Something I find interesting is how many times I hear agents and editors talking about wanting a story that is unique. They’re not looking for the same old same old. They want something new, the next big thing.
This is intriguing because of how often I see the opposite being true. I’m sure you know at least one book that seems to be the carbon copy of another book, or movie, or TV show, or newspaper article…you get what I’m saying. Off the top of my head, both Obsidian and Fifty Shades of Grey appear to be rip offs of Twilight. Think of all the books that followed The Hunger Games: Divergent, Matched, The Maze Runner, Red Queen, and more. Heck, a number of people even say that The Hunger Games was a rip off of Battle Royale.
However, despite the above examples, writers still need to be individuals. The market is over-saturated with books just like other books, and if you are trying to mimic another book solely in the hopes of also being a bestseller, then your character’s voice won’t be authentic.
Also, in a world inundated with people who all believe that they can be bestselling authors, you need to stand out, and be different in a good way. (Don’t query agents saying that your novel is the next bestseller. Don’t tell agents that God told you to query them. Don’t mass query agents with the salutation of “To whom it may concern.” Hint: agents actively look for reasons not to read your query, writing sample, etc. They have too much to do and too little time to deal with all the work they already have.)
How do you stand out among the myriad of voices?
I’d like to say that if you write an extraordinary novel and query letter, you’ll get published. But that’s not always, or even usually, the case. Think of all the books you’ve read where you can’t understand why they were published, or how many times you’ve gotten a positive query letter rejection. (Two examples from me are (1) that my query was fantastically written, but that the agent is currently not taking on any more YA authors, and (2) the agent enjoyed my novel, but my book was too contemporary for the present market (funnily enough, a year later, John Green became extraordinarily popular with his novel The Fault in Our Stars, and the YA market was flooded with books about overly intelligent kids with cancer.))
Most times an agent selects a novel based on how well that agent clicks with the book. Using John Green as an example again, I am not a fan of his writing style, however my cousin and all her friends were aghast when they discovered I didn’t read his novels. Whether you like something is completely subjective, no matter how much you may pretend you’re being utterly objective.
So, what can you do?
- Focus on your voice. It can be easy to get lost in studying other authors’ works, especially if they sold well. But this won’t help you in the long run, because you need to develop your voice. If you can’t recognize your writing style, it will show in your writing.
- Allow others to help you. Look for contacts within the writing community. You never know if a friend of a friend is the brother of a top-tier literary agent. Also, let others read your writing. Let them give you feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, a favor, or to offer to take your professor out to dinner if she critiques your writing past what was required for class.
- Get involved in the community. Similar to above, surround yourself with people who know the writing world. You’ll learn what to do much faster if you’re around people who already know what to do.
- Do the writing. This is a lot easier said than done. After having spent years in the writing community, even getting a MA in Writing, I know how much work crafting a story is. However, I know several people who casually say they’re going to write a novel and get it published. It’s difficult for me to not roll my eyes because they are either not serious about writing anything, have no clue what goes into writing, or are disillusioned about the writing world. (It astonishes me how many people don’t realize how much work goes into completing a well-written novel.)
One of the biggest aspects of writing to consider, and this may be part of the reason why so many poorly written novels not only get published but become best sellers, is that readers are able to empathize with the characters. A professor once told me that if you don’t experience any emotions while writing, then readers won’t when reading your work.
Lastly, results take time. Often in the literary world, results take years. Those stories you hear about how a writer got an agent after one week of querying or how a writer got a six-figure deal on a first novel are heard about for a reason. They rarely happen. So, be patient, work hard, develop your individual voice, and don’t give up.
How do you try to get your work noticed?
(Photo courtesy of Amy West.)