Posted by: Phil Anderson | June 9, 2014

Uniquely Familiar

Writers have a difficult balancing act to consider when marketing a book, or when writing a marketable book. Too far to one side and no one will notice our work; too far to the other and no one will buy it. The ends of this seesaw, the two extremes, are the familiar and the unique.

A novel has to be familiar for anyone to find it. It has to fit into a category. Fans of fantasy stories always look in the fantasy section of a bookstore or library and tend to avoid memoirs and political thrillers. Middle school readers look for middle grade books and aren’t as attracted to pictures books or romances. A writer who attempts to create and sell an all-ages historical sci-fi dystopian murder mystery will have a hard time finding an audience.

Even better than fitting into a category is drawing a comparison. A trusted review or recommendation that says, “If you like The Hunger Games this book is for you,” will draw more attention more easily than any detailed synopsis and in-depth analysis, no matter how glowing.

The intention to write something familiar can be taken too far, however. A novel about Mary Spotter, a young wizardess-in-training who attends a magical boarding school, may attract attention but not many readers. If a story or characters are just like the ones in another popular book, why shouldn’t fans just re-read the one they already know and love?

Writers need to create something that’s new and different. We can’t mimic or copy too closely what others have done. There has to be a unique quality that sets our work apart from (or even ahead of) what’s been done before. It’s great to look at other successful writers for inspiration, to analyze their style or technique, but in the end our work is our own and no one else’s. It has to reflect how we feel and what we want to say, not what we expect customers to buy.

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Responses

  1. We’ve got to find that balance; being original on familiar grounds.

    • I’m learning that it’s something to think about while I’m writing, rather than waiting until I’m trying to sell a finished manuscript.


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