Monday, September 14, 2015

What Makes Your Story Special

I was fortunate enough to go to a writer's conference this last weekend. I had a talk with one of the writers about her project and I thought I would share what we discovered about her project, and I am sure it is something about your own project.

In her case, she was working as a ghost writer for another woman writing her memoir. As she was talking though her story, my mind kept drifting off. No, it wasn't because it was hot outside (which it was), or the fact it was the end of the day (which it was). It was all about the story. The author was doing a great job telling the story to me, but the story itself was simply not holding my attention.

So we talked about it. What she was facing is really what a lot of people face when it comes to writing their memoir. The story they are telling is very important to the author, and probably very important to their immediate family, but for the general public, there is simply no buy in for the reader. There is nothing unique about this.

For this author, she was writing about how this one woman was able to overcome some tough marital problems and what she was doing to cope in these later years. OK, sounds like there might be some
potential here, but for marketing purposes, I simply had to tell the author. "But what makes this unique? As unfortunate as this sounds, this is something that happens pretty much everyday around the world. More importantly, what this character in the book is doing is what pretty much every other woman is doing in the same situation."

I bring up this story, because it is something we look for in new projects of all genres. As agents and editors, we listen to pitches, and we read query letters and have to determine the uniqueness of the project and certainly what the author is bringing to the table that makes us want to stand up and take notice. The writing may be fantastic! The author may have this great sense of the business and would be a great person to work with. But if the story doesn't throw something unique into the mix, the story might not have a lot of chance of success.

We are living in a publishing world with ton of authors. I have noted here several times of the number of authors just "giving away" their books on Amazon. They are doing this to "promote" their books, but if there are that many, how the heck are we to find your book. If you think about it, we often learn about new authors and new books by word of mouth. But the books we pass on, are books that got us excited as readers. We tell our friends, "You have got to read this book. Let me tell you what this author was doing." The odds are we are not passing on books to friends because the author is doing what everyone else is doing. It was the uniqueness of the book that stood out.

Now, when I say your story needs to be unique, it doesn't mean that it should be weird. Again, too often, writers misinterpret this idea and create something so extreme, that that they are now faced with the same situation as our prior author had. There is no way to market this book. It is so different, readers will be stuck with knowing what to do with it.

Making your story unique is also not just about changing the location. I hear authors all of the time tell me their story is different because it is set in a location no one has written about. So? That does nothing. But, if they are writing about a location that no one has ever been able to get into due to political, ethnic or geographical reasons, then we have something that is unique.

So, let's get back to that author from the conference. She had sensed something was up with the project and the talk really helped to clarify what was going on. But then she came to the next realization. She simply couldn't go back and redraft her pitch to make the story unique. The story was what it was. As an author, you simply cannot make your story be something that it isn't. You have to find a way to make your story unique from the beginning. To think about what it is about that story that will be marketable to all of the other readers out there BEFORE you write it.

1 comment:

  1. What a great post! I especially like the insight that it has to be unique from the get go, and not just patched up after it's written, with something hopefully unique thrown in. This s such good information for any genre.