Monday, January 21, 2008
Coloring Outside the Lines
Missy here. Little Miss Rule Follower. I’ve always been that way, I think. Well, except that one time…
When I was in first grade, I loved my teacher, Mrs. Beach. But one day, she told us it was time to do math. And I didn’t want to do math. So my temper got the best of me, and I stuck my tongue out at her. Oh, the horrors! I remember feeling sick at my stomach as soon as I realized she’d seen me. My first act of rebellion, and I got caught. She wasn’t supposed to see me!
Well, she sat my rear out in the hallway as punishment. I was totally mortified! Especially when my friend, Gwen, who was in the second grade, walked down the hall and spotted me. Now, as I think back to this momentous occasion, I wonder if that’s the day I became a rule follower.
So as a rule follower, when I began writing, I wrote stories that followed the “rules,” the unspoken guidelines I’d learned by osmosis while reading for years and years. And I think that’s a great way to pick it up. Learn to write by reading tons. Once I got in a critique group and started learning to revise, those manuscripts began to final in and win contests (finaled in 11 contests, winning 6 of them). And let me say that I’m talking about category-length manuscripts here, written with reader expectations in mind. It’s what I read. What I loved. What was familiar.
And one of those manuscripts is the first one that sold. Coincidence? I don’t think so. I think for a first-time author, it’s probably the safest way to try to make a sale.
But what about my other manuscript-- my first to (gasp!) break the rules? (I do have to say here that I didn’t set out to break them. I just wrote it the way it came to me, the way God gave it to me, and had fun.) It’s a longer book. Not category length, but 80k words. And because I love to read and write in first person, it’s in first person. But hey, since I was coloring outside the lines, why not do it up good. So I put it in two different first person POV’s. Then I added in a 3rd POV in email format.
So, how would you guess that manuscript did in contests compared to the others? Actually, it did pretty well. It won the Maggie and was my first and only manuscript to final in the Golden Heart. So I think judges liked the fact that it was different. Yet, it’s never sold. And I’ve never been able to pick up an agent for it. It’s just too different to sell, I guess. At least right now with the way the market trends are going. (To be fair, there are other problems with it for the inspirational market.)
I have two friends who, when they decided they wanted to sell books, set out to read and take apart new releases to analyze them. They analyzed the books put out by the publisher/line they wanted to sell to, and figured out what the publisher was looking for.
They followed the rules. And do you know, they both sold to their targeted publishers and have been very successful.
What about you? Do you ever color outside the lines? Or maybe you break the rules every time you write a book? LOL Would you ever consider taking apart a book to see what the publisher is looking for? Or would that kill your creativity?
I’m not saying there’s any right way or wrong way. And I'm not discounting writing the book of your heart. I’m just wondering what you all think about it. Also, do you ever “play with” your contest entries to make them fit a particular contest better?