Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Story Inside You

Oh, the online advice.  It's ever-abundant, and much of it is good.  Then, occasionally, I read something that makes me want to bite my coffee mug.

It's not that this particular advice was wrong, per se.  It just hit me wrong.

It was the Don't Choose a Genre Just Because It's a Huge Seller advice.  And mostly, it's spot on. If there are already twenty million YA paranormal romances in the collective slush pile, you don't need to add another one.  If you discover how big the best-of-the-bestselling authors' paychecks are, and you decide to write exactly what they are writing, for exactly that reason, then you're an absolute twit.


For me, it was different.  For me, it was the appearance of having attempted to ride a wave, when that wasn't it at all.

Yes, I'm talking about dystopian--my favorite go-to genre for both reading and writing.  Here's the thing:  I conceived the idea for City Limits two years before I wrote a single word.  Mark that:  two years.  I did not know what the word "dystopian" meant.  I hadn't read any dystopian novels.  I just HAD A STORY GROWING INSIDE ME THAT CAME FROM SOMEWHERE DEEP INSIDE MY BRAIN.

When I finally found the courage to write it (yes, courage--because I think part of the reason I sat on it so long is because it felt so "big"), I was just learning what "dystopian" meant.  It was one of those, "Huh. So that's what I'm writing!" things.

I was blissfully unaware of the wave that was sweeping through the YA bookshelves.  No idea that Hunger Games had crashed onto the scene, opening the gates for countless (countless!) other dystopian tales.

By the time Josh and I took City Limits on submission, editors had all come down with Dystopian Fatigue (for which, apparently, there is no known cure, aside from complete avoidance of the genre).  Lists were full two years out and more.  The market--as well as editors' brains--was saturated.

My manuscript must have had that oh-here's-another-one-trying-to-be-Suzanne-Collins appearance.  In truth, I hadn't heard her name when I started drafting.  It was my story, from my brain.  In the beginning, I didn't even know what to call it.  And when I learned what I was actually writing, I wasn't even sure if the correct word was "dystopic" or "dystopian".

So, yeah.  For me, it was simply VERY BAD TIMING.  I might wring my hands over the if-only-I-had-written-it-right-away-and-not-waited-two-years thing.  But the story would not have been what it ultimately became.  Two years earlier, I wasn't ready to write the story.

Then, when I was finally ready, the market had already outrun me.

C'est la vie.

So, dear hearts.  WRITE THE STORY THAT IS BURNING INSIDE YOU.  If you have examined your motives, and you know in your heart that you are not attempting to ride a wave that's already cresting, and you believe that your story has a life of its own, and does not exist as a reflection of someone else's story--then KEEP WRITING IT.

There is no telling what the market will look like when you finally land an agent/go on submission.  Just write THE BEST STORY YOU POSSIBLY CAN.  Get it critiqued, revise it, get it critiqued some more, rewrite the whole dang thing from scratch if you need to.  But if the story lives and breathes inside you, then LET IT OUT.

I don't regret having written City Limits.  It landed me my fabulous, can't-do-this-thing-without-him agent, and it maintains its place in my heart (and, I think, in Josh's) as a Good Egg.  As in, it's not shelved for eternity.  Not really.  Some day, somehow, it will find a home.  A place in the world.  Because I really want to share this story.  It has something to say.

There is a place, of course, where one needs to stop and assess one's direction.  For me, it has meant moving away from dystopian.  BUT AUTHORESS, you say. YOU JUST SAID TO WRITE THE STORY THAT IS BURNING INSIDE ME.

Yes.  And I did that--last year.  I struggled greatly, because the story-inside-me was another dystopian.  Josh gently warned me; my own common sense tried to nudge me in another direction.  But in the end, I had to write the story.  And again, I'm glad I did.  I love it, and I believe in it the way I believe in City Limits.  But unlike City Limits, this one is going to sit quietly on a virtual shelf.  Because it would be a waste of time to attempt to travel the same path twice.

Dystopian and I, for now, are not meant to be.

