Breaking Out of the Pack: Something Old, Something New

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.

How do you make an editor or agent notice your work? I think most of us realize that editors and agents are bombarded with ideas every day. So far this year, our agency has received several thousand queries and proposals, yes, thousands. So how do you break out of the pack to get noticed?

Often what we’re looking for is a project that springboards off of a tried-and-true idea but adds a new twist. For example, one of my clients did that very skillfully with what she called a “rollicking Regency.” She took the well-defined genre of a Regency romance and added lots of sassy spirit to the heroine, as well as a wonderful, tongue-in-cheek wit to the writing. Entitling the novel All the Tea in China, Jane Orcutt created a manuscript that readily snared editors and publishing committees. It was fresh, yet it wasn’t straddling genres or taking some Grand Canyon leap that sales reps wouldn’t even know how to describe.

What Jane did was masterful. And the book sold with nice energy. Sadly, Jane died shortly after writing the book; so she wasn’t able to continue the series this book launched. And just to show how good she was, our agency tried hard to find someone who could continue the series in the spirit and with the verve that Jane began it, but no such person could be found.

Consider how you can take a perennial idea and make it new–but readily recognizable. It could lead to your breaking out from the pack.

Can you think of other books that set the writing course for their writers?

3 Responses

Leave a Reply

  1. Nicole says:

    This is a tough question, Janet. Take the romance genre. How many novels?? Yet it sells. But for those who read other genres too, romance can lose its flavor if there’s not something, anything really, to make it unique. And that’s not easy to do.
    I like the way Kristen Heitzmann does her romance because she’s not bashful/ashamed to include the real passion that can be present whether welcome or not.
    I rarely read CBA (and never secular) romance anymore yet I write it. What’s wrong with me?! However, whether or not it matters or even serves a purpose, I call it “non-traditonal romance” because it focuses on the contrasts of relationship, romance, and sex as viewed through the world’s eyes to God’s view of the same. So you can imagine the “focus” is a little more . . . raw, I guess, at times. Not that this approach could catch a CBA publisher’s attention, but it’s what I write.

  2. janetgrant says:

    Thanks, Nicole, for mentioning Kristen Heitzmann and her approach to writing romance.
    I’d also point to Debbie Macomber, who writes “cozy” community stories a la Mitford. Readers have come to expect a very specific type of story from Debbie. And, well, Jan Karon took the idea of an ensemble novel with the setting as character and ended up with “something new” that readers adored.

  3. I’ve always thought one of the great things about the Harry Potter books was that they were a twist on the English boarding school story. I’m not sure but I think before those books there were a lot of books where magic happened in other worlds, but her magic happened in this world. I thought that was fresh.

    Artemis Fowl was fresh too because it took the child genius and made him an evil mastermind–though good at heart–and Colfer made the Leprechauns into L.E.P. Recon officers in an underground society. I wished I’d have thought of it.

    In TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY, Jay Asher give us a suicide book with the twist of having the victim leave behind thirteen tapes telling thirteen people how they contributed to her death.

    Both Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl are series and the worlds had lots of room for books. TH1RTEEN R3ASONS is a stand alone, but I read an interview with Jay where he said something about having to follow up his dark book with something equally heavy, because his audience expects it. I think he was feeling a little confined by that.