STATUS: First day back in the office after being away for a week. Let’s just say there is a lot on my desk that needs handling. I did pretty well today but tomorrow will be the real determiner
What’s playing on the iPod right now? LITTLE RED CORVETTE by Prince
I did another panel last week called Bye-Bye Box: Writing And Selling The Rule-Breaking Book. We all had some interesting talking points so I thought I would share some of mine.
1. If you are breaking the rules, it’s all about the writing to make it work. The writing needs to be way above average and spectacular to really catch the eyes of the editors. (An example I gave was Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER but CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR would be another good example. Or better yet, FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC.)
2. The biggest question that editors will have if the novel bends or blends genres is where will it be shelved? This carries a lot of weight.
3. My job as an agent when selling a rule-breaking book is not to focus on the rules being broken but how the uniqueness can be a selling point. (By the way, that’s a mistake writers make in their query letters when pitching an out of the box idea. They highlight the strange, different, or “out there” aspect. That doesn’t work. Your pitch should focus on what makes the story so human despite let’s say an unusual world, or setting, or plot twist or whatever. You have to focus on uniquely capturing your character’s conflict in a way that feels universal despite the rules being broken.)
4. Remember, world building becomes very crucial if you are rule-breaking. It has to be clearly defined and believable—even if you are setting the story in 2007.
5. For the rule-breaking book, are you leading the trend or are you behind it? Makes a big difference.
6. For “taboo” subjects, what’s the purpose for it? Is it simply to shock the reader or is the taboo subject an integral part of the story and the key to its unfolding? Big difference. I see a lot of queries that focus on the shock value and not on what will make the story appealing to readers to read.
7. Rule breaking comes with either great risk or huge reward. There isn’t much in between. Lots of rule-breaking books flop big time. We tend to only remember the huge successes.
But ultimately, it’s only writers who can do it extraordinarily well that end up being able pull it off.