Is There Room for Originality?

paper doll cutoutsOne of the comments on a recent blog post suggested that publishers are only looking for “formula” books, and that it’s not possible in traditional publishing to be creative and innovative. This has been a common criticism for years—the old, “I’m so unique and amazing the no one will publish me.” Today I want to answer that criticism.

From where I sit, this isn’t true at all. Books are constantly being published that break molds and startle us with their creativity and vision. If you’re not seeing them out there, then I wonder how hard you’re really looking.

It’s all a matter of perspective. I believe that if you continue to believe this way about publishing, and believe that there’s no place for you because you’re extra creative and innovative and tend to write outside expected genre lines, then it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But instead, you could choose to write such a good book that agents, editors and readers say “Genre be damned – this is a stunning book!”

That’s how the amazingly original books get published. They’re so good that people can’t put them down, regardless of genre. Those are the books you read, and then you go to tell your friends about them but find yourself saying, “Well, it’s hard to explain, but it’s SO good, you just have to read it!”

If you want an agent and a traditional publisher, don’t give up just because your work falls outside “expected” lines of genre or style. Be persistent. If your writing is good enough, you just may find that perfect editor to champion it.  Don’t give up with the excuse that the whole publishing industry sucks. You won’t get anywhere that way. Press on.

What’s the most unique or original book you’ve read lately?

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  1. Sra says:

    I know this is the 108th comment, but I really wanted to give my input.

    One day I was thinking about how to describe this to people, and I came up with the best analogy I’ve ever thought up. (Forgive me for that, but it blows my mind.)

    Let’s talk about DNA. There are only 4 protein bases that form DNA. A, G, C, T. And they can only be paired in 2 ways. G = C and T = A.

    What that means is that there are only 2 base pairs. Only two. And yet every living thing in the entire planet is made up of these 2 base pairs. And every living thing is completely different and unique.

    Books are DNA. There are only a few basic building blocks to choose from, and they’ve all been used hundreds of times. But we can put them together in billions of different combinations.

    Uniqueness is still possible.

  2. Catherine Hudson says:

    Good post. Always remember to keep a positive outlook – not end up cynical, critical and lets face it – proud.

    Can’t say I have read anything incredibly original lately, but then I’ve been reading for comps, to get to know the authors at an up-coming conference here in the ‘down-under’ and for research for my next book.

    A few good recommendations in everyone’s posts that I can look at. Thanks!

  3. Meta Mouse by Art Spiegelman is the most beautiful executed autobiography I’ve come across. Of course having a book published like that for a reasonable price is only possible when you have an extensive readership. I love how he explains the making of Mouse, his reasoning for using the mice and rats metaphor, the story of his life. Having this book in my hands makes me want to realize my combined biography (father’s) memoir and novel as an expansive piece of art in writing and visuals. There, I’ve said/ written it.
    Looking into the way children “read” stories on touch Pads is something all writing artists, or illustrator/writers, or writers with a audio/visual subject ought to do. A world opens up for writers and readers of the present and future that goes way beyond transferring the plain content on paper to content in an e-book.
    I have a background in the theater as set, costume and prop designer, and I see some of my longitudinal work as staged plays within a book. Ah, the possibilities! Wondrous future. Yes, it’s early a.m. and I need to eat and have a coffee, ethereal thoughts occur when blood sugar drops. Hoka hey! Judith
    PS Rachelle thanks for the positive post!

  4. Lanny says:

    Correction: That’s Peter Abrahams.
    Also, I do think there’s room for originality, as long as you co-author with James Patterson. <:)

  5. Lanny says:

    I’m not a mystery reader normally, but Peter Abraham’s The End of the Story is a very good crime novel with a (Spoiler Alert) surprise ending on the very last line! Great use of much dialogue.

  6. Dracula says:

    Definitely anything by Jasper Fforde. I’m a sucker for good metafiction (see my screen name), and Fford’s meta is so meta and postmodern and layered with fourth walls and fifth dimensions that I’m not even sure the man exists. And his words are like tiny shells, ripe for a collection. I’d lay them all out to admire them in the sun, if I could.

