Cyberpunk, Dreampunk, LitRPG, and MARKET APPEAL!

I'm not near as avid a fiction reader as many people in the serial world. So, I wanted to spark a discussion. In the sense I'm meaning, genres help index fiction by categories for easier decisions on the reader's part. Only, if you don't have down pat what the major draws are to a particular market group, your label may not matter. As well, you may not apply to a given niche audience.

Some of the most successful works have been novel and so hit on a new territory but within a popular genre. Now there's more in the vein of them, trying to be a place for fans of the former to land. They were all undiscovered twists which found untapped interest when they gained traction. BDSM romance, Modern Supernatural Romance, Antihero Superheroes. Originality is a big deal.

I'm coming up to my next project in the next three or so months, with my last having been difficult to condense and categorize. I need to work on an elevator pitch and I want to know my market this time. Assuming some amount of originality, my question is, why did you go with what you did for your serial, beyond a creative impulse? What is your opinion on opting for marketability?

A big element in my story is going to be brain-computer interfaces and the consequences on psychology and the senses. But! I've seen like a lot of people the interest there is in LitRPG. As such, it's not far out of my way to incorporate that. I'm interested in the genre, but I won't say the reader base isn't a big factor.

How much does reader interest factor into the genre you choose or is it only your own creative interest?

I'm not eager (or expecting) to make money, but I don't like doing things halfway and I like professionalism. Anything else you consider a 'must-do' is welcome advice. Things like minimum post size and frequency. I'm planning a 1k most days schedule.

Maybe you think some writers are creative sellouts? You have strong feelings about LitRPG or common serial trends? Opinions? Let me know.

The brain computer interface schtick sailed out of "originality" with the popularization of Sword Art Online. This does not, however, mean that you can't explore it. Just make sure that you cover your bases. Characters that know a lot about the game should know a lot about the game. If there's some kind of artificial competence limitation based on something a character should know how to do, expect flak. I'm tired of so-called gaming gurus conveniently forgetting how to min-max or kite. The same grumbling applies to the main character being the ONLY one allowed to do these things, especially when they're basic tactics. Another thing to look out for is excessive technobabble for both the BCI and character stats. The moment they become more important than their implications, you've sunk yourself.

As far as reader interest goes, you can take a look at the MLP and Puella Madoka Magica fandom; they have audiences that transcend their genre due in part to smart character development and mold breaking respectively. Most important when going about your work would be prioritizing quality first. It doesn't matter how unique or subversive, or witty your writing is if it's slush.

You'll often find a hit work being heralded as a pioneer of new territory, these statements are often lies. Fifty Shades of Grey has a crap ton of analogues that were either more half done than ultra rare steak, or posisted to the wrong publisher at the wrong time.

There is no set minimum post size or frequency that will net you a salivating fandom. Hell, I wish there was. Just know that there is a correlation between post frequency and following. This is effective for startups, but if you churn out godlike work, readers will be willing to wait a while between updates.

I do hope my rambling helps somewhat, feel free to link me your project when it gets off the ground, I'm always looking for new stuff to read.

@Maromar, thanks for the post. Not rambly at all. And I'll be sure to send it along in eight to ten weeks.

I wasn't expecting the brain-computer interface to be new, more the side of it I'm wanting to explore. Characters adapting to interpret data subjectively and that bleeding and blending into their reality. A kind of psychonaut subculture in gaming and some general philosophical themes of order and chaos.

I'm no fan of stats. It's going to be integral to the story that the game functions on IRL abilities. Now, I imagine the originality of the game's concept is important, but most of it's been done, I can easily assume. I'm planning to deal with a kind of PvP objective-based thing rather than an 'always-on' MMO. Something with ranks and matches. The main character is failing at soloing and so is forced to join an underdog team in hopes of making money. Along those lines. The gaming is only one aspect of the story, though.

As for frequency, I'm hoping it can turn out initial interest and that quality can keep it. Solid plan, minimal expectations.

The brain computer interface schtick sailed out of "originality" with the popularization of Sword Art Online.

I must be missing something here, because that's pretty niche when it comes to fiction that involves brain computer interfacing...


As far as I know (I may be wrong) use of BCI's as a medium for gaming boomed with SAO. BCI's in general though, are far from niche. This TV tropes pages lists quite a few that make use of them

I think the originality at this point comes from how they will be used rather than their existence, a point that the OP's project appears to have covered.

