Blogger: Mary Keeley
Last Sunday a church friend and I found ourselves in a conversation about the recent presidential election and potential ramifications thereof. They’re hard to avoid lately unless you’re a mole. The service was about to begin and we needed to get to our seats, but the short interlude of sharing diverse vantage points prompted an idea to share with writers who struggle to identify a unique angle for their books. A fresh approach is a must if you want to grab the attention of agents and editors.
Here’s why. A unique angle is one of the first things they look for in a proposal. If it isn’t apparent from the beginning, chances are it won’t get read beyond the first two pages. This is especially true for new writers but also for established authors, because there are no entitlements in publishing. Published authors have to maintain the edge if they hope to get the next contract. So treat the search with a positive attitude because the return will be great.
Your special angle is your friend for these important reasons:
- It makes your story or your nonfiction book stand out from all those other similar books out there. Think like an editor. Why should he publish your book when there are others already available that say essentially the same thing? Or tell a very similar story?
- It tells you what to include in your book and what to leave out. Knowing your boundaries makes the writing easier.
- A fresh new approach makes your book more interesting, which in turn will attract more readers.
But finding that new and different angle can be the hardest challenge in the writing process for many writers.
Here is one approach to help you. Begin by recognizing that the most exclusive part of your book is YOU. You are a unique individual with experiences and perceptions as singular as you are. Dig deep to recall people, personal and worldly events, places, and even objects that made a memorable impression on you over the years. No one else will have an identical response to yours. Use them to your advantage. Ask yourself:
- Why? Be specific.
- How? In what ways did it affect your future perspectives, likes and dislikes?
- When? Was the time and place important to the impression it made on you?
Next, think about how you can use your noted particulars to differentiate your book. Perhaps for assigning a quirk to your protagonist that affects her reactions to events in the plot? Can you also use this to add tension and crises in the story? You might be surprised by ideas that pop up about how to skew your Christian living book’s theme. Even a little bit can be enough to produce a unique angle. Or it might take more thought, but at least you have some tools to work with.
Your personal reactions and impressions are unique to you, but you are not alone in them, so don’t hold back because you think you are a strange exception from the majority. Chances are the reader following you’ve been attracting already feels a connection to your personal impressions in subtle ways.
How did you arrive at a unique angle for your WIP? If you are still working on it, what is holding you up? If you have a different method for pinpointing a fresh angle, please share it.
Your book needs a unique angle to get agent and editor attention. Here is one approach to finding it. Click to Tweet.
Here is one approach to help identify a unique angle for your novel or nonfiction book. Click to Tweet.
Interesting post, Mary. I’ve been thinking about ‘angle’ quite a bit,lately.
* The hard thing is that whilst my life has solidified a Christian framework, there are not a whole lof of people who want to interpret Jer. 29:11 in the context that either exercising lethality or being slowly beaten to death is both good and prosperous. It can be, actually; I would not go back to being the person I was before this illness began to crush the temporal hope out of me, and would not trade the memories and nightmares of the fight, but it’s a tough sell. And someone’s already written a book called “Embrace the Suck”.
* But that said, there is a road open, and I found the onramp recently through watching a movie called “Music and Lyrics”, a romantic comedy with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. I had lost my meaning, and this film gave it back.
* I want to write real romance, with humour and pathos mixed; the kind that will keep the eyes of singles uplifted, and will help the married see things in their spouses they never believed existed. Maybe the edginess of past and current circumstance will help, maybe not. All I know is that I’m a dying trained killer who believes passionately in love, and holds to the conviction that marriage is the greatest adventure of all.
Andrew, our culture has come to believe that suffering is bad. In healthcare, we’re on a mission to eliminate pain, and we offer medication if someone shows signs of depression (I’ll read in the medical record that a patient recently lost her spouse, and as a result her home; sure enough, there’s a plan to give her something for her depression).
* Think how often the Bible shows that suffering builds character, connects the sufferer to God and is a testimony to others. And while I can’t be happy about your suffering, Andrew, I am touched as you share your insights on personal and spiritual growth.
* Yep. Suffering is your non-fiction angle, Andrew. And you do it well.
Andrew, I agree with Shirlee but more specifically, your angle is your acquired perspective on the personal and spiritual benefits that can come out of suffering. As we look back in history, great empires fell as a result of complacency and a sense of entitled ease. Your angle is fresh and unique today.
