About three years ago, I started writing a novel that I laughingly referred to as my ‘unpublishable book’. It was wildly strange, with an ambiguous, untidy ending, and it broke a lot of rules.
Although that book has yet to be published (see.. I was right!) – it received a lot of interest from agents and publishers. Which proved something, I felt. Sometimes, when you write for yourself, without any intention to get published at all, you end up producing some pretty good stuff.
The publishing dream
Online, you’ll often see writers trying to predict the next big trend in publishing. Understandably, people want to deliver work that publishers are actively looking for – as this theoretically increases their chances of the book being accepted for publication.
However, I’ve always found this approach problematic. For starters, it takes around 18 months for a book to get published. That means, what’s on-trend now might be hopelessly passé by then. The market might have become saturated with that sub-genre of book, or it just might not meet the zeitgeist of the time.
Also, writing to get published makes it more of a business venture. There’s nothing wrong with that – and I’d be the last person to get snobby about such things. An author’s gotta live, after all, and advance payments / royalties are useful in terms of paying the bills. However, it can limit your natural passion and creativity. I personally think, if you write what you care about, what you really get enthusiastic about, then you’ll be creating higher quality stuff. Which (ironically) will probably improve your chances of getting published!
Go for what you want to write…
My recommendation is to write what you want to write. Whether it’s a warm-hearted romance or a tense thriller – it doesn’t matter. Go with what makes you buzz; as it’s more likely you’ll make your readers buzz too.
It doesn’t necessarily matter if you’re writing in a saturated sub-genre (in my opinion, anyway). Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist is a brilliant example of this. It’s a vampire tale (a notoriously over-done sub-genre), but he comes at it from such a fresh angle, it makes it a fantastic read.
Knowing when to pull back
Editing and scaling back is just as important as leaping into a passion project. To use my own ‘unpublishable book’ as an example; the first time I submitted it to people, it wasn’t ready. I didn’t know that at the time – it took me a year of putting it away and forgetting about it, then revisiting with fresh eyes, to see what the issues were.
As a result, I’ve now hacked it to pieces. I’ve ripped scenes apart, added new ones, changed characters – in fact, I altered the whole ending. But it’s still a book I feel wildly passionate about, and even better, it’s much improved. Sometimes, you have to get a bit strict your writing babies, no matter how much you adore them… they’ll mature into something super-amazing, if you do it right.
Do you, not anyone else!
Ultimately, your writing will only improve if you write what you care about. Writing to please a publisher or an audience is tricky – I’m not sure anyone can predict with 100% certainty what future book trends will be.
And don’t be afraid to push boundaries and try something new. You can always scale it back at a later date; that’s the glory of the editing process.