Ugh, I double posted and the only thing I can do is edit T.T. Someone get rid of this, please?

My Bleary Why-am-I-up-before-my-alarm answer to this is to not worry about it and write the best book you can. Worry about implementation and your own vision. Sure, be original, but don't worry about that genre and market appeal stuff. That's cart before the horse. You dig cyborgs? Do it. You listed a couple of genres in the title. Why don't you smash them all together and see what happens? What happens when a fae creature is hooked to a computer interface and dreams? What happens when a dream comes to life online and starts corrupting the MMO code? What if an army of post-human, transexual angels go to North carolina and need to go to the can?

As someone for whom MOTIVATION is a huge problem (Motivation to write when there everything else in the world burning for attention) my thing is that the best book I'm going to write is the book I'm actually going to finish. and on that note, I'm super late for an update and will now leverage sleeplessness. And coffee.

Well met. Stay weird.


Bucking genre trends is par for the course in any form of media. When any genre in any medium becomes popular, certain trends and characteristics tend to cement themselves within that genre. This is both done to establish a criteria for works in the genre, provide support for writers, who can use genre conventions as a safety net, to attract readership , as if this story has the characteristics of this other story you liked, then odds are you'd be drawn towards it, and to establish a dedicated reader base to stories in this genre,as people who love the conventions associated with that genre will always be looking for more works in that genre, ensuring it stays afloat.

After some time however, writers and audiences want more. They've read plenty of stories within that genre. They know the tropes intimately. They can list off their favorites by heart. Some of the best works within the genre have come out and have set the standard for the genre. They don't need this story that plays to the simplest conventions of the genre. They've seen it done before, and they've seen it done better. Both writers and audiences want something new, something that pushes the genre forward, something that really makes them think about these stories in new and exciting ways. leads to a period of subversive works exploring the darker implications of the genre, adding new twists to the established formula, or maybe even down right parodying the genre. This renews interest in the genre, as many readers, old and new, are interested by the prospect of these new innovative stories. This then leads to subversion becoming the norm, with everyone trying to grab a slice of that artsy deconstructionist pie. However less skilled writers, or imitators end up executing these stories with less finesse, going for edgier and grimmer works rather than thoughtful and provocative ones. While the readers are initially alright with this, and may even enjoy it, it eventually reaches the point where everyone realizes that they've deconstructed the house around them, and now are just a bunch of guys awkwardly standing around in an empty lot, so to speak. (For an example of this, please see comic book history in the 1990s.)

After some time writers and readers will miss the genre, they'll remember what made it great, why they liked it so much, and they want to see it come back. This leads to a period of reconstruction. The genre has been restored with some classic tropes and some ideas introduced during the deconstructionist era, creating a familiar but new beast. Readers and writers flock to this reinvigorated genre, and the whole thing starts up again.

Basically don't worry too much about trends, they're caught in an eternal cycle of formula and subversion. Just do what you want as best you can.

TL;DR We're all living in some hellish cycle of recurrence, destined to create and destroy,and be both loved and hated for it. All to the whims of some dark Lovecraftian narrative god. You think you have control? You think the readers have control? HAH WHAT FOOLS YOU ARE. One day it's trashy supernatural romance, next it's teenage death matches, and then on to a reworked fanfiction that is more hilarious than it is stimulating. Today it's LitRPGs, tomorrow maybe Epic Fantasy, or maybe just descriptions of the means to make a puppy cry. We're all just tools in it's mad game. But we must write on, we have nothing to loose but our chains, if the abomination can be quelled we must try with all our might, WRITE WRITERS WE MUST-AGHAHGHAHGHAGGHA


I'm pretty sure William Gibson and, later, the Matrix were a much bigger influence on fiction. Even limiting it to anime and manga, you have things like Ghost in the Shell, Serial Experiments Lain and .hack (which themselves drew on Gibson et al for inspiration).


Aye, true. Just naming the first title that came from recent memory that had a connection to gaming. Though I wasn't bringing up fiction influences, rather current trends.


I couldn't agree more. We blind ourselves and blunt our creative teeth with genre chasing.

@ScreamingCandle I'm already going with a fusion of the three, they lend themselves to it. Must've not been clear from my post, but the title probably lists them in order of importance. As for motivation, I've learned that I can write anything as long as the themes, mystery, and protagonist interest me. And in this case, they really do. Cyberpunk is what it comes back to because ultimately it's about planned human obsolescence. Stay weird, you.

