Tropes That Suck or How to Sell a Vampire Story

I have a problem, a writerly weakness if you will. I can’t stop writing vampire stories. Of the thirteen stories I’ve sold in 2020, five of them feature the befanged bloodsuckers. Why do I bring this up? Well, because vampires are tough to sell. They are frequently mentioned on publisher do-not-send lists, along with the other usual suspects like zombies, werewolves, and hitmen/gangsters (another weakness of mine). Despite that, I keep writing vampire stories, and, surprisingly, selling them. So if you’re like me, and you can’t stop writing about an overused monster or trope, there are some things you show know if you want to have any success with your trope of choice.

Before we get started, note that in this post I’m going to say “vampire” rather than list a long string of popular (overused) monsters and character types. So just swap out vampire for zombie, werewolf, hitman, whatever, and the advice is the same.

Okay, if you’re gonna write and attempt to sell vampire stories, here are three things to keep in mind.

Limited Publication Opportunities

If you write a vampire story, you are reducing the number of potential markets where you can submit the piece. This is simply a fact, and you’ll run into the following A LOT in submission guidelines.

We do not accept stories with the following: vampires, zombies, werewolves, serial killers, hitmen . . .

Yep, there are many publishers that straight-up won’t consider a vampire story. By the way, I think this publisher listed the various monsters/tropes in order of which they like least. 🙂

But even if a publisher will consider the story, they might include a cautionary statement like this.

Originality demands that you’re better off avoiding vampires, zombies, and other recognizable horror tropes unless you have put a very unique spin on them.

Do NOT send your vampire story to the first publication. That’s really bad form, and just shows you can’t read submission guidelines. As for the second publication, well, I did sell a vampire story to them, but they rejected two more. So if you send one to a market like that, it better be original. (More on that in my second point). 

Now, why might a publisher take either of these two stances on vampires? Well, because they’ve likely seen a thousand Twilight or Interview with a Vampire knockoffs and are just tired of it. They want something original and so do their readers. I should note that I don’t fault a publisher for taking this stance one bit. I get it. I really do. If I had to wade through mountains of slush on a daily basis, I too might roll my eyes at yet another vampire story. But, hey, I’m still gonna write ’em, so how do I get them published? 

Only the Original 

It should go without saying that if you’re gonna have any chance of publishing a vampire story, you’d better have an original take on them. That doesn’t mean your story has to be totally outlandish (though it couldn’t hurt). A slight twist on the traditional lore or even just putting the vampire in a new environment can be all it takes to make your story stand out. Let me give you some examples from the vampire stories I’ve published. (I’ve linked to the ones that are free to read or listen to).

  • “Night Games” – Vampire baseball, but, not, you know, the Twilight kind.
  • “Bites” – Uber Eats for vampires. (Maybe my favorite of the bunch.)
  • “Liquid Courage” – Bad guy old west sheriff vampire.
  • “The Night, Forever, and Us” – Vampirism as a cure for a deadly disease. Also, kind of a vampire romance. (I know!)
  • “Childish Things” – Vampire trick-or-treaters. (Published today!)

The first three fall into the vampire-in-an-unusual-environment category. The last two are more of a twist on traditional lore, though, I’ll admit, the last one is the most traditional of the five. I think it maybe stands out from other vamp tales because, like “The Night, Forever, and Us”, vampirism is used to rescue someone rather than curse or destroy them. I think POV is important too. This is purely anecdotal and maybe specific to vampires, but it feels like it’s easier to sell a vampire story where they are portrayed as a monster to overcome rather than a protagonist.

Take Your Lumps 

The only feedback I’ve received from editors and first readers that even approached negative or scathing has been on my vampire stories. Yep, even if a publisher has nothing in their guidelines that prohibit or discourage vampires, some folks really, really don’t like them, and will let you know. Only once did I take this feedback personally, as it was particularly pointed (hah!), and just seemed kind of unnecessary. The other times, it was simply clear I should not send vampire stories to that publisher, which is useful information.

I’ve also been told elsewhere (in person, on social media, etc.) that no one wants to buy or read vampire stories, which is, well, not true. You see, here’s the good thing about those overused tropes. They go in and out of fashion, sure, but they never go away, and there’s almost always an audience for them. Yes, you need an original spin, but if you can find one, I think that combination of the familiar with the shiny and new is a winning formula that can and does lead to short story sales.

So keep writing those vampire stories, zombie stories, hitman stories, and, uh, vampire hitmen who hunt zombies stories. You can sell them. It takes a little more effort, sure, but adding to the lore of your favorite monster is pretty damn satisfying. 🙂

Got a favorite trope you maybe write about too much? Tell me about it in the comments.

6 Comments on “Tropes That Suck or How to Sell a Vampire Story

  1. You’re an inspiration that demonstrates the power of writing what you love, and you embody the ‘don’t follow trends’ advice so well. As a cyberpunk fan, I too find myself gravitating towards this genre, no matter how much I try to dabble in fantasy, humour, or contemporary stories. Here’s to writing what more of what moves you!

    • Thanks. Much appreciated.

      I think writing what you love is important, but, you know, just with the understanding that not everyone loves it as much as you do. 😉

  2. My first two stories both involved time travel. I’ve sold one of those twice, but the other still hasn’t found a home. I’ve stayed away from that classic sci-do trope since then. I don’t think that’s been intentional. I’ve simply moved on to other tropes: FTL travel, aliens, generation starships. So many to have fun with. 😀

    • You know, interestingly, I don’t see a lot of sci-fi tropes in do not send lists. You’d think time travel, alien invasion, and certain others might get tiresome for some publishers, but I guess not enough to forbid them outright.

      I recently sold a time travel piece as well. Mine also featured a hitman, so that’s two tired tropes in one story! 😉

  3. I hate vampire stories and will not read them, but when I came across one unexpectedly in a sci fi collection, I really appreciated the unique take.

    • I know a few magazine editors who feel the exact same way you do. 🙂

      But, yeah, the original take is critical if you want to publish a vampire story or any overused trope. Even then, it can still be a tough sell.

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