Embrace Your Ability to Be Different

I was at the zoo this past summer with my kids, and in the aquarium, we saw a lot of upside-down jellyfish grouped together.  All but one was vying to stay on the bottom.  There was one who was hanging out in the middle of the bowl.  It was the one jellyfish everyone looked at.  Why?  Because it was different.  It wasn’t doing the same thing as the others.

I think it was in 2009 when another author and I were having a discussion.  Back then I told her that I didn’t want to do the same kind of romances everyone else seemed to be doing.  I wanted to do something a little more daring–a little more unique.  A Christian romance with sex after marriage.  The books aren’t overtly Christian, but subtle things (mention of characters going to church, a pastor as a main character in one, etc) were in there.  I have no desire to get preachy.  I figure the Christian romance market does enough preaching, and quite frankly, I hate that.  But I also thought the Christian market was much too “sweet” and bland (to be honest).  I decided to break out of the two boxes that separated the secular romance market and the Christian one.

I was told that if I wanted success, I had to pick a side and stick to it.  I had to be the same as other authors.  I had to stop straddling the fence.  In addition to these admonitions from others, the author I was talking to said that her goal was to write romances like the other romances already on the market because being the same would guarantee her success.  So now we’re at the end of 2012, and between the two of us, being different has worked better than doing the same thing as everyone else.  Don’t get me wrong.  I think this author is talented.  She has some fun stories.  I don’t think she sells enough for her talent.  But what distinguishes her from the other romance authors out there?  Nothing.

Some authors get by very well by doing the same thing, but I think when you step outside the box and are different from all the stuff that’s already out there, people will have an easier time remembering, “That’s the author that writes X.” Even if they don’t necessarily like what you write, they could run into someone who does like X and mention it.  Maybe they’ll leave a negative review on Goodreads, Amazon, their blog, etc and that review will come across the type of person who likes what they don’t.  Negative reviews can work to your advantage, even if they’re painful.  That’s why a balance between good and bad reviews by people who loved and hated your book.  Both sides give potential readers a better picture of what’s going on, and readers aren’t stupid.  They can tell if someone is sock puppeting reviews.  Give them credit to make their own decisions.  They can check out the book description and sample.  While there are other authors out there who get books with the intention of trashing their competitor, I wouldn’t spend time worrying about them.  Just write your best book.  That’s all you have control over anyway.

Okay, that was a little diversion from what I intended in writing this post, but being different will make you unpopular in some circles and that will reflect in reviews.  Your platform can help you stand out.  Take an angle to the stories you write and see if you can find something unique to do with it.  For example, Stephannie Beman writes romances based on mythologies, but she takes elements of those myths and changes aspects of them so they aren’t exactly the same myths that have been passed down from the Greek culture.  Joleene Naylor takes the average vampire romance novel and throws in a horror element in them that are best suited for adults.  Melanie Nilles takes the YA genre but instead of vampires, werewolves and other paranormal creatures, she has aliens from another planet who we think of as “angels,” and Earth is caught in the middle of an ongoing struggle between good and evil.  Lauralynn Elliot recently wrote a vampire book (Soul of a Vampire) about a vampire who wanted to be human again (something I’ve never seen before).  These are all differences.  They are unique.  They are memorable.

It’s easy to be afraid to be different.  It requires a lot of courage to break free from the mold of what others have come to expect, but maybe it’ll help to keep this quote in mind:

I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.  – Bill Cosby

If you write books that are different from the norm, please tell us about them in the comments below.  Someone might read this who is looking for a unique spin on book in your genre.  😀

20 Comments

  1. I’ve always wanted to do things a little differently in my books. 🙂 Thank you SO much for mentioning Soul of a Vampire. Sometimes it’s daring to be different…but it’s great fun!

    1. I love Soul of a Vampire. It’s one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read, and the ending was awesome. 😀 I need to read it again.

  2. Hi Ruth.

    Love that quote from Bill Cosby – pretty much says it all. I’m an indie writer of quirky contemporary fiction and I’ve experienced the “OH LORD WHERE WILL WE SHELVE THIS?” hand-wringing from more than one agent (who decided to pass, thankfully). I don’t understand the obsession with categorizing fiction into such small little boxes – I’m a voracious reader, and I’m loving every minute of the opportunities brought on by e-publishing. I’ve read cozies for the first time in years (M. Louisa Locke), read a post-apocalyptic saga with comedic elements – who knew the end of the world could be funny? (Edward W. Roberston’s Breakers) and even some paranormals – and I don’t read any of those genres. Most of the new writers I’ve discovered don’t fit in those little boxes, and I couldn’t be more thrilled – and I’m not easily thrilled :).

