Plotting Fiction: has it all been done before? 5 ways to keep fiction fresh.

This infographic about Man Booker 2011 prize plots got me thinking. There are only x number of plots in fiction. Some have argued 7, some have argued 36, some have argued over 100.

So how do you continue to keep it fresh?

  1. High concept: big plot ideas (THE LEFTOVERS, THE AGE OF MIRACLES) with traditional human experiences (coming of age, falling in love, family breakdown)
  2. Trends: you don’t want to be following them, but you can see what’s working and think about how to bring a new angle to it. And you can also see what isn’t working right now (i.e. publishers aren’t really buying westerns)
  3. Genre blending: i.e. women’s fiction meets mystery
  4. Contemporary inspiration: the ‘modern family’, globalization… Continue reading

Is my book ‘too quiet’?

Some of you might be getting feedback that your book is ‘too quiet’. I know I’ve used this term before. So what does it mean and how does it affect you?

What ‘too quiet’ means to me:

  • It can be very well written but it might fall into the ‘forgettable’ category
  • It’s a ‘good’ book, but it’s not ‘great’
  • The plot does not have high enough stakes
  • Agents and editors don’t think it will make a big enough splash in the marketplace in such a competitive environment
  • In a marketplace that is looking for big books with flashy hooks, quiet books won’t stand out on editors’ own lists
  • This can be the case of novels that aren’t bringing anything new to the table in terms of premise, plot, or characters and their relationships
  • ‘Too quiet’ books are often low concept, contemporary or literary novels that aren’t holding the interest of readers, which could be for many reasons

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Big Books and the Midlist

New UK agent Rebecca Carter was recently quoted in Publishing Perspectives saying: ‘she will “have to get good at making great deals for authors. Advances are going down — the mid-list doesn’t really exist anymore, there’s not much middle ground.”’

This is something that is echoing across the industry. Midlist books are not something that agents are looking for because they are increasingly difficult to sell and while they help develop authors’ careers, agents don’t have the time to wait for midlist authors to become hits. The authors we take on have strong books out of the gate and while no agent sells every book they take on we do it with the hopes that the writer’s quality writing will hold up year after year, book after book, and in fact get better year on year. Continue reading

How are you contributing to your genre?

As an aspiring writer your goal should never be just to get your work out there, but how to get interesting media coverage, stand out in a bookstore, turn heads and have ears perk up. Each genre has tropes that are expected, but to break into mainstream publishing you also need to have your own spin.

Zone One‘s Colson Whitehead said: “If you’re writing a detective novel or horror or sci-fi, you want to expand or reinvigorate the genre in your own little way.” And I think this rings true for all genres. What are you trying to do that’s different? How are you contributing to your genre? How are you helping to move your genre in a new direction?

Great examples of this are Zone One, The Tipping Point, The Sisters Brothers, Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, Wolf Hall, The Prague Cemetery, and The Stepford Wives.

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