Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Worst Advice I Ever Got

We're thrilled to welcome Julie Cross, international bestselling author of TEMPEST, to Honestly YA today! Julie is not only a phenomenally successful writer, but a fabulous person. So without further ado, take it away Julie... *cheers from the crowd*

I’m answering this question in relation to writing because without that narrow path they’re would just be too much bad advice in my life to choose from and some of it is quite disturbing and not at all appropriate for young eyes. Anyway, worst advice I ever got when I began writing came from an online critique site after posting a query letter for public scrutiny. The commenter said: This topic is way too controversial for YA and not original enough, I can think of at least one other book that’s similar.

I’ll address the first part of the comment first. While it’s true that some agents/editors will shy away from more controversial/edgy/racey YA manuscripts, there are so many who are currently seeking out these types of stories. Why? Because controversy sells. Edgy stories leave a more vivid mark on readers. Also, at the moment the New Adult genre is becoming something very real and what’s appealing with those books is there are less limitations on the subject matter. For me, writing a controversial topic isn’t about shocking people or selling more books, it’s about making the reader feel something. When you stretch the boundaries of comfort, the risk is greater for both the characters and the readers thus leaving a more lasting impact. Could Hunger Games have been made less violent? Like what if the goal wasn’t to kill your opponents, it was to capture them and everyone except the winner was sent to a juvenile detention center for thirty years instead of a fight to the death? If the stakes weren’t as high would the book be as compelling and have sold just as well? Hard to say, but I’d guess no.

Now on to being original. This is actually something I’m faced with a lot when talking to pre-published writers. They’re so afraid of having their book be like another book that they stop writing and dig for a new idea. Here’s the reality—only a small percentage of people get upset about copycat projects. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, or who I’m talking about. Maybe you’re friends with that person or maybe you’re that person. The guy or girl that hears a current hit on the radio and then starts a rant about how it’s just like some 70’s rock band that was highly underappreciated in their time. The general population couldn’t care less about the similarities in the songs released decades apart, they live here and now and either they like the song or they don’t.

Average Joe reader, especially when we’re talking about kids and teens, finishes a book and if they love it, will immediately begin searching for something similar. Now this doesn’t mean you should go and rewrite Twilight with new names—
Oh wait…
Yeah, I’m not going there but you can connect those dots yourself.

I consider myself to be a bit beyond the Average Joe reader and still, if you presented me with a new book and told me that it’s just like The Fault In Our Stars by John Green or Easy by Tammara Webber, I’d be all over that in a heart beat.

When you go forth in your writing journey, for those of you that are writing, one thing you’re going to have to be able to do in order to sell your book (first to an agent, then an editor, then a sales team, then bookseller and eventually consumers) is to associate it with something else, “It’s a modern day take on _____ classic story” or “it’s a YA version of Stephen King’s ____ novel” or “Fans of ____ author will enjoy this book.” So, basically if your pitch is to tell people that your book is nothing like anything out there. It’s so different you can’t even compare it to anything, then you might have a problem.

Some more elite writers than myself would call this “selling out.” I think that’s complete BS. Everything is derivative of something. And there is a lot to be said for an author who writes a story with a particular reading audience in mind. That shows that you know your readers, you care about your readers, you care about the Average Joe person. You want to write a story for them. This is NEVER a bad thing. What would happen if politicians didn’t create their platforms with the Average Citizen in mind? I’ve also heard writers say that they don’t want to read any books because they might end up copying the plot. Seriously, this is TERRIBLE advice. Read a lot. And then a lot more after that. You will not copy anyone’s book exactly or almost exactly or even 40%. It just doesn’t happen.

In conclusion, unlike you wise readers, I received that advice and I’ll admit to a momentary panic followed by a few hours curled up in my bed in the middle of the day watching One Tree Hill episodes on NetFlix and eating olives and peanut butter right out of the jar. But I wised up quickly and ignored the advice of that particular commenter. So keep writing your story and don’t freak out if you’re wandering Barnes and Noble and happen to come across a book that seems to have a similar plot to yours. Chances are, it’s not that similar AND even if it is, it may very well work to your advantage.  

Author Bio
Julie Cross is the internationally bestselling author of Tempest, the first novel in a thrilling time travel trilogy. Tempest received starred reviews, was nominated for the 2012 YALSA Teens Top Ten list, is available in nineteen territories, and has been optioned by Summit Entertainment, the makers of the Twilight Saga movies. The sequel, Vortex released in January 2013. Tempest follows nineteen year old Jackson Meyer as he races through time literally to save the life of his girlfriend, Holly, and find out the truth about his past and his newfound time travel ability.


CareyCorp said...

Wow! Great advice Julie. And so true. Thanks for spending time with us and sharing your wisdom!

Melissa Landers said...

I agree--great advice. And I can't believe someone tried to discourage you by saying he knew of ONE other book out there with similar elements. LOL! Dude, everything has been done. There are no original story lines anymore. What matters is the unique spin you put on it.

Lorie Langdon said...

Thanks so much for sharing with us, Julie! This is great advice.I'm so glad you didn't let this critic keep you down.
I agree that there are no truly unique story lines anymore. Maybe that's why I gravitate toward writing reimaginings! ;D

Julie Cross said...

You're totally welcome! And thanks so much for having me!

Jennifer McAndrews said...

excellent advice! thanks so much for sharing that story with us : )

Kim (YA Asylum) said...

Love this post :) It's so true. It's nearly impossible to be truly original. You know that old saying that there are only seven plots in the world? I think something like that's true. You can make something that's been done before and make it orignal your way and people will still like it and want to read it. It's way more helpful (from what I hear from agents) to be able to compare your book to two known, popular, books so you can sell it. Great post!

Kimberly said...

This was such great advice! Thanks so much for coming by and discussing this with such honesty and your personal feelings.
I just started reading FAULT IN OUR STARS, and I know exactly what you mean. Just because themes can be similar doesn't mean I'll never read a different author or different book after the first one. I've never understood that. I just buy books that are similar.
I agree completely that reading is the best way to write, and it should never feel like cheating or feel like you're copying plot. It should be inspiring!
Thanks so much!