    I launched my first book this week, so we’ll see how readers like it. I’ve read enough bad reviews of books I love (it’s like a trainwreck – I can’t help myself) so I know that there are some readers with the same proclivities, who want a cookie-cutter product, and get mad when they don’t get it. So we’ll see if that happens to me. Personally, I’m fine with that. I really think that all we can do is write the stuff that comes out when we sit down at a computer – and then hope for the best. I’m glad to hear you’ve done well by taking the road less traveled. Congratulations to you, and thanks for sharing your story.

    Regards,
    Maia

    1. I checked out the excerpt from your book, and I love your voice. In case anyone reading this comment is interested, I am passing on the link to your site so they can check your book out if they’re interested: http://www.maiasepp.com/main.html.

      I admire the fact that you mentioned other authors that you enjoyed and why.

      It is hard to categorize some books. That can be a tricky thing when figuring out how to present your book before readers. It helped me when I got feedback from people who liked and didn’t like my books to start figuring out how to word things in my blog posts and what to emphasize. You’re right. Some people do want the cookie-cutter books, and there are self-published romance authors who sell much better than me to prove it. I don’t think I would have gotten to where I did, though, if I hadn’t done something different because I’ve noticed people who keep buying my books do it because they like my angle.

      I wish I had understood that bad reviews are normal when I started out. I didn’t realize it, and I ended up getting depressed when my books started getting them. It took months of reading other books’ reviews to understand that no book pleases everyone.

      Good luck with your book, and I hope people check it out. 😀

      1. Thanks so much Ruth Ann – I really appreciate your comments.
        Cheers,
        Maia

  3. Very on-target, Ruth! Keep It Personal and Passionate (KIPP) is my strategy. Thanks to an astonishing lack of readers, I’ll never have to worry about factory books written in my name. For, if I did write them, their generic output would crush my spirit … and isn’t the spirit—the joy—of writing the reason we’re in this field?

    I probably have over 50 titles in various stages of development, and I think all but two will see the light of day. Although I applaud the formulas that have bred success for several authors, I choose to travel the road not taken … well, at least the one less traveled.

    If you review the chronological order of Michael Crichton’s books, you may get the same impression as I—that he wrote from his passion and not from a marketing plan. Believing as such helps me understand his seemingly scattershot approach to plot selection. Similarly, I select the plot for my next novel or short story according to my zeal for the subject matter at that point in time, regardless of genre.

    My novels and short stories aren’t formulaic, in that, I have not yet written a series or a set of books that fit into a currently popular genre; neither have I priced my stories to pave the way for a series in a genre. The genres of paranormal/Vampire/SciFi, Regency Romance, and Erotica aren’t my forte, and as such, you can bet that I’ll dabble in all, but not because I want a “me too” product, but that I’m curious to see how my plot twists and perspectives will be accepted, or rejected, by a genre’s readers. Under development, for example, is my manuscript for Diary of a Reluctant Vampire – an absurd story about a pre-pubescent boy in his desperate journey to avoid becoming a vampire. Can you tell what two genres I’m targeting? Readers will be relieved to know that there won’t be a sequel.

    The Voices of Cellar’s Bridge: I admire Albert Einstein and his work, so I applied a high-level idea of relativity to a plotline. This book tells one story around one perspective, and then its part two contains a different character’s perspective of the same events. The first story fits the action/adventure romance genre(s), whereas part two is a fantasy love story. The two protagonists exist in both stories and know each other quite well, but because of their different perspectives and circumstances, despise each other.

    Waving a red cape in front of a bull – the “You Can’t” story:
    • As in, “you can’t expect a short story of over 2,500 words to keep a reader’s interest.” So, I wrote several lengthy short stories—two of which contain only dialog (yet another challenge). Guess what? They’re ALL popular downloads.

    • “You can’t jump around between sets of characters and timeframes in a novel”: Hence, I purposely designed Legacy to challenge that notion. Legacy is quite popular with readers at Barnes & Noble.

    • “To be truly successful, you can’t publish in multiple genres”: Of my 16 published titles, three are adventure, one’s a “who done it” sleeper, there’s a fantasy contemporary romance, two holiday comedies, a Christian inspirational, a contemporary holiday romantic dramedy, two paranormals, a psycho mystery, and an essay. I write in both first- and third-person and am comfortable with both female and male protagonists.

