I’m going to start off by admitting that I’ve been hard-pressed trying to figure out what to blog about today. I’ve been working on a series of posts about the changing role of agents for more than a month. Every time I think I’m ready to go with it, something happens that makes me go back and re-examine my premise. So, part of me wants to continue the discussion started with Sarah’s series of posts. Another part says not to. For one thing, Sarah is out of town and I don’t know how things stand right now in her situation. Because of that, I don’t want to do anything that might exacerbate her situation. So, I’m going to do something I don’t often do. I’m going to step back from a topic a feel very strongly about.
That brings up the question of what to write about. I’ve started and erased at least four times so far this morning. But there is one thing on my mind besides the agent as publisher/whatever issue and that’s the fact that it’s been almost a year since NRP first offered titles for sale. So, bear with me as I try to get my thoughts in order.
The last couple of weeks, I’ve been as busy writing as I have been with Naked Reader Press work. Which means sleep has been a rare commodity. Not that I’m complaining. I knew when I took the job with NRP that this first year would be very focused on doing all I could to help the company get off the ground. To say we’ve done much more than I dared hope a year ago is an understatement. But it isn’t what those of us behind the scenes have done that’s been the reason for our success. No, that success lies solely at the feet of our readers and our authors. So, to each and every one of you, thank you.
One thing I’ve learned this year is that I have to keep an ear to the ground and pay attention to what readers are asking for. It used to be when an author asked if they should write a book like Harry Potter or Twilight or The Da Vinci Code or whatever the hot book of the month was, they were told that might not be a good idea because of how long it took for a novel to go from manuscript to being on the shelves of a bookstore. Years could pass from the time you finished that last edit and started submitting the book before it was published. So that hot trend could be long cold.
That isn’t exactly the case any longer. An author who self-publishes can put his book up for sale almost as soon as he types the last word. I wouldn’t recommend this. Every book, I don’t care who the author is, needs editing. It needs to go through beta readers or a critique group. Good cover art needs to be found because, no matter what you’ve heard, people do look at the cover of e-books and make a lot of judgments based on that cover.
That said, whether you go through editing and crit groups or if you go through a micro-publisher like NRP, the delay between writing and publication can be as little as months instead of years. So that trend might still be hot…or it may be cooling. So the best advice is to put your own special spin on the trend. Make it yours. Make it special. Don’t just change the names and places. Give the readers something to make them want to read not just that book but other things you’ve written. In other words, you want them to say, “Oh, John Doe wrote [insert title here]. It was a great book,” not “Oh, John Doe. He wrote that book that was like [insert best seller title here].”
This is especially true if you aren’t going the self-publishing route. I have seen slush submissions that were nothing more than cookie cutter imitations of movies or other books. If I can identify the source material before the end of the first page, well, that’s not good. Fortunately, those have been in the minority. The thing to remember is that if you wrote something as fan fic and just changed the names and places before submitting it to a publisher, there’s a good chance it isn’t going to fly. Luke Skywalker is still Luke Skywalker even if you change his name to Puke Skyfaller and have him wear a white cloak and black desert clothes instead of the white desert clothes he wore in the original Star Wars movie.
So, does this mean you can’t write a space opera about a boy who follows a stranger who might be a hero or who might just be a mad man? Of course not. But it means you shouldn’t write it in such a way it follows plot point by plot point a movie millions are familiar with.
An excellent example, in my opinion, of taking a well-known story and putting your own spin on it is Kate Paulk’s novel, Impaler. Most everyone is familiar with the Dracula legend. Most have at least a passing familiarity with the theory that Dracula was based on Vlad Tepes, who ruled part of what is now Romania with an iron hand and who gained his nick-name of Impaler by impaling his victims, often alive. Vlad/Dracula has been painted as one of the worst villains in history, especially after Bram Stroker’s novel was published more than 100 years ago. I thought I’d read every possible take on the legend until Kate started sending me snippets of Impaler as she wrote it. I knew when I went to work for NRP that I wanted Impaler for our catalog. Why? Because it was so different. Kate stayed as historically accurate as she could within a fictional context and yet she made Vlad Tepes someone the reader could identify with if not exactly sympathize with. Her take on “the curse” is very different from anything I’d read before. In short, she took something familiar and made it her own.
Another example is A Touch of Night by Sarah A. Hoyt and Sofie Skapski. I doubt there’s a person in this country who went through public junior high or high school who wasn’t forced to read Pride and Prejudice. How many of us have rushed to the bookstore — or Amazon — to find Cliff notes for the book? Yes, it’s a classic. Yes, I can appreciate the book now. But in high school I was much more interested in reading Heinlein and Tolkien than I was British drawing room novels. But A Touch of Night is such a wonderfully fun take on P&P that there was no way I couldn’t love it. After all, Sarah and Sofie stuck to the basic plot of the original but added shape-shifters. More than that, the animals the characters shift into fit their personalities, they make sense. Who could ask for more?
So my advice is this. If you have a story you want to write, write it. But make sure it has your voice, your spin. If it is well-written and edited, if it has a plot that compels the reader and characters the reader can cheer for — or boo if that’s what is needed — then you’ll find your market. You might not get rich, few of us do, but with a little work and lots of luck, you’ll find readers and they will talk about your book and that, my friends, will bring in more readers.
Writing is a crap shoot at best. But the odds are now more in the writer’s favor than ever before. Small and micro presses as well as new avenues of self-publishing are working in our favor. So, butt in chair and write.