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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Market Dictates

Romancing the Blog had a guest post yesterday from agent Deidre Knight. She was talking about why there are so many similar books out on the market place. (See "A Parade of the Exact Same Thing" posted 22 Jun 05.) In her column, Ms Knight says:

We're all just trying to find a way to make books stand out in an extremely sluggish book-buying economy, but that said I happen to believe that risk-takers rise to the top. I also believe that if you mold every work to the exact same shape (or perhaps I'm being overly generous, and that's just pencils being sharpened as they're applied to the bottom line), then you've lost the ability to say something truly innovative. And when you cease to be innovative in this business, you cease to find the pulse of your readership--that next really big thing. All you're doing is mimicking the last really big thing, which will obviously work for a period of time, but will eventually run its course. "Publish to the market" is how I've heard this philosophy described at one company. "We must publish to the market, and we can't ignore the dictates of the market."
This has been my endless frustration as a reader, the sameness of books. I've been complaining, moaning, wailing about this for over 8 years now as most of my online friends can tell you. I remember when romance was the hottest it had ever been as far as sales go, I remember when readers used to RUSH to the bookstore the day the books were released because they couldn't wait to buy them. I remember and I long for that time.

What's so different between then and now? The variety of books offered. There was everything a romance reader could hope for, and the more excited we became about books, the more we bought.

I rarely see that excitement online any longer. Oh, sure, now and then there will be a book that readers are all aflutter about, but it's sure not with the frequency it was back in the "old" days. (I'm talking 1993 here, folks.) I promise, though, that I'm not going off on this topic again. I don't feel like it, but I still miss the days where I would help unpack the books at the store just to get my hands on them immediately (and I've never worked in a bookstore.)

What I wanted to talk about was my experience with this. I've touched on it before, I know, but it bears repeating in this context. I have this paranormal proposal that has been rejected by everyone and their cousin--almost. It has a really kick ass heroine, but that's Ryne's issue. She has something to prove, although eventually she'll figure out that the only person she has to prove it to is herself. If I ever get to write this story again. Ryne is a troubleshooter for a society of magic users and she rescues the hero. So far so good, right? Nothing too unusual or out of the ordinary, right?


For 10 pages the reader knows what the hero needs to be rescued from before Ryne saves him, and the situation is over. Yet in 90% of my rejections, it's that one element that has been cited as the reason. I have a ton of comments that go, "the writing is wonderful, but I can't wrap my mind around this element. I'd be happy to look at something else by Patti."

I did have one editor who flat out rejected it because she wasn't interested in the romance and another editor who rejected it because she wanted more mainstream paranormal (she did, however, give me a fabulous rejection. If I have to hear no, I at least like to hear the good stuff. :-)

This element, it's not that different from stuff I've seen in other romance books. It's just slightly left of normal, but you'd have thought I'd killed the hero or something. I confess, I was totally floored by this reaction. The first time it happened, I figured okay, the editor just didn't like something in the book, couldn't put her finger on what it was and choose that. After, I don't know, the sixth time it happened, I have to believe it actually is that one different idea.

Ten pages. The reader only knows about it for 10 manuscript pages before the heroine rescues him and it's over with.

Does this mean I'm going to play it safe? Probably not. I write the characters that are talking to me and if they have stories that haven't been done a 100 times before, so be it.

I'm dying, though, to write the rest of Ryne's story. I had just finished writing Power of Two. I was burnt out to the max after the deadline from hell and months of only about 4 to 5 hours of sleep a night and the last thing I should have been doing is writing. I should have been resting! But Ryne showed up about a month before I was done with TPOT, and while she never interfered as I was writing, when I wasn't, she was talking. And talking. And talking. She told me all about her people. She gave me so much information that my world building is the strongest I've ever done in any book so far. So the day after I mailed TPOT off to NYC, I was hunched over my keyboard--totally fried--but typing the beginning of Ryne's story.

Once I had the first 4 pages down, I was able to rest, but as soon as I had recovered sufficiently, I was back writing it. I've never felt so driven before in my entire life to get a story down, and believe me, I've had other stories I've really loved and felt compelled to write. This was like a mission or something. :-) It's because of the way I was so obsessed by this story, that I know it was meant to be written, meant to sell and meant to reach people. It has to. Why else would this happen? I believe the universe has a plan for this book, and I'm trying to trust in the perfect timing of the universe, but it becomes discouraging at times. There's so much cool stuff here. Ryne's thinking she has something to prove, Ryne's relationship with her sister and with the hero, among other things.

Can you hear my passion about the story as I write about it? I really want to work on this story. It doesn't help that the first scene is in the cemetery across from the building I work in, and every time I look out the window in the ladies room, I think of it.

The universe has perfect timing. I'm repeating that like my mantra. :-) And different is good!!!!

MN Weather Report: 80 degrees. Heat Index: 84 degrees. (On our way to 98 with a heat index of 105!)