Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Original or generic?

"We don't take risks."
"It's too different."
"It's not want people want looking at the market."
"It's too original to sell."

Those were some of the comments I received back out of my 65 literary agent rejections. My favourite was the 'too original to sell' comment. Since when was an original idea negative!!

Writing Hellbound handed me an inadvertent conundrum. I intentionally crafted a story that I knew, without exception, no one would read and say "That's been done before." but by doing so I back myself into a corner. Serial killer stories are ten a penny and have been done so many times by better authors than I, so with that in mind, I knew instead of trying to go better than Harris, Koontz etc (which I couldn't), I would go different. Write a serial killer tale that was unlike anything anyone would have ready before. They might think they knew where it was going, or that it was familiar, but then BAM, it would drag them somewhere unexpected.

I knew this is the case because that is the most common feedback I have had. And, to me, that is the best feedback I could have ever received. Steve helped me with editing and honing my writing (he isn't an international bestselling author for nothing!), but the story was all in my head, tweaked and honed, but there in its entirety all the time.

Yet, because of this I couldn't find a market for it, was repeatedly told so and even now it struggles to find an audience as it isn't an easy sell. Kelly told me it had a downbeat ending, to which I replied "Really?" When I though about it, it has no overt humour in it at all and doesn't do the Hollywood thing of making the ending happy to please the audience (watch the original ending of I Am Legend...much closer to the novel and much more appropriate in my opinion. He was the outsider; the creatures were the population and social norm).

And that is the question for writers, isn't it? Do you write in the genre that you know works. To do so is not a criticism, quite the opposite. In movie terms it is capturing the zeitgeist; taking hold of something that is popular to crazy levels and developing it further, using it as inspiration to make something else entirely. And that is skilled and quite clever.

Marvel took the idea of a 'Superman' and created Thor. You don't watch The Avengers and think Superman when you see him, but boil it down to its common denominator and Thor is Superman with a few tweaks. Daredevil (which I loved as a show and as a character; Ben got a rough deal in the movie as he was actually quite good!) is a blind Batman. Take a post apocalyptic world with post apocalyptic creatures in it and a lone survivor and you have riffed on I Am Legend; take the same setting with similar creatures and make the survivors a family of survivors and you have The Walking Dead. Star Wars is a western, you can see The Lord of the Rings inspiration in Harry Potter...

I knowingly limited my demographic with Hellbound because, creatively, I want to tell THAT story but knew it would struggle to find an audience. I wish I had the courage and storytelling skill to take a well-known genre and do something different. Because, at the end of the day, it isn't the setting or plot that makes it different but the characters you create to inhabit those worlds, or that city, or capture that killer, or go on that adventure.

I think I am remain stuck in the 'too different to be popular' niche, but to be honest that's okay. I know so many amazing writers who have done what I cannot do and tap into the public's consciousness with their unique creations and characters and that is what makes them so popular...that is what makes their stories the ones people talk about and that go on to be big sellers and capture imaginations.

Honestly, I'm kind of used to being a little 'different' and that's kinda cool. I'm okay with that, because I know I am in the best of company that, by default, shares my book that 'wouldn't have been picked if I read the back'.

I have found the most inspirational people though writing who challenge me to be better, because they do such a fantastic job. Better covers, better writing styles, better blurb on the back. You see something and think 'Bollocks, why didn't I think of that!' or 'crap, that cover designer is fantastic. I wonder if I can seek them out!'

But you know what? I have joined a world where it's okay to be a little different. My fantastic publishers Britain's Next Bestseller took a chance on me and gave me the opportunity to finally see Hellbound on a bookshelf (not many but it's on a few!). Because of them and the fantastic people who supported it (and a certain Louise Hunter!), it ended up as one of W H Smith's most underrated crime thrillers of 2014. I got the chance to raise money for MAIN at my book launch (still never got over the fact I had my own event that didn't involve the Scales of Justice!).

And I'll be damned if that's not what makes writing the best job in the world.

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