Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Does it really pay to be different in this business?

One of the problems with getting my debut novel published has become outstandingly clear to me recently after being rejected, once again, despite the editor 'enjoying' it. So many people 'enjoy' it, but don't 'want' it for some reason or another. The most common reason is that:
My voice hits middleground.
It's TOO COMMERCIAL for the small presses that have a reputation for publishing less mainstream literary voices, and NOT COMMERCIAL ENOUGH for agents who are looking for the next bestseller to pay for their dream condo.
So where does that leave me? I can't change my voice. It's my voice. It's me. It's how I write. Does this mean I'm never going to find an agent or publisher because they can't find a shelf to slot my voice in?
You know, I like this a little because it means I'm 'different', and what reader isn't looking for something different, right? I like being different. I always have, ever since I was a kid and wanted to go grocery shopping in a pink tutu and black heavy metal t-shirt.
But what's the point in being different if publishers don't start publishing different books? What do you think? Do you think the books being published nowadays are a little samey? Does it pay to have an original voice like everyone keeps telling us, or is what they're really saying code for 'write what everyone else is writing so we can sell it'?

*PS: not complaining here - just think it's an interesting dicussion topic!


  1. I think it comes down to why you write. Do you write because you want to make a career (ahem $$$$) or do you write because you have a story to tell?

    If you are writing to make money, then you change whatever you can to appeal to the broadest audience. It's business.

    If you are writing because you're an artist, then you protect your story/art from those who don't 'get' it. Your audience will eventually find you.

    Neither is right or wrong...and one way isn't easier than the other.

    (Rereading this, I'm not sure I got what I wanted to say down...but I'm leaving it as is and hitting 'post')

  2. I think that having a "different" voice is important. I also think that whether it pays to have an original voice depends on the writer and how important getting published seems to them.

  3. I have no intention of aiming to make big bucks. But I also do want to be published. Even if it is with a small press who only does a first print run of 100 copies. You know what I mean? But I can't even seem to get that. The small presses tell me to approach bigger houses, the big guys (like agents) tell me it would be well suited for small presses. Which freakin' way do I turn???

  4. I think having a different voice is important. And you have to write what stikes something within you. There are agents out there that want a unique voice. You just have to find the perfect match for you.

  5. I agree with Vicki...

    Writing what people read is the easiest strategy for a career.

    Being different is historically a hard road to follow to a breakthrough; and should that breakthrough occur, it will be a specialised audience.
    If your "voice" is between two places, perhaps you could write using your voice but with a full on different hook?
    Could you keep your voice, but put it somewhere it isn't used to being?

  6. It all comes down to shelves. What shelf are they going to put you on? And people have preconceived ideas about what the books on those shelves should be. I’ve just submitted my first two novels to a site which has your bog-standard headings and they’ve very kindly listed the book under Literary & General and Science Fiction & Fantasy because the book simply doesn’t fit into any of your typical genres; there’s a bit of everything in it; there’s even a bit of romance in it but I thought that was pushing it. I think if you asked most readers though what they want they’d probably say, “The same but different.” They know what they like but they want a new angle. It’s why sequels usually work okay but once you get onto a third or fourth outing the griping begins.

  7. I do think YA is getting to be a little samey. However, MG is still wide open, which is why I love it. But I still have to jump through hoops to get my story read.

  8. Yes yes yes and yes. I've read so many books recently where the mc's girl teen voice is sarcastic and witty. I love it, but its true that after a while, they all start to resemble eachother.

  9. Well I only have to look at the YA bookshelves at work to see that publishers want more of the same - 3/4 full of vampire books! So where does that leave the breakthrough novelist? Given a choice between selling a lot of a popular genre or taking a risk on something new, I'm guessing a publisher will go with the safer option.

    I agree with Vicki, you need ask yourself which is more important - money or your writing integrity?

  10. This IS an excellent discussion point! I had/have the same problem -- not quite literary, not quite commercial or genre. I struggle with this daily because I too want to be published, if only just a little bit.

    I guess the answer is we keep plugging along and hope that the next big trend is us! (I did read a comment from a young agent who said she and her colleagues are thinking the trend is on the swing to more literary realism.)

  11. Doesn't it ultimately come down to a question of why you are writing. Are you writing for money, or are you writing because you want people to read and appreciate your work. Because if it is the latter, couldn't you look at PoD?

  12. This is a good topic. Wish I knew what the answer was! I think different is good and suspect there is a place for it somewhere. It's just a matter of finding that place. Someday:)

  13. I agree with Vicki, too.

    There's some "samey" stuff out there. There's some good stuff out there. And let's face it--there's some crap out there.

