Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011
I’ve had eleven books published (two publishers) and I’m now frustrated to the point of changing careers. My editor keeps saying she wants something “new” and “fresh” but every time I offer a proposal that is something new or fresh (to me), she rejects it. Then I follow up with a “same” type book proposal as the former published books, and that gets accepted. I guess I need some perspective.
I’ll do what I can, but honestly, what is happening to you, happens to all writers of commercial fiction.
When we start a project, it’s new and different and we’re excited. As we work it, that enthusiasm wanes (new and different wear off) and we settle in to disciplinary work and the hope for a surprise or two that thrills us.
Next book, we write the same kind of book only different. It’s what our editors and readers expect, and being mindful that marketable authors continue to publish, we give it to them. But we don’t have new and different anymore. We’re now writing what we’ve written and explored and what excited us. Now we fall in love with something about the book, but we don’t have that “Wow, this is fresh and different” kind of feeling about it.
Look at a book that is genuinely different and, for example, outrageously funny. It sets the world on fire because it’s different and funny. Book two by that author capitalizes on those strengths. To readers, et al. it’s still different and funny. Book seven however is more of the same. Still funny, but no longer different. Yet it is what readers expect and, therefore, what editors (and sales reps and booksellers) expect. You, the author, have tapped into your market.
That’s a bit of a double-edged sword. If you don’t tap into a market, you’ll suffer lousy sales, which means the editor can’t continue to buy your books. This is not good for an author trying to build a career. If you do tap into a market, you’ll enjoy strong sales (your readers, sales reps and booksellers know what to expect from you and buy, banking on getting it) but that also means you have to deliver the anticipated. Readers allow some latitude, but books that are totally dissimilar won’t endear you to them.
As a publishing vice president once told me, the higher you get on the publishing list, the less room you have to experiment with writing different types of books. It’s a fact of the business–and this is, after all, a business where the publisher (and booksellers and sales reps and authors) intend to make money.
I think the VP’s belief holds true for all authors, though I’m sure someone will point out exceptions–authors write the same but different books over a period of time. Earlier works hold deeper levels of enthusiasm and that fresh voice and fresh perspective that is unique to the author. Later books can’t offer that, unless the author has multiple personalities.
What later books do offer is a maturation of the writer and the writing. As we grow and change our works do, too, but those are typically subtle shifts. Not because we haven’t gone through major transitions, but because either our editors or we insist that we must not fix what isn’t broke. The pressure from both–eds and us–can be incredible.
So new can’t always be new and pressure to create again what has worked in the past, I think, are the two important factors regarding later works. It’s really important to note that the pressure isn’t always coming at the writer from outside. More often than not, we generate it from within. Of course, if we didn’t, then I feel confident it would generate from without. It’s the nature of writing to sell versus writing.
The reason I’ve gone into this is to point out that we writers can’t expect to feel the same level of enthusiasm for book 20 as we did for book 1 or 5. The more realistic approach is to continually–throughout our writing careers–to strive to grow, to master our skills. That gives us worthy aspirations that are also realistic.
As for “fresh and new and different,” the best advice I have to offer is some I took myself: Always write from the heart. If what is in your heart that’s trying to get out in your books can’t be sold to one publisher, consider taking on an additional one. If what you really want to write isn’t broadly marketable, write it anyway, knowing it probably won’t sell and that if it does you must adjust your expectations for it.
I have what I call Sunday Books. These are books I write just for myself. I don’t submit them, I don’t expect them to ever sell, but I love them, so I wrote them. It is okay to write for you, too.
A bit of advice on “new and different.” A friend who is a NYT bestseller says if the book of your heart (one you REALLY want to write) is different from the books you’re currently publishing, then write the entire book. Yes, it’s a gamble because it might not sell. So you don’t have certainty on your investment. But if it is a book of your heart, it has “magic” potential. Even though you’ve proven yourself on sales, that applies to your current type of books. Now you have to prove yourself on your new type of book.
You didn’t say whether or not you wanted to venture into a different type of book or if you’re content writing what you are currently writing. If content, keep on keeping on. If your editor stops buying, change publishers. If you’re not content, then venture, knowing you might need a second publisher or to write Sunday books.
The Sunday books don’t do a thing to help feed your family, but I can tell you for fact that they do feed your soul.
Lastly, if you can quit writing, do it. There are so many easier ways to earn money. But I’m putting my money on you–that you can’t quit because you love it. Anyone who writes eleven published books has to love it. So forget about quitting–that wasted energy and you’re not going to do it. Focus instead on solutions to the challenge.
My advice is blunt, so remember I’ve your best interests at heart. (Hear your mother’s voice here:) Stop letting an editor have this much power over you personally. You choose how frustrated you become–over this and most anything else. So put your foot down and choose to be less frustrated.
In your opening comment, you shared a pattern you’ve spotted in your editor’s behavior: “New and different falls to more of the same.” So hear and listen to her, but understand that it’s really more of the same she wants. Your story with a twist. (That’s what she can sell, right?” Once you understand this, what is the source of your frustration? It’s gone. So hear and listen, then write from the heart the book you feel you MUST write.*