Should I Write Genre Fiction for an Established Line?

Sadly, Heartsong Presents is no more (shut down in 2014). It was a very popular line of Christian romance novels published by Barbour Publishing. However, when I was a young mother with school-aged children, I appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to market my books when I wrote for Heartsong. Instead, Barbour mailed books to subscribed readers every month. The books sold themselves. They did not rely on bookstore shelves or the Internet to sell the books.

Authors who wish to limit their marketing efforts would do well to investigate writing genre fiction for established lines. An established line is an imprint of books, usually defined by genre, published and sold to subscribers, rather than relying solely on traditional commerce for sales. There are a number of them which are viable and acquiring new books all the time. Rather than offering a list here, I recommend authors consult their agents to learn which editors are seeking this type of book.

Advantages to Writing Genre Fiction for an Established Line

  • Genre fiction is extremely focused. Focus includes word count, type of plots, and other factors. If you enjoy writing books made to order, are amenable to substantial guidance, follow instructions well, and enjoy the challenge of creating new and fresh stories within a recognized framework, this could be a great career path for you.
  • Most authors don’t break out with genre fiction. While everyone seeks meaning, not everyone craves the spotlight. This path rarely, if ever, offers a situation where one author sells far and above other authors writing for the same line. To use an example, if you would prefer to order flowers every week for the church altar rather than read the Bible from the pulpit (both being significant to the life of the church), you could be a good fit for writing genre fiction for an established line.
  • Marketing here is generally line-focused, not author-focused. While some authors are more popular than others, I haven’t seen consistent, aggressive campaigns emphasizing one author over another. Granted, ads for lines often highlight books by their most popular authors; but I’ve noticed that some show the month’s offerings. This approach takes pressure off the author who doesn’t enjoy self-promotion. Also consider that as an author’s popularity grows, so does the opportunity to write additional books for the line.

Drawbacks to Writing Genre Fiction for an Established Line

  • Genre fiction is extremely focused. If you chafe under being confined to a specific set of expectations and can write a marketable book outside of a set format, genre fiction writing may not be a good path for you.
  • Most authors don’t break out with genre fiction. The books cater to a particular audience; and the line reaches them, so the author has an idea of how many books will sell. Income from this type of writing can be lucrative. However, most authors won’t find the reach with a line needing to sell books in the seven-figure range.
  • Marketing here is generally line-focused, not author-focused. The primary marketing goal is to convince readers to purchase books in the line based on the line’s reputation. The author seeking to be sought out individually for much publicity may find this way of marketing frustrating.

When considering writing for any publisher, think about your goals, income needs, and personality. Have an honest talk with your agent. She’s there to help you realize your dreams.

Your turn:

Do you read genre fiction? Why? If not, why not?

Have you ever been a subscriber to a line of books? If not, would you consider this option?

38 Responses to Should I Write Genre Fiction for an Established Line?

  1. Avatar
    Iola August 8, 2019 at 4:33 am #

    It appeals to my sense of humour that the advantages and disadvantages are exactly the same!

  2. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D August 8, 2019 at 5:33 am #

    Tamela, I used to read every Nancy Drew Mystery that came out as soon as it was released, but I don’t think that’s what you are talking about here. So, to answer your question, I would have to say “no.”
    Like Iola, I find it interesting that the pros and cons are the same. at first, I thought it was a mistake and then I realized that it was accurate!

  3. Avatar
    Heather August 8, 2019 at 6:03 am #

    Got a question: If one should delve into genre line, is it something that can be used as a platform, should that author choose to go another route? A way of getting their name out there for marketing purposes.

  4. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson August 8, 2019 at 6:16 am #

    Genre fiction, hmm, I don’t believe I’ve heard of this. Either that or I’m behind the times. Interesting. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Avatar
    Mary Foster August 8, 2019 at 6:34 am #

    I used to read a lot of Harlequin books, but didn’t subcribe. My Mom and I had our favorites and often shared. I’very never thought about writing for genre fiction, but might consider. Thank you for the article!

  6. Avatar
    Nora August 8, 2019 at 6:35 am #

    It’s been so long since I’ve read this gents-type fiction that I did not even know Heartsong was gone.

    As a writer, I don’t think my style or interests would ever fit.

    Lovely article. Thanks as always for your insights..

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray August 8, 2019 at 7:02 am #

      Nora, knowing what you do not want to write is as helpful as knowing what you do want to write. Glad I could help.

  7. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 8, 2019 at 7:00 am #

    I used to think that I was destined
    to strut upon the floodlit stage,
    where my brilliance was unquestioned
    and my words were all the rage.
    Something happened to those dreams;
    cancer made them something new,
    and God, in crafty humour schemes;
    a prospered garden where nothing grew.
    My once wide-ranging restless mind
    now delights in focused discipline
    in which the watchword is, Be Kind,
    and help turn other hearts to Him.
    Fame-thirst did not completely dwindle,
    for I once autographed a lady’s Kindle.

