Friday, October 14, 2011

More On The Issue Of Voice

I recently had the chance to talk to a writer that I hadn't seen since the San Francisco RWA conference. At that first meeting, we had a chance to talk about the issue of voice and the uniqueness of voice with each publisher and agent. She firmly disagreed with me stating that voice couldn't be that different, and, in fact, when I mentioned one publisher that she was submitting a project to, I stated that the voice of that house was clearly not her story. Again, she disagreed.

In any case, I had bumped into her again. I found it interesting that, while she has shown some success (and I really stress SOME here) her career in publishing is really a huge plateau. Nothing amazing now and it is clear that there is nothing new on the horizon. At this new meeting, again the issue of voice came up. She is still a firm believer that voice doesn't change. I should note that she did not get signed with that other publisher. "The story just didn't fit what they were looking for." In this case though, the discussion of voice took on a new twist.

She proceeded to tell me that using one particular voice for historical romance could only yield a 140,000 word project and you could never write a traditional romance in less than that. In other words, the voice of the story dictated the word count.

This person clearly doesn't get it.

When we talk about the size of a story, we are discussing the plot line and the depth of character and plot development. Voice has absolutely nothing to do with the size of the story.

Voice is simply the sound of the story. The use of vocabulary, sentence construction, depth of figurative language and so forth. In the end, it is how the story reads if we hear it out loud. Each author has a unique voice and each publisher has a unique voice. The key in publishing is to find that right match. You will notice though, voice doesn't deal with how many words you put into a project.

The length of story comes from the level of complexity you add to your story. Add more characters, you need more room. Add more time during which the story takes place, you need more room. Add more sub-plots, you need more room.

Our conversation this time ended up the same way it did the last time. I had to simply say that we would have to agree to disagree, knowing that there was nothing that was going to change her mind. It is a shame though, because there are some things I very much like about her writing. She could have potential.

Of course, she did also mention that it was clear to her that Regency was not selling at all and the only thing that was selling in this time period was Master and Commander type books. Really? In the last 3 days, I have received countless Twitter posts of fantastic new Regency stories by USA Today and NYTimes best selling authors. Hmmm, I wonder where she gets those numbers from?

Oh well. Have a great weekend. It's swim season again so I'll be out officiating this weekend. Ahhh, the smell of chlorine!



  1. This is one of the most helpful posts I've read from an agent since I started educating myself about publishing. Thanks for that insight.

  2. Scott, you are a very distinct voice.
    Enjoy the pools. :D

  3. Voice affecting length of the work... Well, that's certainly a new one. She gets an A for thinking out of the box, but that's not going to help sell books, now, is it?

    Thanks for sharing this, Scott! Good insights, good reminders, as usual. Have a lovely weekend!

  4. I think you handled the discussion with absolute consideration and politeness. I agree with you about voice not dictating wordcount. When I estimate how long a book will be it's based on the plots and subplots. I shoot to stay within genre guidelines, but it in no way impacts the voice of the manuscript.

  5. This writer's ascertation that voice dictates word count doesn't make sense. To me, it's kinda like saying the tree is green, so it has to have x number of leaves. Thanks for sharing though Scott, it's a reminder of where we can all get lost - or stuck, with a pre-conceived idea. :)