It's okay, though!  I'm up to my elbows in MG Fantasy, and it brings me a giddy sort of joy.  Fantasy is my first love, after all--I've been gnawing on fantasy novels since early middle school.  (We're talking adult fantasy--Katherine Kurtz and Patricia McKillip and Terry Brooks.  Hard core, UBER-geeky fantasy!)

What's most interesting about my current project is that I actually wrote it before I wrote City Limits.  Of course, that was before my writing had seasoned and matured.  The novel's been through two major rewrites since then, in addition to moderate revisions in between.  All that to say:  YOU NEVER KNOW WHERE YOUR STORY WILL GO.

So keep writing it.

You know best what's inside you.  You know best what you're capable of, and where your passions lie.  That's the pool from which you must fish your stories.  Not the current trends, not Goodreads, not your favorite authors, not your mom's opinion.  The stories must come FROM DEEP INSIDE YOU.

Read all the advice you can; cull through it, keep the good stuff.  Be savvy; know the market, be aware of what's trending.  Don't write in a dark hole, dripping bits of your lifeblood into novels like some dark, tortured thing.  But DON'T LOSE SIGHT OF YOUR INNER SELF, either.

Write what's inside you.  Work hard and WRITE WELL.  Some day, at the right time, things will fall into place for whichever story has come into its own.

Believe that.  And keep writing.

That's what I'm doing.  And that's what I will be doing, for as long as there are stories in my brain.  (Which, I expect, will be the rest of my life.)

Now go write something.



  1. Did you read 7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Dana Bate on the Writer's Digest blog?

    She said "The book chooses the writer." I couldn't agree more.

    Here's the link:

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. This is great advice :) The market can be horrible, but in a few years it will turn around, and when it does, I can't wait to see CITY LIMITS on the shelves!

  4. Yes ma'am! I will!

    Seriously, I appreciate it.

  5. I think it's important to be aware of what's happening in the market you're writing for, then you can decide if what you are writing has enough of a unique angle and if you're passionate enough about making it work and pitching to agents. When I first started writing seriously a few years ago, I wrote something that I thought would work for the YA market, but I didn't have a broader understanding of the YA market other than a handful of books I'd read. Immersing myself in what's popular and what's critically acclaimed, that is what helped me most. I think dystopian can still work if it's fresh and doesn't feel like a dozen books already out there, and you have to know what's out there to determine that.

  6. I'm trying my best to walk the fine line between writing what you love, and being aware of what's going on with the market.

    But know what? You're so right.

    I can watch the market and try to keep up with the trends and worry my MS (YA Asian historical fantasy) will be over before I get started, but the truth is that I love this story, and no matter what happens, I want to put the best of myself in it.

    Not that I want the market to be tired out before I get there.

    Anyway, this was a wonderful post, and it really rings true.

    *hugs you back*

  7. Great post topic. It's painful to think that something you worked so hard on doesn't "make it" because of the cruel thing of timing. But I agree: we have to write the stories that are burning to get out of us, even if they are wrong for the market.

    Though personally, I will say that market trends do influence how I pick my projects. I was working on a dystopian last year (which I now realize was post-apocalyptic, which could have sea legs, but regardless), and I realized that in addition to some plotting problems, I was working on a novel that had a 99% chance of not selling/getting an agent. So I switched to something a bit more original, in a less-done genre. Of course, by the time I finish, revise and query, that could be a genre that is done, too... but oh well.

    I do think it's OK to be pragmatic about the industry and what sells, to a certain degree. Choosing to write a certain kind of book because it is more likely to sell doesn't make you a sell-out, or less of a fully-souled writer. There are exceptions to every rule, but the reality check of the industry can save a person from a lot of heartbreak. Your odds of facing rejections from agents increase a million fold if you are writing in a tired genre, or something too similar to another story, etc.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Oh Authoress, you just sang my song! I really needed this. Thanks for writing from your experience and your heart. The encouragement is sooo appreciated!