  7. Latest best book: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward.

  8. Janet says:

    I’m currently reading “Zero Time” by T.W. Fendley. If I had to classify it by genre, I suppose it would be sci-fi/fantasy, but it feels like more than that. It’s a time travel/space travel historical/futuristic story set in Meso-America with origins in The Pleiades that addresses the Mayan “prophecy” from a very interesting perspective. Even though I haven’t finished the book, I’m sure it dispels the end-of-times myth. There’s much more to it than that, but I don’t want to be a complete spolier.

    “Unique” almost doesn’t describe this book. This is one of those books that caused me to decide before the end of the second chapter that it would make an awesome movie.

    When I read a book like this, it makes me wonder if my imagination is powerful enough to support truly outstanding fiction. Although, there’s really no comparison because T.W. is writing in a genre I wouldn’t even attempt. Love reading it; would hate writing it.

  9. I truly enjoyed reading EARTH ABIDES by George Stewart. It was post-apocalyptic fiction long before its time. More of an evolutionary worldview in that book, but his sociological theories of what would happen in the face of mass disaster kept me reading till the end.

  10. Chihuahua0 says:

    One problem is that everyone talks about marketing trends, so there’s that mind-set that publishers prefer to not take risks. It seems like half of the Children’s Bestseller list reflects that.

    Best “unique” book as of late? I re-read it, but I would say Five Flavors of Dumb. It’s a realistic fiction about a deaf manager of a hard rock band. The pure amount of tension the first read induced, along with possessing page-turning momentum, made it an awesome read!

  11. Shirley Anne says:

    I’m continually amazed at where most authors find their inspiration as there are millions of books out there, especially in the online world, each slightly different. I wandered through a book shop recently, and I was stunned at the diversity. If you think a book hasn’t been written, it probably has, somewhere, but each new expression has some form of originality. What also struck me is how necessary book shelf space is to promoting a book. Books stand out when they are on display and I see the same select names over and over in many stores–I wondered at how our reading choices may be channeled by someone else’s decision as to what is considered worth reading. I also noted how quickly I picked up and then put down books–that old “first impression counts” problem.

    There’s originality and then there’s controversial, and many times an author may be blissfully unaware that his or her book is considered controversial until it is critiqued. I doubt many authors really set out to write a controversial book. I read somewhere that sometimes it may only be a few sentences within a book that give it this label. Too controversial and not many would read it.

    My favourite fiction author is probably still Stephen King. He makes me see his characters as real. Books like “IT”, “The Stand”, “The Dark Tower Series”, “Rose Madder”, “The Green Mile”–to ne sheer genius, and also originality at its best: mass market originality.

  12. In Memory of Junior by Clyde Edgerton … The characters are alive and familiar, yet unexpectedly unique.

    • Nan Kilmer Baker says:

      I read Dave Eggars “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” at least once a year,along with Colum McCann’s “Let the Great World Spin”. As a mental exercise I try to read both books at once.

  13. HopefulLeigh says:

    I’ve really enjoyed Tana French’s books In the Woods and The Likeness. They’re character-driven murder mysteries so the pace is completely different from what you’d normally expect. I also liked that she doesn’t tie up her conclusions in a neat bow and keeps her readers guessing all along until she’s ready to deliver the twist.

  14. I read lots of science fiction and fantasy, and while those genres definitely have their tropes and conventions that can be overused, there are also tons of crazy, original stories coming out all the time. One of those things “they” always say is that there are only 7 or 21 or 35 plot types in the world, so I think the key to originality is in the details. What makes the world so unusual? What makes the characters unique? How are tropes addressed, twisted, subverted? What new combinations of ideas are there? Most importantly, how is the story told, in terms of voice and style and plot? It’s the new mixtures of all these elements that give a story originality.

