Good morning! I got an email from a friend asking for advice on behalf of his niece, who has written a novel but can't find an agent. As I get these sorts of questions a lot I thought I'd answer here and get my Monday post done! Two birds! One stone!
The niece has sent her ms to various agents and heard the same reply: they admire the writing but the market is saturated with dystopian literature so they pass.
First, niece my friend, this happens ALL THE TIME. Perhaps that's a comfort to you? To hear that you're not alone? Example: Harry Potter came out, was a huge success, all the publishers were like, wait a minute, we need more middle grade fantasy series! They published a bunch of them. Most of them weren't hits. Publishers lost money.
Meanwhile, lots of people read Harry Potter and the subsequent fantasy series that were coming out and were inspired to write their own. Only they'd missed the swell. Publishers just weren't looking for them anymore. My own book THE GOOSE GIRL missed the swell. I'd been working on it for years, had no idea about any market and such, but by the time it was done and we were submitting it, the publishers were weary of all the fantasy series they were getting and all the major publishers rejected it.
This happened again with TWILIGHT. It hit big. Publishers began to gobble up vampire stories and then just all paranormal romance. Agents who happened to have YA paranormal romance at the time found it easy to sell them. An entire section of Barnes & Noble was renamed Paranormal Romance. Nathan Hale joked B&N was renaming themselves "Paranormal Romance 'N Things." And then, the inevitable happened. Readers grew weary of paranormal romance. Publishers lost money. They were no longer looking for it. All those writers who had been reading paranormal romance and were inspired to write it found they couldn't sell their manuscripts.
And then, again. HUNGER GAMES. DIVERGENT. MAZE RUNNER. etc. There's a bubble, the bubble pops.
When that bubble pops, it's not the end of the world. I've heard from agents and editors that they will take up any book that really, really sings to them, even if in the current marketplace it's far from a sure thing. THE GOOSE GIRL eventually found a home, for example. The key, the challenge, is finding just the right person who falls in love with your writing, even if dystopian is past its prime.
A few things you can do to help that happen:
1. make sure your book is amazing. No problem there, right? Easy peasy.
2. keep submitting until you find that one agent who just can't resist your voice, your characters, your style, what you've done to make sure your book is unique among all the others. Which means not giving up, querying everybody, attending conferences where you can meet an agent in person and hope that you click somehow with this one. To just keep trying.
3. write a new book
Because chances are, your first book will never sell. Even if it isn't dystopian. Most first books don't sell. Ask most published writers and you'll hear war stories of all the books we wrote that will never see the light of day.
Your goal as a writer isn't to get a book published. It's to make yourself a writer. Sometimes writers must write a lot of books as practice before our brains are good enough to write something new, original, exciting, interesting, unputtdownable. Sometimes you have to chalk this one up to a rehearsal and get moving on the next thing.
THIS IS NOT AN EASY BUSINESS. THERE IS NO SHORTCUT. TO WRITE NOVELS FOR A LIVING YOU MUST BE HARDCORE.
The second question the niece had was, should I just self-publish it?
My answer: maybe. I don't know. I've never self-published anything so I'm far from an expert. Indie publishing is a great resource for books that don't find a home in traditional publishing. I guess it depends on what your goal is here. To share your work? To make a living? I'd recommend seeking out blogs and sites about self-publishing for more answers. Note that self-publishing is not as simple as uploading your manuscript to Amazon. In order to have success, you'll have to educate yourself on the business, put in time and money. I've read that most first novels that are self-published never get into the black--at least the ones who hire professional editors, cover designers, etc., in order to do it all professionally. In other words, in order to self-publish, you must be hardcore. So it really depends on your skill set, personality, and desire. Do you want to learn about this business? Invest your resources in it? Put in the time?
So, niece, what kind of hardcore are you?