    The key is to find the agent/publisher who is looking for what you are writing. It might not fit into the market right now, buy it might in 5 years. So in the meantime, write something else. Well, that's all I can do, anyway.

    The match will be made. The puzzle pieces will fall into place. Everything will come together. It's all about timing.


  14. I've been getting similar rejections, only mine say that the voice works, but the hook isn't commercial enough.

    My solution: give them the commercial plot they want. Because my aim, from the first page of fiction I ever wrote, was to have others read my work. As many others as possible.

    And that means giving the publishers what they want.

    Since you can't change (and shouldn't change) your voice, you could either aim for a more commercial plot with a WIP or revised book, or aim for a more literary plot with a WIP or revised work.

    I know it seems harsh, and people will say it's selling out, but I tell myself there will be time to figure out how to publish the "different" stuff I want after I'm established.

  15. Hmm, this is interesting.I'd have to think about it a bit more.
    Sometimes I wonder if it's not the writing, but about waiting for the right time for your work to hook someone.

  16. I read someplace that a new idea can only be 10% different. My question is, which 10% do they want? The bookshelves are full of covers that are all the same color even!

  17. Okay, I totally love what Vicki said. I have to agree and add, I've written two different types of writing. I've found that the voice of my characters are different because the characters themselves are different. Maybe trying a new wip would help? I know it helped me. =) Good luck.

  18. I love your voice. I think your voice is amazing, unique and enjoyable--accent and all. It sucks so bad to keep getting "this is really great" rejections. I've said over and over it's the complimentary kicks in the gut that hurt the worst.

    I'm sorry. :o\

    would it make you feel better if I say I left you a little award on my blog? For being Strangely Irresistable? :o) I think I misspelled that word... ;p

  19. I'm experiencing something similar trying to sell my debut novel: the voice is good, but the plot is too rambling and not action-oriented enough. I really wanted that book to be my debut novel. And I'm not going to give up yet.

    But in the meantime, I'm writing something new that I feel has better pacing and a more action oriented storyline. I guess you could say that makes me in it for the money (because authors make so much money, right? ;D ), but my goal hasn't actually changed.

    It's still to get a novel, a novel that I am proud of, published. To do that, I'm trying to learn from what editors are saying now, while remaining true to the kind of story I want to write. But I still hope every day that today will be the one that my agent sells my book.

    Very thought-provoking post!

  20. I think it's more about luck than anything else. Having a distinctive voice means you're upping the chance that someone won't like it. The more general you are, the more likely you'll reach a great number of people. HOWEVER, in the marketing class I'm taking, they say to keep to the edges. The outliers are your loyal followers, not the norm. You just need to find an editor who responds to your voice. Keep truckin'.

  21. Keep your original voice! So many books are either vanilla bland or formula these days. Stick to your guns.

  22. This is a GREAT topic for discussion! I find a lot of the books to be the same these days as I'm perusing the YA and MG sections (but particularly the YA). Of course, that could just be in how they are grouping them at my local bookstores. However, I keep hearing the vampire fad is over only to find more vampire books on the shelves with "BEST SELLER" stamped across them.

    I think it does pay to have an original voice. It might not pay as quickly as we would like, but it will get you there in the end. Someone is going to see that work and snatch it up, bind it and get it on a shelf. As much as we read with fads, we also seek out those different voices. The market trend will turn (maybe you will be the shift in it!).

    It's important to stay true to you always, true to your voice. It's not always easy.

    I love the image of you in the pink tutu and the black heavy metal t-shirt!

  23. Before Lord of the Rings became an awesome motion picture, their were a lot of original and intriguing fantasy novels, now everything is a LOTR clone, very boring and they all read the same I find I have to make a trip into the city to one of my specialist shops to find anything with originality to it, I hardly walk into mainstream bookshops anymore.

    Also maybe you should self publish, there are many places that offer Print on Demand, you could even sell them over your blog and get the word out that way. Maybe when enough copies circulating one of those small press might take notice and take you up on publishing it for you. Especially if you showed them your own sales figures. Just a thought :)

  24. They all say it comes down to voice, but I think it's just what they think will sell.

  25. I hate to admit it, but what gets published at any one time tends to be a whole lot like what the last big breakthrough bestseller was like. Somewhere along the line, though, someone took a risk. It amazes me that Ellen Hopkins was able to find an agent/publisher willing to gamble on a novel written in verse - yet she did and it sells like crazy. You are what you are and someone out there will appreciate it...eventually. Don't give up! :-)

  26. Urgh! I'm so sorry Jessica--that is a frustrating spot to be in! Are there any medium sized publishers at all? I know the UK doesn't have as many, but it just seems if that were the problem HERE I might choose a genre specific or a regional one because those CAN BE 'big for what they do' but not big...

