Writing to market, tropes, and missing the mark?

I’m wondering if I’m not following Chris Fox’s strategy correctly. I think I might be falling into the “one up the idea” trap. Chris says to find a category/genre and then emulate it. By emulating he says you need to study and find what the tropes are for that category/genre and make sure you hit each of those tropes. Something I failed to talk about during the Finding a category and The category I picked: Urban fantasy thriller posts that is quite important to writing to market: tropes.

Every genre has certain tropes that a writer can lean into or away from. Tropes are elements of a genre that readers either expect and are disappointed when they’re not there, or are seen as derivative. For example, take the epic fantasy quest genre. The tropes tend to be a magical item that a group of adventurers has to find to defeat a dark lord type of villain. The band of plucky individuals are representatives of that world’s “good” races.

The tropes that you use and how you use them are dictated by your target audience. If you’re writing for those readers who want more stuff about the stuff they like (such as, they want to read more things like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings), then you lean into those tropes and make sure you use them. When you market your book you might say something like “In the grand tradition of Tolkien …” You’re telling your audience that they’ll get an epic quest fantasy with obvious good guys and bad guys—you’re leaning into the tropes and giving readers of that genre what they want. Doesn’t mean you don’t make things fun and unique, but you do that along with giving them the tropes the reader wants to read about.

If you do that be aware that you’ll get reviews that say:

  • A Tolkienesque adventure that delivers the goods! 5 STARS!!
  • A Tolkien ripoff. 1 STAR.

You ignore the “ripoff” reviews because they’re not your target audience. But if that’s the only reviews you’re getting, then you’re making the wrong promises up front. You need to make it clear what you’re doing so that you garner your target audience: Those you WANT a Tolkien-like tale.

Finally back to “missing the mark”

So why am I wondering if I’m missing the mark? I’ve decided to write an urban fantasy as if Lee Child is writing it. So I’m not writing the “wizard private investigator” story and I’m not doing a pure thriller ala Child or Harlan Coben or John Sandford. I’m mixing the genres and Amazon is littered with people who thought mixing genres was a cool idea. So now I’m wondering if mine is too much of a mix. So far in my writing I’m hitting the thriller tropes more than the wizard-PI tropes. However, this conundrum is quite common with writers. You get going in your book and then you start second guessing just about everything. So I honestly don’t know at this juncture if I’m making a fatal error or everything’s cool. I’m going to keep going with the book I’m writing and we’ll find out in a couple of months.