Tip #63 – You Won’t Break In To the Business By Imitating Published Authors

Yeah, we’re giving away the farm here on Storyfix.

The following is one of the 101 Tips in my new ebook, 101 Slightly Unpredictable Tips for Novelists and Screenwriters.

This is the fourth time I’ve served up one of these tasty little tips, ala carte and for free.  At this rate you’ll get the whole thing gratis in about, oh, two years.  If you like what you see and want the other 97 (you can dig for the previous three freebies in the Archives), you can get ’em HERE.  The ebook is only $9.95, less than ten cents per tip. 

If someone told you they’d change your writing life for a dime, you’d bite.  That’s my sophisticated strategy for this.  I’d bite, too.  In fact, if I had a pocket full of change, I’d chow down on it all.

There are links at the end if you’d like to read a review, or you’d like a copy for yourself and don’t feel like scrolling back up here again.

#63 — You won’t break into the business by imitating published authors.

One of the great frustrations among unpublished authors is the certainty, in their own mind, that they’re every bit as good as the people on the bestseller lists.  Or even on the shelf next to it.  In fact, many authors find themselves mirroring the style of their favorite authors in the hope that they, too, will be as successful.

But here’s the deal.  Big time writers didn’t get there because of writing style

They got there because of their storytelling prowess.  If their writing voice happens to contribute to the reading experience and thus the power of the story, this is a material factor in their success.  But that’s actually a minority — most of today’s big name authors write just fine, but there isn’t a John Updike or a Joyce Carol Oates in the bunch.

With all due respect to John Grisham, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, the late Michael Crichton and about a hundred other household names, you’re all a good example of this while remaining great storytellers.

A lot of readers, especially those who prefer “literary novels,” like to diss guys like James Patterson for their elementary-level prose style.  But make no mistake, the level of their writing is absolutely a calculated intention – Patterson used to run the largest ad agency in the world, and he’s a master at calibrating his message to the reading level of the target audience.  Over 30 bestsellers later, one has to agree.

Here’s another cynical little truth.  The famous names don’t need to be as good to remain on the shelves as you need to be to break in and join them there.  Publishers aren’t looking for another John Grisham, they’re looking for the next John Grisham.  And while subtle, there’s a significant difference.

Notice that they’re not looking for the next John Updike, either.  They’re looking for an incredible storyteller.  A stellar writing voice is optional, and if it’s too stylized — the great pitfall of many enthusiastic new writers — it may actually limit your commercial appeal.

My favorite commercial author is a fellow named Colin Harrison.  Long before I found him reviewers had dubbed him the poet laureate of American thriller writers.  If God wrote thrillers he’d sound just like Harrison.  (Click HERE to read the first paragraph of his brilliant Manhattan Nocturne — you’ll need to click two more times within the reader to read the first page of the sample — and you’ll see what I mean… only one adjective in sight, and yet, you’re hooked on his style already.)

He’s a world class storyteller by any measure, too… but have you heard of him?

My point exactly.  He’s actually too good in the writing voice department.  It limits his market potential.

The trouble with hanging your hat on the fact that you write like someone famous, much less that you write as well, is that it spits in the face of what the publishing world says they want: a fresh new voice.  Alice Sebold, for example, with her breakout novel The Lovely Bones.

You’ll be a lot better off shooting to be a fresh new storyteller.

Read a review of “101 Slightly Unpredictable Tips for Novelists and ScreenwritersHERE.

Want one?  Click HERE.

Not quite convinced?  Need more info?  Read the cheesey sales letter HERE.

Want it on Kindle?  Click HERE.

Want to read my recent monster guest post and some very argumentative reader comments on Writetodone.com (a real smackdown, that one)?  Click HERE.


Filed under Write better (tips and techniques)

7 Responses to Tip #63 – You Won’t Break In To the Business By Imitating Published Authors

  1. It’s just like you’re talking exactly about music.

  2. Lloyd C

    Actually, it’s the exact opposite of the music industry.

    They really don’t want a fresh sound. It’s all about “who do you sound like” when it comes to marketing. That’s why there are so many cookie cutter bands that are barely recognizable from each other.

    Some of the most innovative and talented musicians will never see a record deal from one of the major labels…which is most ironic since I believe this is what’s killing them.

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