
- Invasion literature
- Men's adventure
- Steampunk
- World War II

It's notable that there were always possibilities for exceptions and variables in most of these so I'm not sure how valid these are, but I can kind of see the point. I find it very hard to imagine dystopia being popular at the moment, and it's easy to see how cultural shifts would move away from traditionally popular themes that are prone to un-politically correct content like pirates. Oversaturation makes sense with zombies and steampunk. Others I am less clear about. Not sure what epistolary novels did to upset anyone and it's strange to me that YA science fiction could be a tough sell considering how popular Star Wars still is with kids.

In any case, I thought it was kind of interesting to think about the idea of certain literary archetypes being so unfashionable they may become 'dead'. What does it mean to say such a thing? Are these things really dead or do they just need reinvention?
 
Some of this is surprising to me because I've seen mags etc. seeking out some of these genres ... there's still western magazines, definitely steampunk, and I know for a fact that Cast of Wonders seeks out YA science fiction. Is it literary agents who are saying these genres are hard sells and/or 'dead'?
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Good question arrow. I am doubting young adult science fiction is dead. I agree with the rest though. If you cross genres sometimes it can work such as apocalypse and western.
 

midnightpoet

WF Veterans
I don't think my chosen genres of mystery, thriller and crime have one foot in the grave, although some, like private eyes and hard-boiled/noir have had their day (although still holding on, I think for few but loyal readers like me).
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Wow... quite a list, and surprising to me.

- Dystopia, particularly YA
- YA science fiction
- Epic poetry
- Epistolary novels
- Westerns
- Vampire romance
- Zombies anything
- Pirate 'swashbuckler'
- Invasion literature
- Men's adventure
- Steampunk
- World War II

Some of these categories I've not read much of, but these still seem popular:
  • Dystopia and SciFi for YA or OA (old adults)
  • Romance (paranormal and otherwise)
  • Alien invasion (which should be included in SciFi)
  • Men's adventure
 

Suzilla

Member
A lot of popular dystopian books always same to be going in the same creative direction, so maybe that's why it's considered a dead genre? There's just a lot of different ways to go about the possible future, but people just don't decide to step out of that neighborhood of "government bad, propaganda bad, revolution good."
 

ironpony

Senior Member
I agree with zombies and dystipia being dead, but not sure if I agree with the others. I haven't seen Western's hardy at all nowadays, so bringing it back would seem like a revival.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
Is it literary agents who are saying these genres are hard sells and/or 'dead'?

Yeah, which obviously opens the door to all kinds of skepticism, but I guess if we're talking from a traditional-publishing standpoint they are the people who would know.

Wow... quite a list, and surprising to me.



Some of these categories I've not read much of, but these still seem popular:
  • Dystopia and SciFi for YA or OA (old adults)
  • Romance (paranormal and otherwise)
  • Alien invasion (which should be included in SciFi)
  • Men's adventure

Just to be clear, these aren't my choices. It's blogs by others but some of them are fairly sound (https://bookstr.com/list/5-ya-genres-that-are-totally-dead/)

I think in some of these cases it is because they are popular and the outcome is saturation. It gets confusing because when we hear 'dead' we assume 'nobody's reading' but really it could just be that the market is full of other books already. Fast food burger chains are obviously popular, but in a world with McDonalds plus 1,000 imitators, the market can be saturated and thereby 'dead' compared to, say, a chain specializing in Sri Lankan style curry, which is less known/less inherently desirable to the US consumer than hamburgers but also has zero competition.

Which sort of leads into the main juice of the thread which is...what to do if you have a story in an obviously unfashionable or oversubscribed genre? Is this something to be completely ignored? Would you try to reinvent (if so, how?)? Or is it smarter to stick to genres with some sort of recognizable target market?
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
some thoughts

- Dystopia, particularly YA
I agree.
- YA science fiction
Not sure about this one.
- Epic poetry
That's really sad.
- Epistolary novels
​This I can understand. We don't write elaborate letters and journal entries so much anymore. (Now I'm going to admonish myself for acting like a boomer.)
- Westerns
​This I can get behind. We as Americans need to stop mythologizing this period
- Vampire romance
That's VERY specific. (Also, notice and appreciate a pun: a "dead" genre. Because they're de--I'm sorry.)
- Zombies anything
100% agree. (Also very . . . "dead" because . . . yeah)
- Pirate 'swashbuckler'
I've heard this is "dead."
- Invasion literature
Makes sense. Invasion literature is a result of stable empires
- Steampunk
I disagree with this. I don't think it is dead.
- World War II
Another period Americans in particular need to stop mythologizing
 