  10. Oh, Miss Snark, as former President Clinton once said, "I feel your pain." This was another great post -- thank you. I get so torn on "what will sell" versus what my loony muses are urging me to write. Unfortunately, I had an idea for a vampire almost three years ago, pitched it before I had it done (the agent said the query was the best she'd ever gotten -- wish I'd framed that) -- and then dragged out the revisions, because I'm slower than a brontosaurus in a stampede. Other writers scamper way in front of me, and revisions for me are a literal hell. Or at least purgatory.

    You're right, we need to write what's inside us, and as other folks here have pointed out, be practical about market demands.

    I fear even querying the vampy, even though he's different (yeah, right, everyone says that). Weary agents will dispatch the most vile of viruses to purge my hard drive.

    I'm sure erotica is exploding now with the "50 Shades" phenomenon -- and I bet -- even moving past it. But I'm not sure I can write it. Ah! Such is the writer's life.

    Thank you again for posting. I'd love to read your "City Limits."

  11. Thank you for this post. Right now, my agent is subbing my paranormal YA romance and I'm starting to despair. While I'm crossing my fingers and checking my email like mad, part of me fears that it won't find a home right now (and "right now" feels like "for all eternity"). But paranormal is what I write ... so what else do I do? Thanks for the encouragement, as always. You are so loved.

  12. I think everyone should write the book of their heart, because if it's not, readers will see it for what it is. A writer's passion shows through their work and makes a great book. If you have to hold your nose while writing a story you're not into, it's still gonna stink when you're done.

    I wish alternate history would become the next big thing in fiction. With or without some fantasy thrown in, it's still an exciting subgenre with limitless idea potential. I wrote one that I absolutely love, but my agent, who loves it almost as much as I do, wasn't able to find a publisher for it. So I'll probably self-publish that one, and I'm okay with that.

    We're so lucky to have a variety of publishing options these days. It's no longer a question of genre trends as much as it is a fact that publishers, and agents, are less and less likely to take a chance on new authors. BUT readers will always read, so...

  13. That was a great post. I know that there are times when I am writing, and I feel like a second-guess myself because of what is popular. For example, my story will lend itself to dystopian. It's what I want to write. It's what the character wants for heaven's sake! But, then I worry that there will never be a home so I'll steer the character another way. But what I find is that the heart wants what it wants. I just end up going back to what I originally wanted to write. I could have saved a tone of time in revisions if I wasn't so mindful of the market. I think it was Marcus Zuzak that said you know your should write a book if you would still write it even if it didn't get published. Now he's famous for the book their, but still good advice. Thanks again for the great encouragement and the thought that you can still enjoy the ride, even if you don't enjoy the fame :-).

  14. All aspiring writers can benefit from reading this post. So many people believe that once you sign an agent, a book deal is a done deal. I love that you've shown the publishing journey has unexpected twists and turns that sometime require us to leave beloved works behind and tell new stories.

    My WIP is one that chose me. I had a niggle of an idea some years ago and even bought two books that told the stories of burn victims (as my protag was burned in a fire). The research came in handy two years later when I finally started writing.

  15. Oh, this is so true...and you never know what will happen in the publishing world. I wrote two different adult urban fantasy books last year. I held off querying agents because once they were polished, the interwebs were all abuzz with how glutted the adult UF market was.

    I submitted one to a contest, and received a request for the full from an editor of a small press with a solid reputation. I pitched the other to an editor of a major house at a conference this past fall, and received another full request. I'm still waiting for responses on both, but I wrote the stories, I BELIEVED in the stories, and I searched for opportunities to get them out there and in front of people who might be able to do something with them, despite the market. And even if both editors pass on both books, I'll still consider it a success, because that proves there's still interest. You just have to look for it :)

  16. Hi. Been stalking this blog for a few months, and now I'm finally leaving a comment. Because this blog is so relevant to me right now that I almost wanna cry.

    I spent my entire high school career (in college now) working on a YA fantasy series that I'm still working on. Is the YA fantasy market saturated? Yes. Does my book involve people controlling the four elements? Yes, and how terribly unoriginal that seems. But I've been thinking about this story every single day since December 2007, and I have to write it. It wouldn't stay in my brain if it weren't so important. So publishing trends be damned, I will write this story.