    I’m successful because I’m doing something I love (writing), and my titles are published! When I began writing my first novel, Legacy, in 2004, I never imagined that over fifty rejection letters from literary agents would propel me into the role of a self-published author. What a rush it is to make all the decisions about my works. The freedom not to write under the oppressive tutelage of editing staff of traditional publishers is exhilarating!

    Sure, I hope that someday I’ll make enough money writing to pay some bills, maybe make a career at it, but for now and forever, I’ll be happy sharing my stories with anyone interested in reading them. My stories are my playground where readers are welcome to enjoy the experience. I will write at least three series, but only because I like the subject matter and protagonists. Only two of my five novels and none of my short stories will lead to sequels.

    Here’s my pricing strategy: My growing number of short stories, as stand-alones, will always be free (although their published anthology will be priced at US$2.99). My first novel, Legacy, will likely remain free, too. I offer a mix of free titles to attract and reduce the risk for future fans. All my other novels will be US$2.99 each.

    A couple of final comments about my writing style: First, I won’t bury readers in minutiae, asides and sidebars. As a child, when I heard the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” I wasn’t interested in learning how three bowls of porridge that came from the same pot could all have extremely different temperatures, why the bears left before eating, or why the bears liked porridge from Sam’s Grocery and not the neighborhood deli.

    Similarly, I believe each of us generates mental images of what a story’s characters look like. The elements of action, setting, and dialogue breathe life into my characters. I leave it up to the reader to decide in her/his mind what a character looks like. There’s ownership in this method—one that I hope will keep a reader’s interest.

    Thank you, Ruth, for inspiring me to keep writing!

    1. Have you seen the TV show “Once Upon a Time”? It goes back and forth between the present and the past and features different characters in different episodes. I really like the way it does that. It’s also based off popular fairytale characters, and their stories aren’t exactly like what we’ve been taught. Those writers violated some of the “You Can’ts” you mentioned. 😀

      I think success in writing is writing books you love and publishing them. My philosophy has always been that if no one else wants to read my books, I should be able to enjoy reading it. I could probably sell better if I wrote according to what others wanted in the romance genre, but I need each book to stick with my vision. It’s not always easy going against the crowd.

      Thanks for giving the background to some of your books. I especially like the idea of a short story that’s all given in dialogue. What a neat idea.

      I also do multiple genres. I don’t sell much in genres I’m not known for, but I’m still glad I wrote those books.

      What I like about self-publishing is that when others say you can’t, you can. 😀

  4. Oh wow, can I relate to this! One comment I get frequently in my reviews is that my books are “a different kind of time travel romance.” They tend to focus more on “what if I change something” rather than modern woman goes back in time to meet hunky highlander. My books are set in the US and have pretty close to a 50/50 ratio of romance to external plot and action. My Ideal Reader tells me they are also more “guy-centric.” I’ve had a hard time finding an audience for them, but when people do, the feedback is almost all favorable.

    Ruth, I’m adding your books to ones I want to check out. I don’t read many inspy romances because many seem too “sanitized” – I mean, who do they think invented sex? 🙂

    1. You have great covers! I see what you mean about the “guy-centric” part of your books. But aren’t there popular movies with the same feel to them? I’d say there’s a market for it. Do you get men writing to you about the books?

      I don’t care for inspy romances either for that reason. I had to laugh on your question about who they think invented sex. I often ask myself the same thing.

  5. I was just saying this to Steve Evans the other day. He was discussing how elements he wanted to use in his writing – such as narration – were outmoded and frowned upon and as I told him, do what you want. Most successful books, even traditionally published, break the rules. That’s what makes them different from everything else and allows them to be popular.

    And thanks so much for the mention!

    1. This whole notion that we have to sound the same when we write books is ridiculous. His narration might be the thing that gives him an edge over other writers in his genre. I’m so glad for authors who aren’t afraid to break out of the box and try new things. I don’t like vampire romances like Twilight, but I found that when I read it the way you present them (with the horror side to them), I do. I never would have known that if I hadn’t read your books. 😀

  6. M T McGuire says:

    Thanks for the recommendations there, I will check them out! 😉

    As for ploughing your own furrow, I write what comes out. I have no choice but even if I did, I wouldn’t enjoy it any other way.