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Llyralen

Senior Member
Surely some of these have got to be like reoccurring fashions. Bell bottoms will be on the rise again. Definitely whenever something really GOOD gets written it happens. A cascade of interest happens. I think many people's book choices are fad-driven... which is not how I tick, personally.

Interestingly to me...heroic historic/legendary epics are popping up in films everywhere. I've been trying to tell my husband one of us should write the story of Arminius for years and now Barbarians is on Netflix. Loved it, btw. Before the show Vikings came out when I said I was writing a book about Vikings people definitely looked at me funny...it was not vogue to be into since Nazi times (yes I hate that link) ... but now it's cool again. And luckily few people think about how the heroic stories played a part in aggressive nationalism in the late 1800s to 1940s. And I probably shouldn't bring that history up due to my own interest in writing from heroic times.

But anyway, bring on the beehives and bellbottoms. I can't imagine someone turning away something that is really GOOD. Someone has to create a fad.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
*
In any case, I thought it was kind of interesting to think about the idea of certain literary archetypes being so unfashionable they may become 'dead'. What does it mean to say such a thing? Are these things really dead or do they just need reinvention?

Possibly reinvention, but likely not for a while and probably with a twist. When I read your post, I first thought of Chivalric Romances. I mean Miguel de Cervantes made a career of recycling the concepts to create the masterpiece Don Quixote. Albeit poking fun at the absurdity of the original genre. But then I wonder if they were also the inspiration for the superhero genre?

If we compare it to the artworld, we know that artists are inspired by their predecessors, but if we look at science or mechanics, they are only forward looking. We wouldn't go back to studying medicinal practices that no longer work or building cars from the twenties. So where does writing fit? Will previous works inspire a reinvention?

I think we have to analyze what needs they served before. The human mind likely will still crave the same sensory satisfaction they provided. For example, Vampire romance. What are the desired sensory elements? Defiance, sensuality, worldliness, sophistication, danger, the forbidden fruit... Is Fifty Shades of Grey a modern version?





 

Kyle R

WF Veterans
I'm surprised that "YA Science Fiction" has been listed as a dying genre. Perhaps it's because I write YA Sci Fi (and YA Fantasy), so I'm hyper-aware of all the big successes that have been coming out in those categories.

Heck, Neal Shusterman's Scythe trilogy (published last year) was so popular, one could compare it to a modern Hunger Games (which'll be even more apparent when the movie is released).

Though, I suppose we could argue that authors like Shusterman are more of the exception, rather than the norm.

I also don't know if agree that Steampunk is a dead/dying genre. I'd say it's been pretty consistent at where it lies. It's not mainstream, for sure, but I haven't seen any signs that it's struggling, either. It seems to kind of hover at where it lies, like many other niche genres.

I'd say that there are certainly some genres that feel more like swampy backwaters, where things just go to die ... but, like a lot of things, all it takes is one breakout hit to alter the trendline.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
[...]
Which sort of leads into the main juice of the thread which is...what to do if you have a story in an obviously unfashionable or oversubscribed genre? Is this something to be completely ignored? Would you try to reinvent (if so, how?)? Or is it smarter to stick to genres with some sort of recognizable target market?

I write it. If the story finds an audience, great, otherwise I had the joy of writing it and certainly at least a few out there will be entertained.

My WIP is a risk.

Dystopian - dead genre so you say, but so what?
I feel the risk is more regarding my main characters - both are train wrecks. The male is a brutal serial killer without a conscience and the female is hell-bent on her career and will do anything to anyone to get ahead. They grow and change over the course of the story, but still leave a lot of blood and wreckage in their wakes. The theme is redemption.

Will the book be popular? I don't know, maybe... maybe not. I think it's a good story and believe the characters being so different than the norm that it will be interesting to someone.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I write it. If the story finds an audience, great, otherwise I had the joy of writing it and certainly at least a few out there will be entertained.

