Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Always Room at the Top

How many vampire novels does it take to saturate the genre-market? For that matter, how do writers even know when a market is reaching its limit?

Back in the 60’s, I began college as a physics major. Wanted to be a nuclear physicist in the power generation industry. My college counselor told me I should change my major to something “with a future”, something like electronics engineering. When I asked why, he said there are too many physics majors and the nuclear industry job market would be saturated by the time I got my degree. I was disappointed.

That night, I spoke with my dad about changing my major. He said my counselor was wrong. Dad’s comment surprised me, because he knew nothing about nuclear energy.

“Dad, how can you say that? My counselor has all the data to back up his advice.”

“I don’t doubt the statistics,” he said, “but your advisor is reaching the wrong conclusion.”

“If there are too many graduates in my field, wouldn’t he be right?”

“Nope.” Dad smiled a coy little upturn at the corners of his mouth that let me know there was a catch in his reasoning. “Son, there will always be people in life telling you why you cannot accomplish your dream. Some make compelling arguments. If you buy into their reasoning, then they are right. But, what happens if you ignore the naysayers and charge ahead?”

“In this case,” I joked halfheartedly, “I’ll be highly educated and unemployed.”

Dad shook his head. I wasn’t arriving at the right conclusion.

“Dean, there is always room at the top. If you want to be a nuclear physicist, all you have to do is be the best one available. You will be hired and some poor slob who is hanging on near the bottom of his field will fall off.”

There is always room at the top.”  Those words stayed with me for a lifetime. And, the theme applies equally to the publishing industry.

Back to my opening question. How do you know when a genre is becoming saturated? Simple. Major publishing companies buy fewer manuscripts. Senior editors know what the market will bear. By the same token, they live and die by the same principle my father taught me over forty years ago. There is always room at the top! As a market becomes saturated with cookie-cutter zombie or vampire-romance novels, acquisition editors look for gems--the one story that stands out, that belongs at the top. The others? Most become e-books and never earn a substantial income for the authors.

So, how do we break through the glut of writers to achieve the dream? By being the best! Writers must stand out from the pack and offer readers a compelling difference. Every facet of writing must excel from plot to character development to quality of writing to the extra time needed to polish a manuscript. And, it takes humility to accept criticism from qualified professionals, but those tidbits of advice can make all the difference. Most of all, it takes guts to brush aside negativity and reach for the stars. In the end, there is always room at the top! (Thanks, Dad. I miss you.)


  1. "Write your passion"

    It is the best advice a writer can hear. But my mom always said, "The nut doesn't fall far from the tree".

    LOL. Good post!

  2. Dean, I needed, absolutely needed, to read these sage words of advice. Encouragement from other writers are so essential in this lonely passion we've chosen. Self-reliance, yes, but commmunion with other writers, essential. Never give up and one will succeed! Your father must have been a great mentor.

  3. Appreciate the wisdom you share. Thank you.


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