Mary, thank you for this. You’ve really bolstered my spirits; I thought I was profoundly out of touch!
Andrew. Words fail me. All I can say is I would voraciously read the heck out of that book. And I thank God for the good work He is doing in and through you.
Andrew, beautiful. And your take on Jer 29:11 is something I’ve been pondering for months. I am hoping to blog on it a little later this year. Your words, however, as one who is walking through the unbelievably difficult hold so much more meaning.
*Thank you for continually showing up, for infusing hope into those of us who read your words, and for sharing your own hopes and dreams, and the lessons you’re learning.
Yes, Andrew … I wouldn’t love God the way I do today without hard times …. We hate hard times, but they can bring us to know and love God in a way we never would have. And then, we have this great testimony to share with others … help others. That’s what I speak about, when I get the opportunity. And I’ve gotten home from the hospital … my husband’s health … every blog post I’ve ever read of yours has helped prepare me for a time like this.
You have blessed me today, Andrew. Thanks for your transparency and your testimony. Continue to fight the good fight!
Hmmm. Lots to think about on my day’s commute. Several days’ commute, actually.
* My angle, across my writing spectrum–blog, Bible studies and book, is that life is a conversation with God. And he’s a brilliant conversationalist: good listener, insightful and witty, sees both detail and the big picture, Master of the pithy life-changing statement. Best Friend, ever.
I love this, Shirlee. And you’ve pinpointed your angle well.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
My unique angle is sorta really unique, writing from the POV of Navajo men, and a woman, searching for and finding the truth of Christ’s sacrifice.
There’s nothing like being a lone tree in a desert.
Jennifer, consider the blessing and grace provided the weary traveler by the shelter and shade of that tree.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Ahhhh, so true! That gave me chills, Andrew. Thank you.
*Ahe’hee, shinaii. (I think I spelled that right).
*Thank you, older brother.
Jennifer, you have a unique angle and redemptive story. Lovers of stories that surround true events in American history will be attracted.
Ooooh!!!! Having grown up in Arizona and making frequent trips to the Navajo res to enjoy their food and culture, this sounds so interesting!!
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Thank you!! here in AZ?? I’ve loved my research trips to Arizona and New Mexico. Home base is in Gallup, NM, but I’ve been all over Arizona. My heart feels at home in Canyon de Chelly. And my books are set near Flagstaff.
My heart also feels at home in the Panda Express in Flag, sniff. But I cannot put that in a book set in 1894. Bummer.
Jennifer Major – Yep! I was born in Williams, which is about 40 miles east of Flag. Grew up all over AZ and CA, then went to college at NAU, met my husband, got married, taught for a year before we started our overseas adventure. Spent about 15 years back and forth from overseas to seminary and back overseas. Just moved back to AZ last April. We’re in the Phoenix area now, but hubby’s family is still up there. Next time you’re there, be sure to try out August Moon for Chinese food – best ever. And if you haven’t yet, you must get to Cameron Trading Post for a Navajo Taco. Life changing. 🙂 Also, next time you’re in AZ, maybe we could have a coffee!
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
WIlliams? I drove through there in October!
Coffee? Sure? But…how about tea? And yes, that would be lovely!!
Have you been to the Fry Bread House on Old Indian School Road?
Also, I almost got locked in the Heard !!
Jennifer, for Panda Express in 1894…think Steampunk.
Tea works! I’ve got a good stash of Irish stuff at my house. ? Also, that fry bread house?? Totally looking that up!
Jennifer, this is right up my ally. My passion for the culture and history of the indigenous people fuel my story-telling. My current WIP is set on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Visiting the area a few summers ago was a pivotal moment for me. God has also blessed me with a good friend who grew up on a rez in South Dakota. She’s Lakota with a strong faith in the Lord and ties to her people. The guidance she has given me is priceless.
My experience of living as an American in rural Ireland for 8 years is the inspiration for my historical fiction about a young girl who moves to a small village in rural Ireland to teach. I have a deeper understanding of Irish culture than most might, and know the struggles one faces moving into that kind of a setting as an outsider, where gossips flourish and if the real truth is unknown, it’s made up by whoever happens to be talking. And also the unique benefits of such a situation.
Jennifer, those insights from your personal memories are invaluable tools for your story’s angle.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Oooh, this sounds wonderful. I would love to read this!
I’ll be looking for beta readers soon. 😀 One unexpected blessing of my surprise career change this month is I’ve had this week to do nothing but write. I’ve gotten over 12,000 words on the page this week, and only have about 15,000 more to go to reach the end of the first draft. I’m nearly giddy with excitement. LOL
Ooh, this really grabs my interest, Jennifer!
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Jennifer: I e-mailed you about a beta reading exchange.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Hmmm … I think that facing death at a young age (14) is one of the things that makes me different as a person and a writer. I love to laugh, notice the funny things in life, and am not surprised when tragedy knocks. Death makes us practical, observant, thoughtful, and yes, death can even make us funny. It leaches the over-dramatic purple from our prose. It forces us to soak every little moment up, because when you have watched that loved one dragged out to the ambulance, you know that anything can happen at any moment and every tick of the clock must be noticed and enjoyed.
Oh this is so true. I’m very sorry you had to experience that, but it seems you’re really using it to make a difference.
*This is such a great post, Mary. And the questions you share are ones I’m going to meditate on.
In some ways, I’m having a hard time thinking of my unique angle. 🙂 So many people have dealt with similar issues as me. I haven’t had earth shattering things happen. I guess, as I grow older, I’m learning to listen and observe those around me and learn to interpret them through a filter of faith in God.
*The story I’m working on deals a lot with identity. And though my characters are public figures, they still struggle to see beyond their past to who they really are. I probably need to work on bringing in some unique angles. The identity struggle comes from the core of my own life, in discovering who defines me.
*My first novel, which will publish second this spring, was inspired in part by the experience of a very dear Christian sister who lives in a country that is less than 3% Christian. She decided to follow Jesus during a 1-year exchange to the US as a college student. When she returned home and found a church, her pastor told her that it was highly likely that she would never find a Christian man to marry. That was prophetic. It’s been almost 30 years, and she is still faithful to Jesus and single.
*Her situation inspired the story of a Christian woman in the Roman Empire who chooses Jesus even over the man she loves and how the fallout of that choice leads to his spiritual transformation. That set the direction of the series I’m writing now, which focuses on deep cultural conflicts, the power of Christian love to overcome those, and the transformation that can result in response to that love. There will be at least 6 volumes, each with different settings and social conflicts. With an Empire spanning from Britain to Israel, cultures ranging from monotheistic Judaism through polytheistic Roman and almost everyone else, social classes from the ultra-rich and politically powerful to slaves ― it’s not difficult to find the next combination of incompatible perspectives for the conflict. But in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek (nor Roman nor German nor…), male nor female, slave nor free. At least some of my characters figure that out by the final page.
*It’s great fun to write how the love of God can overcome the tallest barriers and even make enemies into true friends.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Hmm…I’ll make a stab at it. 🙂 I think my unique angle would be somehow related to the intersection of past and present, writing either historical fiction dealing with issues that still affect us today, or fiction that intertwines contemporary and historical, showing how one influences the other, all with a connecting theme of reconciliation and healing between people of different cultures. My experience, especially in recent years, as a white woman with close friends of other backgrounds–primarily Native American and African-American–who have taught me a great deal has largely shaped and inspired this angle and the stories themselves. That sounds rather convoluted, but still processing here. 🙂
Any one who knows me well knows I write mission stories, interviewing missionaries and sharing their stories. My novels derive from my unique position there, combined with adoption, from my experience and perspective.
*And I mentioned to Andrew that I’ve just gotten home from a few days at the hospital with my hubs. I’d cherish prayers.
Prayers for your husband AND for you as well, Shelli. ??
Prayers coming Shelli. We love you.
Praying for you.
I’m not sure what my unique angle is. Since I’ve had an eventful life (well, not so much for the last 26 years, but before then), and since I’m working those experiences into my fiction, perhaps there’s an authenticity to it that comes through. When I write about a foreign place, it’s always someplace I’ve been, or quite similar to a place I’ve been, during my five years in the Middle East. When I write fiction about teenage grief at the loss of a parent, it’s from real experience. When I start my series of cozy mysteries, they will be about real events in my family’s history (some long past). So maybe the authenticity will come through. Otherwise…I don’t know what my unique angle will be.
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