As authors, we are faced with the question: “Tell me what’s unique about your book.” It’s an important component of any fiction proposal. Editors, we are told, are looking for fresh new voices. Is it true?
Try it. I think it will net you responses ending in, “It’s just not a good fit.” The reason is obvious. Publishing houses are made up of people. People seek safety.
If your work is truly unique, it’s hard to categorize. There’s nothing out there to use as a comparison. There’s no trend to watch. How does one make sales projections or gauge public demand? Editors may long for something unique, but when it comes down to choosing what to publish, they pick what worked before. At a recent workshop, I actually listened to an editor say, “Unique is good, but not too unique.” If this were baseball, we’d be looking at ball clubs that only want to hit singles.
Yet it’s the unique work that hits the home run. When the first movie in the Star Wars series opened, its popularity was a huge surprise. Back then, positive stories of good vs. evil, with heroes that win the day were considered corny, definitely not with the trend. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was considered fit only for children, but it started an entirely new genre for adults. When the first Harry Potter book came out, it was considered much too long a read. We all know how that turned out. We’re told that men don’t read fiction, but Tom Clancy is laughing all the way to the bank. Here’s something “novel”—PEACE LIKE A RIVER, by Leif Enger—a Christian literary novel. How did that make it to the Best Seller list? Well, it’s unique.
I want to thank the brave editors who fight for an idea because they believe in it. They are truly courageous. Without those few, we’d all be bored to death.