    And yes, that last line is true.

  8. Avatar
    Sami A. Abrams August 8, 2019 at 7:01 am #

    I don’t subscribe to Love Inspired or Love Inspired Suspense, but I do read a lot of them. I like to pick and choose which ones I buy.

  9. Avatar
    L. K. Simonds August 8, 2019 at 9:00 am #

    Hi Tamela,

    I don’t read the types of genre lines you’re describing. With limited reading time, it’s awfully nice to sample a wide range of fiction.

    But this is such an awesome post, I hope you’ll share it on social media. Genre lines sound like a great home for many writers, and many may not be aware of how it works.

    So wonderful you spreading the word. Thank you! Lisa

  10. Avatar
    Patti Jo Moore August 8, 2019 at 9:03 am #

    Thanks for sharing this post, Tamela.
    I was saddened when Heartsong closed, because I was a subscriber and really enjoyed those sweet books. In fact, I still have many of them on my bookshelves now!

    Thank you again—I always enjoy your posts (even when I don’t comment). 🙂

    And Andrew—great job, as usual! You’re SO creative!

    • Avatar
      Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 8, 2019 at 9:28 am #

      Thanks so much, Patti Jo!

      And I share in your kudos for Tamela. She’s terrific, and has such a warm heart for God and for others.

  11. Avatar
    Barbara August 8, 2019 at 10:16 am #

    Thank you for this post, Tamela. It was very encouraging, as I’m one of those who isn’t comfortable with marketing–so this offered hope that there is still a place for non-marketers’ stories! 🙂 Do you think there are agents who would be willing to represent authors who strictly want to write for these lines if that was included in the query/proposal letter? For example, would this be something the Steve Laube agency would even consider (based on the story, of course)? Or would a marketing plan still need to be included? Thank you.

  12. Avatar
    Linda Riggs Mayfield August 8, 2019 at 12:27 pm #

    Great information and advice as always, Tamela! Do established lines only accept proposals from agents? Is that the only term used for that kind of publishing? I Googled “established lines,” and “author guidelines for established lines,” and “subscription book clubs”and several other strings of similar keywords to learn more and didn’t find anything for writers. Your post was usually at the top of the results, but the rest were self-publishing companies and great lists of book clubs to join. Are writers without agents who would like to do this kind of writing wise to temporarily stop writing (if that is even possible! ;-D) and concentrate our efforts and resources on finding an agent asap?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray August 8, 2019 at 6:24 pm #

      Yes, I recommend putting together a proposal and finding an agent. I can say that without reservation or feeling as though I’m being self-serving because I want you to be with the RIGHT agent for YOU, regardless of which agent you choose.

  13. Avatar
    Barbara August 8, 2019 at 1:02 pm #

    Thank you so much!

  14. Avatar
    Morgan Tarpley Smith August 9, 2019 at 1:59 pm #

    Great insight! I didn’t know much about genre fiction. This is helpful. Thanks, Tamela!!

  15. Avatar
    Christine L Henderson August 9, 2019 at 8:50 pm #

    I’m very aware of genre fiction – from Harlequin to Guidepost books. And now Hallmark is publishing sweet romance that they can then build into a movie. They already did it the other way around, but this way the movie rights will be cheaper for them.

    You touched lightly on the fact the marketing is done for the author. In my discussions with other authors, self-marketing is their least favorite part of publishing.

    You said genre writing won’t produce a million (seven figures) in book sales for a title. But other than NYT best-selling authors, most authors sell only 10,000 – 15,000 books per title.

    Wouldn’t most people prefer a steady income? Isn’t that why they work 9-5? For me, I’d have no problems with writing for a specific genre. Yes, you have to fit a certain mold for the storyline, but even outside of that you still have to fit the mold of what any other publisher wants.

    • Avatar
      Linda Riggs Mayfield August 9, 2019 at 9:30 pm #

      Christine, I’m interested that you mentioned Hallmark’s model. They have an entire website for authors who aspire to working in the way you described. The list of criteria is incredibly specific and a bit daunting, but I wrote and submitted a Christmas-theme novel (my first romance!) that I loved, that met every criterion–or so I thought. I received a kind, personal (or personalized?) rejection email encouraging me to submit it to other publishers. The whole movie-suitability thing is very up-front on the web site–the setting needs to be somewhere that has snow, looks like a quaint small town, and is readily accessible to film crews. I had all that, but I also had three different airports and a university campus in my story, and I wonder if those settings are what kept my manuscript from being accepted.

  16. Avatar
    Terri Thompson August 17, 2019 at 8:09 am #

    I read some genre fiction, but I prefer women’s fiction or something with more to the story than just the romance. I tried to write a simple romance and just got bored with my own story. But I do like the idea of having specific guidelines, deadlines, etc. And I like the idea of being less noticed.

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