My WIP is a risk.

Dystopian - dead genre so you say, but so what?
I feel the risk is more regarding my main characters - both are train wrecks. The male is a brutal serial killer without a conscience and the female is hell-bent on her career and will do anything to anyone to get ahead. They grow and change over the course of the story, but still leave a lot of blood and wreckage in their wakes. The theme is redemption.

Will the book be popular? I don't know, maybe... maybe not. I think it's a good story and believe the characters being so different than the norm that it will be interesting to someone.

It's interesting to think about a career in a dystopian society. I don't want you to give away anything, but why did you choose the dystopian genre for this story?
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
Why specifically World War II ? I would expect WWI on the same basis, I have hardly seen anything about Korea, one short about air combat,, and Vietnam was hugely overdone and now it's a holiday destination.
 

midnightpoet

WF Veterans
my first novel, circa 1985, was a private eye yarn and I was advised by a few editors/agents that the genre was already done to death and they didn't think mine added anything new. Well, it was a learning experience which helped me later and I did get published - so I think any genre is worthwhile if you're willing to learn from it. I have noticed that many of the recent westerns, for example, are deconstructions or parodies. If I could write another "Blazing Saddles" it might be worth a try.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
It's interesting to think about a career in a dystopian society. I don't want you to give away anything, but why did you choose the dystopian genre for this story?

I've never really thought about it. Stories just pop up in my head, and they're set wherever they are. I do enjoy writing dystopian worlds - and I kinda think that's the direction the world is heading. When I was a kid, everyone thought we'd be like the Jetsons and have flying cars, anti-gravity boots, and robot maids by now, that didn't didn't happen. We were also supposed to land on Mars in the 1980's. Seriously, I believe dystopia is a more likely future for our species, yes - we have fancy phones and video games, but we remain the same old violent intolerant monkeys at heart.

In writing, I feel that strife / conflict bring forth our true nature, and my stories have always been about who we really are and what we do to each other. On the plus side, my books have themes such as perseverance, indomitable spirit, compassion, and redemption - and it's easier to bring those traits forward when my characters are under stress.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
Bell bottoms will be on the rise again.

I mean, they probably said that about togas, crinolines, top hats and corsets at some point and we're still waiting on those.

I don't necessarily disagree with the spirit of your point -- that a lot of this stuff is cyclical -- but I think we sometimes overstate that. Some things really do die and never come back at all...

I think we have to analyze what needs they served before. The human mind likely will still crave the same sensory satisfaction they provided. For example, Vampire romance. What are the desired sensory elements? Defiance, sensuality, worldliness, sophistication, danger, the forbidden fruit... Is Fifty Shades of Grey a modern version?

Yeah, that's pretty fair.

A good example is the Western genre. Arguably one of its more persistent attractions (and the reason it hasn't completely died out) is because the myth of the frontier is so pervasive. It's not a total coincidence, in my opinion, that Westerns started going the way of the dodo around the time human beings started to seriously explore space (mid-seventies). A lot of the things that people found intriguing about the Wild West simply changed setting: Aliens became the Indians, etc. What is the Starship Enterprise if not a pioneer wagon? There's a reason Woody resented Buzz Lightyear.

I'm surprised that "YA Science Fiction" has been listed as a dying genre. Perhaps it's because I write YA Sci Fi (and YA Fantasy), so I'm hyper-aware of all the big successes that have been coming out in those categories.

Heck, Neal Shusterman's Scythe trilogy (published last year) was so popular, one could compare it to a modern Hunger Games (which'll be even more apparent when the movie is released).

Though, I suppose we could argue that authors like Shusterman are more of the exception, rather than the norm.

I also don't know if agree that Steampunk is a dead/dying genre. I'd say it's been pretty consistent at where it lies. It's not mainstream, for sure, but I haven't seen any signs that it's struggling, either. It seems to kind of hover at where it lies, like many other niche genres.

I'd say that there are certainly some genres that feel more like swampy backwaters, where things just go to die ... but, like a lot of things, all it takes is one breakout hit to alter the trendline.

