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:
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. 😀