    Alternatively... maybe giving a dark twist would push it into indy stuff? I really hope just keeping at it will do the trick (or publishing something else first?)

  27. First of all; tutu and metal t shirt = WIN. This needs to be done :P

    I think it's just a case of waiting for the right publisher to come along. Where some might see "not commercial enough" or "too commercial" because it's different, a smart publisher will think "unique selling point". Though I kind of agree that, though we're encouraged to be different, people as a mass tend to want the same stuff.

  28. hi miss jessica! it could be pretty hard to change your voice and be be comfortable in it. it sorta like me trying to sing in the high pitch voice boys choir. i could do it for a little time but pretty soon it would hurt in my throat and i couldnt like how it feels. you gotta be just who you are. and you gotta believe that someones gonna say WOW! that miss jessicas got a really cool voice! on that day i see your book at the store im gonna say wow someone heard her sing and loved her voice.
    ...hugs from lenny

  29. I was looking in my local bookshop the other day and noticed most books were of a sameness.
    Perhaps Alex's book will be the best seller of the year.

    I enjoyed your point of views and there are some interesting issues there,



    Just teasing, I had to comment on your comment, it's what I do :)

    I think you are bringing up an excellent topic. This is a tough one, you should never change who you are, what made you love the story. You're different, and all you need is ONE agent to notice. I know the right person is out there, and as long as you keep it up and just remember you are a WRITER and this is part of the process it will eventually pay off.

    Falls on faith. Everything falls into place when it's time.

  31. What a weird dilemma. I like reading a variety in voice, but I didn’t know there was a small press voice and big press voice (you know what I mean.)

  32. It's frustrating. My voice doesn't appear edgy enough for today's markets. It's hard to have a voice that's not quite what they're looking for.

  33. You should never change your voice, it's yours and I think an agent will appreciate your uniqueness. You just need one to notice.

  34. Deep. I think in the end, we all fear failing, so we stick to what me know. This is probably especially true with agents. Sigh. I know your pain.

  35. This is a great post, but I definitely don't believe that all the books are 'samey'. Stranger and stranger books are being published, while the normal ones still continue to sell. I don't think there's any lack of variety - though there may be an underrepresent style, as in your case. :)

  36. I had my house for sale for almost a year before it sold. The Realtor told us that everytime she showed it the clients did not want to leave. People sat on the couches or at the dining room table looking out at the view. Everyone loved the house, but no one wanted to buy it. They just wanted to hang out in it as long as they could and often visited again and again.

    When the right family came along, people who could see themselves living there, who could honor the home for itself it sold and so will your book...when it finds its rightful place to dwell.

  37. It is a very interesting topic and I would think that samey can be okay if that is what you are looking for. Publishers want safe bets I guess that is why Media producers choose Jane Austen over and over because they know it will sell ( I love Jane Austen BTW). Maybe it's not so much your voice as your subject? Thinking about JKRowling and Stephanie Meyer, looks like they want something epic?

  38. I wonder the same thing. If my voice or my story or my style is marketable enough to reach the goals I want to attain. My writing is something I want to be shared with as many people as possible but I think nowadays there are so many options for us writers. I guess, if my dream doesn't happen one way it'll translate itself in another.

  39. I don't know if you will check this again so I might email it to you as well, but the minute I watched this I thought of YOU and this blog post. Just an affirmation that you are doing the right thing being different and not commercial out of the mouth of a published author:


“I'm using my art to comment on what I see. You don't have to agree with it.” ~John Mellencamp

“Allowing an unimportant mistake to pass without comment is a wonderful social grace” ~Judith S. Marin

“I don't ever try to make a serious social comment.” ~Paul McCartney

“I'd make a comment at a meeting and nobody would even acknowledge me. Then some man would say the same thing and they'd all nod.” ~Charlotte Bunch

“Probably what my comment meant was that I don't care about the circumstances if I can tell the truth.” ~Sally Kirkland

“We're not going to pay attention to the silliness and the petty comments. And quite frankly, women have joined me in this effort, and so it's not about appearances. It's about effectiveness.” ~Katherine Harris