    Thank you for sharing this. I will bookmark this post for when I'm having my down days.

  17. As always, great advice Ms A! xo Agentman

  18. Thank you so much for this wonderful advice and encouragement! I tried so hard to write what I didn't like because I was afraid of trying to write what I did. I've learned the hard way that this never works. Hopefully, people who read this post will be able to discover that more easily.

  19. I needed to hear this! My WIP is going into it's 3rd rewrite, I'm using parts of my old drafts to submit to an anthology that I am doubting like crazy as I get back notes from CPs.

    But, like you, it's a story I've been sitting on for 4 years. It's the novel of my heart, and I'm going to try, damnit!

    That was my little pep talk.

  20. Just like Morgan York said, I've been following your blog for quite a while and will leave a comment today because it struck right to my heart. It is this good I'll have to re-read this blog after my exams on Monday. And maybe on subsequent days when I need to remind myself not to bother with the queries.
    Last Christmas, I finished a dystopian book that's been in my mind since 2009, and now (after three re-writes) I think I'll shelve it and write another book this Easter. An Epic Fantasy. I don't know if Epic'll be selling when I'm done or not. But I'll write it. And when I'm done with it, I'll keep it if it's not a good timing. I'll keep writing, till the day the stars meet with the right opportunity.
    Thanks for this post! It felt like God talking to me.

  21. This is my first time reading one of your blog entries. I definitely picked a great day because this post was very uplifting. There is an idea I have been juggling with for months now, and I want to buckle down and write it. But I always think too far ahead, thinking that I have to have EVERYTHING planned out before I write even a sentence of the story. But I see that I can't worry about that. As you said "you never know where your story will go." Just write and see what happens.

    Thanks for the reminder! :)

  22. And this is exactly why I stopped querying a couple of years ago to play around writing a bunch of my favourite genres to find out where my heart lies. I do believe I've found it and am steaming ahead in that direction :)

    I bet your stories will find a shelf one day - dystopian stories are too much fun not to have another resurgence!

  23. Honestly, you never know what'll happen with trends. I haven't read anything - ANYTHING - in the same specific sub-category as my last book in years, and certainly nothing that was "in the spotlight" for years before that.

    And yet, the first thing I hear when I start submitting is "Oh, that's INCREDIBLY hard to sell right now - there's just so much of it."

    "Um, where?"

    Annoying, yes, but everything comes around.

    One of my alltime favorite shows, Farscape, had a great line about this kind of thing (I had to go look it up to get it right):

    "My grandmother used to say that life is a great wheel. Sometimes it grinds you down to the mud, and other times it lifts you up into the light."

    "Are we strapped to this wheel?"

    "That's a given. The point is, is that most times you get a second chance. You just gotta wait for the wheel."

  24. I love this. It's so true. Nothing we do is ever wasted.

  25. I went through this exact thing (well, I didn't catch an agent with my dystopian; I didn't even sub it for long before I realized it was oversaturated). I found my agent and publisher with a contemporary novel and shelved the dystopian for now, but it's not forgotten. Some day…who knows? =)

  26. Your column resonated in my brain and heart. So much truth.
    I think this explains a lot of why I have written across the spectrum: adult historical, MG humor, picture book, Midwestern gothic short stories, poetry. Each story wants/needs to be what it is, and finds its own form. Eventually.

    Like you, I didn't even know there was a term for what I was writing, and when I heard it last summer, it was "Aha!" ("Some humor, some heart, a dash of horror" is how I'd define it, if I had to.)

    Thank you for posting this message.

  27. Jobs at your Home, Internet Online Jobs like data entry, copy pasting, Form Filling, Facebook Sharing Jobs, Clicking Jobs, Web Surfing, Google Jobs and Much More Earning Systems Online

  28. It's so good to keep in mind that you don't wish you hadn't written it. I feel that way about everything I've written, and it makes me feel warm on the cold, dark days when everything else seems to go wrong.