I think it's saturation, again. It's kind of funny because we get into this thing of "it's not dying, look at all these books that are out there!" but all *those books* might be the reason *our book* doesn't have a place in the readership. I tend to agree that it's self-defeating to chase trends, though. I mean, I'm pretty sure Wizards weren't exactly in vogue before Harry Potter. At the end of the day, a great book is a great book.

A lot of this comes down to expectations, though. Like, I have seen dystopia being cited as being so toxic to trad publishers right now that the moment they get a sniff that's what the book is about (which, obviously, will be long before they have actually started reading it) that they'll simply reject it out of hand. That's obviously not a tenable situation. I don't know if that applies to everything being discussed here, but there's no doubt the chance of selling a piece of epic poetry regardless of how good it is is practically zero.

What it really means, I think, is that the standards are simply much higher for stuff that isn't fashionable. You're simply not going to see it on as many wishlists.

Why specifically World War II ? I would expect WWI on the same basis, I have hardly seen anything about Korea, one short about air combat,, and Vietnam was hugely overdone and now it's a holiday destination.

Dunno. Well, all right, I have an idea. World War II is obviously massively subscribed (it's almost a genre in itself, especially now that much of it has gravitated away from 'war books' to period romances and domestic dramas on the home front) but it also lends itself to rather conservative storytelling that lacks complexity. In World War II, war is a matter of good versus evil and evil has a swastika and a German accent (occasionally Japanese, which is problematic in other ways) and good speaks English (usually American, sometimes British for a hoot, almost never anybody else) and essentially the whole thing becomes rather parochial, doesn't it? I mean, the key thing is there is very little left to write about World War Two. We have had stories examining almost every corner of it, everybody knows them, and there's only so much "omg holocaust" that doesn't become fatiguing. I suspect World War Two will need a very long break.

World War One I actually think is a relatively interesting war. Not least because it was bananas and most people don't really understand what the hell it was all about -- it was all about very little of importance and yet had such an impact on the twentieth century. There's also a huge banality of evil angle you get with World War One. You can chalk almost every wickedness to bravado and idiocy. Not to mention the trenches were truly terrifying simply from an image perspective. Have there been many books written about WWI in the modern era? Maybe there have, I can't think of any. I'd rather like to read a horror novel set in the trenches.

Vietnam is probably dead, honestly. Another war built on ego and idiocy but rather less interesting and far more has been written about it than probably was ever warranted. Nothing remotely glamorous about it and it's fading from relevancy now that the generation who fought it is dying off. Before I think there was a place for Vietnam fiction because it was so embedded in pop culture and there was a sense of closure being needed for the Boomer generation who were affected by it...but now, not so much.

I think wars generally are pretty unattractive to people now. Not least because they tend to glorify imperialism and are invariably told from an entirely white, western perspective about entirely white, western problems and with too much adherence to the binary good/evil mentioned before. Just a lot of minefields a lot of the time. The US Civil War is probably the most obvious example. Maybe something obscure would find a niche, but because it's obscure I can't think what that might be!
 

clark

Met3 Member
Staff member
Chief Mentor
Luckyscar-- an intelligent and insightful post well-expressed. Thank you. You make a number of excellent points, one being the durability of a really good plot. Will we ever tire of a flawed, even fearful, but determined hero who is prepared to journey to the underworld to both defeat the forces of Evil and "find" himself in the process. That thematic thread is in the Epic of Gilgamesh ( about 6000 years ago) and in tens of thousands of poems and stories down through the millennia, often metaphorically in the modern era. So literary 'freshness' exists on only two planes: unique little twists of plot and event (small example--in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when we are expecting the [yawn] duel between Harrison Ford's bullwhip and the Arab swordmaster's magic blade, but our hero draws his gun and just shoots his opponent dead; and innovative style (small example -- Cormac McCarthy's stunning poetic prose in his novels). There is literally nothing new to say. And we shouldn't be surprised. Og's primary concerns both in and out of the cave are the same as Mr Success's concerns up on the 59th floor of his glass & steel tower and down on his lavish estate in the suburbs. Pope put it SOOOOO well in his "Essay on Criticism", 289 years ago:

True wit is Nature to advantage dressed,
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed.

Ain't no new ideas young 'un . . .all we got is HOW we do it as writers. But that is indeed enough. More than enough to put our unique stamp on Homer's concerns.
 
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