What makes an urban fantasy or paranormal romance series a bestseller?
Every once in awhile, I take a step back and look at what I’m doing in order to decide how to proceed. I do tons of mental gymnastics, to include gauging my target audience’s reaction to my latest release, refining my marketing strategies or simply role-playing my next series. I constantly challenge myself to write better, market harder and learn from other writers.
Defining what made an urban fantasy/paranormal romance series more likely to be successful, however, was an exercise inspired by an episode of the Simpsons! Earlier this year, the Simpsons ran an Oceans-11 spoof targeting the young adult fiction market. Led by Lisa Simpson, a gang of the characters decided to boil down the common traits of every bestselling young adult fiction novel. Their score: write their own novel based off these factors, sell it for a million dollars to the publishing industry and go their separate ways with their cash.
After I stopped laughing, I started thinking … there’s really something to this type of exercise! So I turned my analytical mind onto a market closer to my own: The urban fantasy and paranormal romance market. I analyzed the tons of books I’ve read over the past few years – since paranormal and urban fantasy exploded – and came up with five common traits below that all prolific and highly successful series seem to share.
1. STRONG female lead. This seems like a no-brainer, but as I went through all my books, I was struck by just how different the female leads in great UF and PNR books are. The UF female leads are normally in their mid-20s to mid-30s. They’re different, scarred – and special in a way that has complicated their lives. They are not the dewy, doe-eyed, unsuspecting heroines of historical romance. In fact, the women in bestselling PNR and UF series start off more like … well, more like us.
2. Healthy cliffhangers. There are two types of series: those telling a continuous story of one couple, and those detailing the love of multiple couples in the framework of a much larger struggle. Both kinds of series – that are generally considered successful – have had healthy cliffhanger endings. By healthy, I mean the adventure was over at the end of the book. But the journey of the hero and heroine to face whatever evil or darkness threatens the world continues in the series. At the end of each book, the world still held mystery, promise and the potential for more surprises. These kinds of books catalyze a reader’s imagination. They made me want to know MORE.
3. A greater purpose. The worlds of PNR and UF are similar in that they are usually pretty hostile. The external struggle the heroine and hero face is not usually something they can solve. Rather, they need each other to survive it. Unlike other subgenres of romance, there is less likely to be a mild misunderstanding that keeps two people apart. If anything, the successful UF heroine and hero fight hard – and against external factors – to stay together, help the other and make their world a better place.
4. True love is eternal. This is a no-brainer, except that eternal means more in a UF or PNR romance than any other subgenre of romance. Romance between immortals, undead, shape-shifters, were-creatures and humans are all possible when the restriction of time is removed. It’s understood that love between a vampire and a human is forever, and strong UF series emphasize the ability for a couple to face obstacles without losing it and placing their love above even their own lives. It makes sense. I mean, eternity is a long time for things to go wrong!
5. Not every character has a happy ending. This isn’t your mama’s Harlequin. Not everyone ends up learning the lesson s/he should have or finding true love. UF and PNRs are normally a bit grittier than other subgenres of romance, and those series willing to tread to the deep end and reflect reality seem to have an even wider appeal. Series that skip the fairytale endings for something a bit more bittersweet are pretty hot.
What do YOU think? What are other traits awesome series share?
Lizzy Ford is the self-publishing phenom and of the sweet paranormal romance series: “Rhyn Trilogy” and “War of Gods” series; and the young adult fantasy trilogy, “The Foretold,” all of which launched in 2011. She has also authored multiple single title young adult fantasy and paranormal romances. Lizzy’s books have reached the bestseller lists on both Amazon US and Amazon UK in multiple categories. Widely considered a freak of nature by her contemporaries for her ability to write and publish a new book every 30-45 days, Lizzy attributes her success to a team that consists of her editor, graphics artist, I.T. Sherpa, and her rabid readers.
Lizzy released ten books in 2011 and intends to release another ten in 2012, including launching two more series. Lizzy’s books can be found on every major ereader library, to include: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Sony and Smashwords. She lives in southern Arizona with her husband, three dogs and a cat.
Links to Lizzy online: