Blogger: Wendy Lawton
It must seem beyond frustrating to writers who long to be published. We tell you things like, “The plot seems like it’s been done,” or “If you want to write about God’s grace you need to do it in a fresh way.” And yet, when you try to do something different you hear things like, “It feels like you are pushing the envelope and going into unfamiliar territory,” or “It just doesn’t feel familiar enough for a [enter genre or category here] book.”
What’s a writer supposed to do?
Here are a few random observations:
- In a novel we want a plot and characters that feel new but we generally don’t want to see experimental writing from a debut author. In other words, we get queasy with second person narration or wonky chronology unless we’ve really come to know and trust the author. (And even then we’ll worry about how their readers will react to a crazy new wrinkle.)
- In nonfiction we seek that new way of looking at a subject but we don’t want to explore something outside of orthodoxy with a new writer or see a format that is unexpected.
- Too short or too long are often marketing issues. How do we make a book come in at an expected price point?
- Sometimes the norm is that way because we’ve watched sales. For instance, we know romantic fiction sales will be strongest if the protagonist is a woman. So if you choose to be different by going with a male lead, you’ve already got a hurdle to cross with the sales people on the acquisitions committee.
- “Pushing the envelope” in an effort to be different often looks exactly like that– an author trying to be different instead of a story that demands coloring outside the lines.
- Writing in a new genre is dangerous for a new writer. While we think there should be more innovation, the truth is that it’s easiest to write where readers are already avidly reading.
So how does a writer feel fresh or different?
- Your voice, if you are developed as a writer, will set you apart. No one is going to say things and look at things the way you do.
- If you are novelist, look for fresh characters– characters we like. (Don’t try to break in with a seriously flawed protagonist. Too tough for a debut.)
- Write a story that is fresh. In order to do this you need to read widely and study books in your genre.
- If you are writing nonfiction, give us a book we’ve not yet seen but give it to us in a familiar format.
Okay? Is that confusing enough? Let’s talk today about what is different enough and what’s too different. Don’t forget, YMMV. This is subjective at best, and we’re always learning.