Playing it safe gets boring. Writers who take chances end up pushing the boundaries and get conversations going. And when conversations get started publicity will take off.
- Station Eleven
- Age of Miracles
- The Golem and the Jinni
What do these books have in common? They defy category. They took risks and they paid off. They step outside our known boundaries, but stick to universal human emotion–that’s how we relate to their worlds.
4 Reasons You Should be Taking Risks with your Fiction:
1. Memorable is better than derivative. Nothing will make people remember like something they’ve never read before. Agents included. We are always looking for things that we can’t forget. When we say “we’ll know it when we see it” this is what we’re getting at. If we can’t forget it means that when we send something to an editor that they won’t be able to get it out of their heads either–and so on. Derivative books have a place, they fit neatly into genre boxes which can be helpful, but don’t be too scared to take a chance and see where your imagination goes.
2. Blending genres and categories is what creates unique books. Not only are risky books memorable, they’re also unique. That means that when sales staff are pitching to booksellers or publicity are pitching to magazines they will know how this book is different than all the rest. Don’t be afraid of mixing up genres and keeping readers on their toes. Lots of agents I know are looking for “genre bending.” It’s on our hotlist. (Read more about genre-bending books here.)
3. You won’t get better unless you push yourself and let go of expectation. If you try to write into neat boxes you are closing yourself down before you even try something new. It’s scary to sit down at your desk and not know if that writing time is going to take you anywhere. It could be a “waste” of 2 hours. But the secret is that all writing time is productive. It gets you closer either way–whether you use it or not. The first step is getting ideas on the page, you can edit the rest later.
4. Even if you take us into new fantasy, alternate historical, or sci fi worlds you can still ground it with relatable themes and human connections. As I mentioned in the opening, a lot of the recent successes in alternate worlds revolve around the idea that we are all still human and have universal emotions: the outsider, coming of age, survival etc. If you can tap into those human emotions you can still take us on a roller coaster plot into outer space. If we can relate to the character’s stakes and struggle than the rest is up to your imagination and ability to create believability.
Q: What are your favorite genre-bending or uniquely memorable books?