@Justinwenger Fun description. I've never seen it fully laid out before like that. Wonderful postmodern humor, similar to what I'll be going for in parts. Good stuff. That said, mostly the responses seem to be 'don't ride the trends'. I'm curious if anyone really disagrees with that. I'm still mixed, but my concept isn't changing at this point. I could go on and on, I love philosophy, but I'll just say cyclicality seems no reason not to participate in something. Else life itself would probably be meaningless.

@Maromar & @Dary - I'm still researching and tweaking for originality. An introverted, mercurial insomniac? Good protagonists are important. Planning to binge some works like Ghost in the Shell, Bladerunner, and some others. I need to dive into TV Tropes, it's great for that. Suggestions are welcome.

If you have an idea that you're happy with, write it. Worrying about originality is pretty much a waste of time. Any idea that seems original only seems that way because you're not aware of all the work that is out there. People take inspiration from everything, so why not pop culture and trends?

That being said, if you write solely to appeal to current trends without a strong idea beyond the generic tropes of that trend, I don't foresee a satisfying writing experience (though not necessarily a lack of commercial success). I write what I want and worry about the tags later.

In the cases of all the "trends" you've mentioned... the first popular items in that trend were popular because they were good stories. They became a trend because people decided the genre and furniture of the story MUST have been what made them good, and jumped on the trend. Some were good, some weren't. Some, like Twilight and 50 shades, ballooned up in popularity above the original works that created the genre (no, neither of them are the seminal works in their genre, at all)

I find that tight genre restrictions like that aren't really a draw for a lot of people. youve got to grab their interest with more than just, its a story about people plugged into a computer simulation. Have interesting characters that people care about, and a decent plot, and the rest is furniture. Makes a more comfortable place to sit, but no ones going to sit if they dont even walk into the room, you know?

As far as BCI gaming, and what made it big. Digimon technically falls under that, for the anime/tv show area, and the concept has LONG been explored in books and short stories. If you'd like to look at some great works about immersive gaming as a plot device, I'd suggest Dream Park by Niven and Barnes. Not BCI, but very immersive rpg (written in nineteen freaking eighty one, and using elements that seem completely normal and obvious to modern computer rpg gamers. This book was part of the bible used for creating Everquest and WoW, and it shows)

On the BCI VR realm, check out also Kilobyte by Piers Anthony. Very excellent look on the psychology of artificial worlds. Not Anthonys best book, its a bit sloppy in spots, and there are some inclusivity issues you can tell were shoehorned in, but worth a read.

I'm going to write this from the perspective of writers who are making money.

I think anyone calling another artist a sellout is kind of petty and silly. If someone is arting for a living, who the fuck are we to decide whether they're actually creating art or not, much less enjoying it?

It's frustrating to see other writers/artists whose work we may not like rise to prominence, but one of my first hard lessons as a professional writer was that my opinions/tastes don't matter. Condescension (or worrying too much about what other writers are doing, for that matter) doesn't pay the bills.

The only opinions that matter are those of the readers who are willing and able to buy someone's book.

All this said, I really don't think "originality" has anything to do with marketability. Well, let me take a step back from that statement--it helps. Execution is more important, though.

For every 50 Shades book we can point to (which isn't even a genre most people write here, but w/e), we can also point to an Eragon. Was Eragon unique? No. Was it well written? I'd argue not really. However, it hit all the right points, and a lot of people really, really enjoyed it.

My job as a writer is to entertain people. Sure, some writers won't be able to attract many readers if they create art they like and stay true to themselves. That's fine, but it's one reason this industry is not for everyone to thrive in, much less make money at. Not every artist will have much of an audience, which weirdly seems to be something most visual artists accept, but is a jagged pill for us to collectively swallow as writers.

Ultimately, everyone has to decide for themselves what kind of writer they want to be. If you want to be popular, and have more people read your stuff, most writers can lean towards commercially ideal tropes without sacrificing their artistic integrity.

As for professionalism, the best place to start is to do a lot of research. Find out what all the other writers in the space you are in are doing. Find out what works for you, or what you think you can do better.

The first rule of this game is that there aren't any hard and fast rules. More importantly, once again, as writers, our opinions don't matter that much. The people who dictate whether an idea succeeds or fails are the readers. Period.

@Unice My ideas are my own but you never want too close a similarity. I think my hero will be called the One and travel to the heart of the simulation. I could do something like that out of ignorance. And as far as motivation, I couldn't enjoy writing if it weren't to make a story for myself.

