M.A. Wohl

Writer on a Quest

A publisher said to me once, in a rejection letter, that the characters in my novel were clichés. Another publisher, in yet another rejection letter, said my novel was too classic, not original.

Since then, whenever I start a new writing project, you bet your sweet bottom I wanna make sure my novel idea is working. And working well too.

How to know your novel idea stands out for the best?
It depends.
Like you didn’t know that already! But, the thing is, it does depend.

I consider two main factors to begin with:

  • novel genres
  • type of novel (retelling, original fiction, autofiction)

What to research:

  • The targeted readership (age, country)
  • The editorial bottom-line of the publishers in the chosen genres
  • The published books in your genres, from now up to as far as you are willing to go in the past.

Even if I pretty much write for readers from age 9 to 109 (everybody is a Young Adult this days), I still keep in touch, read a ton, follow the news, check out the best-selling list every month on big and small bookstores websites and newspaper.
What is hot and new now won’t work anymore in 18 months or so. Beware, the book world is a business…

Ok, basic knowledge gathered. Next level please!

What to do next?

Read as many books as you can in your genre of choices.
While reading the most recent novels is critical – in order for us to see what is « working » right now, I also lean towards old titles.
And, I also make a point to go back several books decades sometimes. It is a good learning experience, I find, to see how literature for youngster readers, for example, evolved in the past twenty years or so.
I recently read a Middle-Grade commercial ghost-written book from 1984 and boy, oh boy, am I glad women and LGBTQ+ rights are being taken more into account these days.

And then… I write a resume of the story and I also try to sell it in one line or two, as if it was a movie.
That way, I can see the tropes I’m gonna use and make sure I used them in a fun, original, stand-out way.
I don’t mean something mind-blowing over the top crazy. I just mean, you know, what if an orphan wizard was to meet the daughter of a famous presidential couple during a strike for climate, and they discover they are both there to protect the leader of the strike from a terrible prophecy/treat.
Suuure, it hasn’t been written before.
But, the characters are a bit cliché, plus the set-up is really, really in the right-now, which might not translate well in 18 months from now. Hell, in two months from now.

Writing a resume (synopsis works too, but I hate synopsis) helps me figure out the rough shapes of the bones of the story. I can then see if I’m right into cliché town and I can figure out how to get out of there BEFORE it’s 60 000 words too late.
Like I did.
Twice.

Also, very, very important: a critique partner (two max) should help work on your manuscript and beta-readers should read the manuscript. Unlike author Bridgid Gallagher in her post on CP’s and beta-readers, family doesn’t count as beta-readers; plus, if they don’t like the manuscript, it will create a weird situation (just trust me on this one).

Thanks for reading. I hope this post helped you.
To all my fellow crazy writers on a quest, a bid thy farewell.
Until next time!

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