Monday, November 10, 2008

It Pays to Stand Out...Sometimes

Writers walk a fine line and those who do it well succeed. The rest of us languish in obscurity. The one thing that highly successful books have in common is that they are different from their peers. The first novel that does something interesting or different gets the glory. The rest get…nothing. Or next to nothing. We want our work to stand out, but we also have to be careful. Maybe we don’t want to stand out too much.

Put God in a dress flipping flapjacks and you have a novel that stands out. But does it stand out for the right reasons? Okay, actually that has already been tried and what I expect is that we will start to see more novels (mostly self-published) that will attempt to rethink God. Perhaps instead of putting him in a dress someone will give him the body of a cow. Isn’t that what the children of Israel did? Read the Bible, God was not amused. But enough about that.

As we write, we have to make choices. The most important choice is the story idea. Nothing makes a book stand out more than having an interesting story idea, but romance novels are still doing pretty good and they all have pretty much the same idea with different characters. You could write a novel in second person. That might make it stand out, but it might be hard to read. You’ve heard of the rules of writing. Throw them out the window and your novel might stand out, but no one will read it. Write the whole thing in Klingon. That’s sure to sell books. No, novels have to stand out while conforming. It isn’t easy to know how to do that. How often have I looked at a book and thought, “no one will buy that” only to discover it is high on the bestseller lists? On the other hand, you might see a novel with a great idea that few people read.

I saw a book the other day about a successful woman who returns home to discover that success isn’t as important as small town values. It is the least unique storyline I have seen in a long time and yet a publisher published it. It makes me wonder why I’m beating myself up trying to come of with fresh ideas instead of just grabbing an idea from a made for television movie. O well, such is the book market. Actually, I couldn’t write a book like that. I grew up in a small community and I know what small towns are really like.

But I’m rambling. Let me just reiterate, we must write something unique while staying close to the expectations of readers.