    The immense difficulty I have is getting other people to read my books. They’re half a trilogy, which doesn’t help. But there’s too much science to make them proper fantasy but they’re not inter-galactic, so they’re not really sci-fi, they’re funny which is definitely a turn off for many people who read sci-fi or fantasy and of course, they’re sci-fi/fantasy which turns off many people who read humour. Then to really mix it up there’s a love theme in the second one. The non-humans are invented by me, no dwarves, vampires or anything, that probably doesn’t go down well and the science is… questionable… Funnily enough, once I have forced people to read my work, usually at gunpoint, the majority of them get quite into it.

    Personally, I think that whatever you write, if you do so with conviction, it will stick.

    However, following your own route does take time, I’m sure of that.

    Personally, I’m not aiming to churn out lots and lots of books and sell them on Amazon. I would rather write good books which speak to few people and make them laugh. (OK and I admit it, it would be nice if it made them want to buy all my other books. Phnark.)

    In the long run, I still believe that what sells books is the enthusiasm and love of the people who’ve already read them. It just takes time and patience.

    Cheers

    MTM

    1. I see what you mean about getting the right crowd to find your books. I heard that the hardcore science fiction and fantasy readers are set in what they read. (The person who told me that is a hardcore reader and author.) I assume it’s the way it is. I found myself chuckling a couple times while reading through the descriptions in your books. If I were to read book 2 of your trilogy because it does have a romance in it, would I be totally lost since I skipped book 1?

      1. M T McGuire says:

        Ooo, thank you. I’m glad you liked it. As for book two being stand alone. It sort of is but the first one kind of sets everything up and introduces the girl to the boy. Book one also gives a lot of information about the world where some of the action takes place and the things they’re trying to achieve which are given in book 1. That said, I think if you were prepared to keep an open mind and just go with the flow all your questions would be answered by the time you got to the end.

        The romance was such fun to write that I continued it into the third one… partly as a continuation of the theme from the second book and partly because there is one character in the third book who’s a lovely chap with a horrible back story who is very lonely and I wanted him to find some happiness. There’s no actual sex though, just a few snogs and some waking up in the morning with a cup of coffee type scenes. The second one is called The Wrong Stuff, I can probably e-mail you a copy if you’re havering about taking a punt. 😉

        Cheers

        MTM

        1. I’ll buy The Wrong Stuff. 😀 No need to send me a copy I enjoy comedy, and my tastes tend to go for comedy that involves taking a regular story and making it a fun read. Your book sounds like it’ll be a good fit for me. Thanks for giving me more information about it.

  7. That was a problem I encountered repeatedly in my years in traditional publishing. I was a square peg in a sea of round holes! My single-title books didn’t really fit one genre.

    Chasing the Wind, I was told, was too mainstream for the Christian market and too Christian for the mainstream market. To add to that, I was repeatedly told, “This is a movie, not a novel.” That’s when I decided to make the move to self-publishing.

    Then I wrote Final Hours, from the POV of a male protagonist, an adulterer. One reviewer said it was a love story but not a romance….

    1. I don’t blame you about going into self-publishing. It’s what prevents me from pursuing traditional publishing (that and a lack of full control over my work). I don’t understand what’s wrong with having a book that reads like a movie. I like to imagine my books as movies as I write them. I find it makes it easier to transition from one scene to another.

      Did you worry about having a protagonist who was an adulterer? How is it received? A friend of mine is going to write a book where her hero is an adulterer who tries to turn his life around.

  8. I think one of the things I’m keeping in mind as I go along is writing for my own style, and my own take on things. In my genre, some of the heavyweights are either dead or have stopped writing- or are just writing by numbers now (Tom Clancy, I’m looking at you…)

    One of the things I’d like to do to keep my genre writing fresh is the occasional book that’s outside the genre.

    1. I think keeping our writing style and being fresh are crucial. One thing I’ve noticed with traditionally published authors who’ve been out there for a while is that the reviewers seem to mention how their quality has gone down. I understand why if the author feels strained and has to write the book to make a deadline stated in a contract. I’ll always remember the romance author who told the group I was in that her contract was forcing her to finish her book, and she hated her book so much she said she wished she could kill off all her characters and be done with it. I never want to go through that. My goal for 2013 is to slow things down because I need to take more of a break from writing so I don’t end up forcing a story that isn’t ready to be written. As much as I’d love to keep cranking out the books, I’ve come to realize that sometimes less is more. The key is to have a book worth writing.

      I love your outside the genre mention. I’ve been debating on doing that. It won’t sell, but I think it might be what I need to relax my mind.

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