Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fitting in/Standing Out

A NOTE: This post talks about writing as a craft and a business. It talks about the business of selling writing. If you're looking for praise of art for art's sake, look elsewhere. I'm a commercial writer, let's just put it out there--I have my literary moments, but I write for you and you and you, damn it, not for The Sake Of The Written Word--so advice from me (fuck what I'm giving advice??) is going to come from a commercial standpoint.

A lot of the problems new authors face, whether they're on their first manuscript or their tenth, base around the problem of fitting in vs. standing out.

Benefits to fitting in:
--Your audience is built right in. That's huge. You know where your book will go and who will pick it up.
--Easier to find an agent. Look at what they've sold until you find one that's sold a book like yours. Query them. Then query some more people. If you're good, you'll get lucky. And if your book fits into the current market easily, an agent shouldn't have much trouble placing you.
--You are instantly your own brand. Readers will know what to expect for your next book, and if your first was the type they liked, they'll be loyal.

Problems with fitting in:
--You're asleep
--Your readers are asleep

On the other hand...

Benefits to standing out:
--Bam pow zap! There's nothing like a shock to get people's interest.
--Books that stand out are the ones that become big deals. No one ever got famous overnight from a ho-hum book.
--This is how things get started, y'know?

But problems with standing out:
--Good luck selling. You're a risk, and that's going to make it a hard road.
--Unless you do something quirky really well, you risk looking like you're trying too hard.
--The WTF factor. Expect people to question your sanity.

So you want to do something innovative and original without doing something that can't blend into the current market.

My solution to this dichotomy is this--write to fill the holes.

Don't try to start a new genre your first time around. You do have time to be a revolutionary.

But don't write the same book everyone else is writing because you think it will sell. (No Wuthering Heights and Witches, in my friend's words)

Don't write what's already out there, but don't write something that doesn't have a place. Look at what books are in your genre (which you should be familiar with) and look what could easily fit in that isn't yet there.

BREAK (surprise!) is a pretty decent example of this. YA books about self-injury are not new. I knew there was an established market for them. What is new? Books about a self-injury from a male perspective. So I did it. And it made sense, but it still had a touch of that Bam Pow Zap, this is different.

In a larger sense, I write largely YA, and I use a lot of the genre conventions because I LOVE YA and I love the conventions and I love selling books, so I'm not going to write a book about, you know, a tadpole and try to say that's YA. (Someone is trying that now. Stop.) But while a lot of YA is friend/romantic relationship focused, I put a heavy emphasis on family life and the relationships my characters have with their parents and siblings.

Find your genre. Love your genre. Meet the expectations of your genre. And add something new.

Fill some holes.


RKCharron said...

Hi Hannah :)
Thank you for the great post.
I found it informative witty and helpful.
Thank you for sharing.
All the best,

Amna said...

You are right Hannah.

It's important you get the right balance.

A writer really needs to find their 'niche'

Emilia Joyce Plater said...

Hey Hannah, just wanted to let you know that I put you up for a Helpful Blog Award on my blog. It's silly, but whatevs :)

Great post! I love the idea of a niche within a niche.

Gary Couzens said...

As ever, you talk a lot of sense - much of what you say is what I'm trying to do with my own WIP, so I'm glad to see a published novelist say it. It may have relationships at heart - it's the story of a bi love triangle (F/F/M), after all - but I'm making a great effort to emphasise the three protagonists' families and friends, many of which have some kind of investment in one or more of the central trio.

CKHB said...

Hi, I came over from The Rejectionist! I remember reading the query for BREAK in Nathan's Agent for a Day contest, and I thought it sounded really fascinating (I also love Fight Club)... glad to have found your blog!

Amber said...

I've been dying to buy your book for a while, but as it stands no bookstores in Augusta, Georgia have your book, and I'd buy it on Amazon, but the shipping and handling will kill my bank.

By the way, I absolutely agree. There's another a website I follow with a writing forum with a bunch of writers who try too hard to be new. And the results are disastrous. They all seem to shun the commercial, but what they fail to realize is that just because something is marketable doesn't mean it's trash. You can still write a marketable book and make it compelling. I just write what I want to write--while being aware of marketing niches, of course, and what I can do to fit some part of that niche.

hannah said...

Hey Amber--I've had a harder time getting stocked in the South, and in more conservative areas in general...not particularly shocking, unfortunately. Thanks for trying! I hope it shows up somewhere nearby. (Or that you need to make a mass Amazon order at some point and you can throw Break in there extra ;))