@Alexander In my experience, it's some level of familiarity that gets people into the room. As in even just looking. Some idea already on their mind. From there, I take it as a given your characters and story come first and better be top notch. It's more about a level of curb appeal. I wouldn't constrain myself.

Thanks for the suggestions. I'll give those a look.

@Blaise I was hoping you'd give your angle. For me, I consider that I can enjoy writing a lot of things. And so which of those things I choose is not going to be unaffected by my goals. Research is something I enjoy, personally, and execution is the object of any good writer's obsession. Thanks.

And hey, it's apparently marijuana day.

If you're thinking "what tropes should I use", stop. Stop right now and never go back.

Every time I've seen a professional author asked about what "tropes they use" at writing panels/events, there's a very long, very awkward pause.

Just write the damned story.

Well, for those that can't or don't wish to partake, but do enjoy ethanol recreationally, remember your drug math! 4/20 is the same as 1/5 , so have a bottle of rum!

@Dary I don't think so, chum

@Alexander Or, if you're like me, you'll just eat a couple slices of key lime pie and call it a day.

Just thought I'd mention something that seems relevant. Robert J Sawyer said it at a convention I went to in 2013. Even if you write for the *union* of genres, you'll likely only get the *intersection*. His first book was a Mystery/SciFi blend; he thought he'd appeal to readers of Mystery and SciFi simultaneously. Instead, he only got Mystery readers who also liked SciFi. (I feel like I've seen the same thing with my personified math... people who like math are turned off by the fantasy, while people who like fantasy are turned off by the math. If anyone knows where a fantasy math intersection resides, let me know... I'm not sure where the "Phantom Tollbooth" fans are these days. Though I've heard that particular serial of mine has it's own problems too.)

With that said, LitRPG seems (to me) to be a pretty wide net, with it's own subgroups, meaning you're not necessarily closing much off. Assuming you even are. As people have said, do what you do. As for the rest of the remarks:

- I'm pretty sure I'm the guy who breaks the post-frequency/following correlation (on top of the two years weekly without a break on my own site, I've gone daily at Wattpad and RRL, with the latter only pulling me barely past ten followers after the April Swap with Unice). I simply max out at a dozen readers no matter what, it's a skill.

- I've read "Killobyte" by Piers Anthony. In fact, I have it here. Literally, from Anthony's 'Author's Notes': "I actually thought of this novel a decade ago, in 1981, but couldn't even interest my agent, let alone a publisher. Virtual reality wasn't known then." (He also remarks "I suspect the Killobyte game requires a 586 system, because full virtual reality takes hefty computing." Hahaha, the early 90s.) Point being, if you're out AHEAD of a new style of writing/genre, you may get overlooked up until the point that you're overshadowed. Does that mean you should shelve it until later? Not necessarily. Lots of maybes in that.

- You're probably right about the familiarity getting people to at least take a look, particularly in the current day and age of electronic gatekeepers, with them selecting more of the same. (Though sometimes YouTube suggestions go bizarre.) So here's the counterpoint to "Don't ride the trends - does anyone really disagree with that"... yeah, hey, if you're pretty open about what you can write topic-wise, riding a trend for a shorter story sequence might at least get eyes on your work, with the hope that they'll pivot to reading something else you wrote that's more tangential.

Even if that doesn't happen? At minimum, you'll at least have SOME feedback on SOMETHING. I'm not at the existential levels of dread I was at a year ago (I actually get a comment every 4 entries or so now) but damn that was a tough time. Part of the reason for shifting back to "Epsilon" from T&T was "Epsilon" is based on reader votes, so I at least had the reassurance that 5 people HAD to have seen that entry (versus being a bot), because 5 votes existed. Even if that tale now sits in my archive with (*peers*) literally no views in the last 9 months. At the time, I needed it.

Ehehe, I also break the update frequency/following correlation at the other end of the spectrum. Generally once-a-month updates, occasionally faster, not uncommonly slower.

I totally agree that you get the subset of the genre readers who also like whatever other elements you put into the story. I think the key is to make it accessible enough for readers to either get into the other elements or ignore them and just focus on the genre they like. I would describe my main project Fantasia to be for fantasy readers who are familiar with gaming and also enjoy nerdy meta-humour, but a significant proportion of my readers ignore the meta-humour part. I have convinced most of them that my (annoying) interruptions are funny, though :)