  15. Lisa Marie says:

    I picked up Beth M. Howard’s book “Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie.” It’s about how the author coped with the sudden loss of her young husband through pie making and giving back to her community. I’m typically not a memoir kind of gal, but this book was extremely moving. I laughed just as hard as I cried. After I finished it, I felt the strong urge to do something to show my better half that I loved him. He got a homemade caramel apple pie this weekend. 🙂

  16. Hi, Rachelle! If you have the time to read all the way down in these comments, let me know if you’d like to have this blog reposted and featured on Murderby4. We’ve just won our fourth year in a row for “Best 101 Writers Website” and would love to have you guest post again. Also, if you prefer another article for wider circulation, that’s good, too! Give me a shout at aaron dot lazar at yahoo.com when you can. Best wishes, APL

  17. Kirsty says:

    The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness – never read anything like it before or since!

  18. Ida says:

    One of the things that bothers me is how the children’s (ie. middle grade) market seems to be shrinking. Twelve year olds are reading Twilight and the Hunger Games at my school and children under ten can usually not read well enough.

  19. The last book I opened was ‘365 Ways to Cook Chicken’.

    I have read ONE book lately, one that wasn’t my mine, and although it was excellent (Waves at KG) it didn’t fit the above categories.

    I know, I know. Hit the buzzer. Sorry, but thanks for playing.

  20. Book that employed techniques or twists that were fresh and made me go, “Man, I wish I’d thought of this!” are:

    Rebecca Stead’s When Your Reach Me
    Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl
    Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy

  21. Jim Gilliam says:

    I agree with you. The traditional publishing industry is always looking for the new and different. However, the computer and the Internet have overwhelmed agents and editors with submissions. They are forced to develop a triage system. If you’ve written a great and original book and query an agent who doesn’t handle that genre then your begging for a “pass” on your work. Or if you’ve selected (after thorough research) the appropriate agent and fail to follow that agent’s submission guidelines, it’s the same waste of time.

    There is originality out there. The old writing exercise where the instructor writes a story idea on the blackboard and tells her students to write a story around the idea. If there are twelve students in the class, twelve different stories will be turned in at the end of the assignment.

    The point I’m trying to make is that even the least of us is an original thinker. So write a great book and have it professionally edited. Carefully research the agent(s) you are submitting to and always follow her submission guidelines to the letter. You are looking for an agent who will be as passionate about your work as you are. Above all be persistent. I did all that, and the only reason I went Indie with my first novel is that I had set myself a deadline for finding an agent that had passed. I’ll do the same with the sequel. Never give up and above all keep writing.

  22. As a kidlit fan, I read lots of middle grade fiction and picture books, and the best thing I have read lately is Jennifer Nielsen’s ‘The False Prince.’ I usually figure things out, but this kept me guessing, and I was very sad to find out that the next book won’t be out for awhile. Alas!

    I think there is no end to the diversity possible in writing, because each person has a story, and even if there might be similar elements in the story, it’s still a unique story.

    (I tend to wonder if this gripe of some writers is more from those who, as you said, aren’t looking very hard, or just haven’t had much success in marketing their own work.)

  23. Casey says:

    I actually find this post very interesting, because I have the exact opposite opinion at times. It seems we ALL must be original, our voice and strong story are what sells. Cookie cutter stories are only as good as the readers who want to read the same story over and over again. It’s why I think I’ve become disenfranchised with the whole Amish genre. True, there is only SO MUCH you can do with a story idea and the human condition, but its the author’s unique perspective that make their novel different and stand out.

  24. D.E. Stanley says:

    I think the whole subject is about standing out from the crowd. I bet there are a ton of amazing authors that comment here daily, but how does one stand out. Originality helps (in this world it’s not enough alone) us stand out from the crowd.

  25. Love this post. I agree…there’s always a place for creativity and originality.

  26. Jill says:

    I look for a unique or compelling voice/style, not necessarily a unique story. In fact, when a story gets too unique, it might create a sense of incredulity, in which I mutter “unbelievable” and not in a good way.

  27. Ruth Taylor says:

    I’m almost finished with The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I’d say this is the most original book I’ve read since Arena by Karen Hancock. Can’t wait to read the other two books!

  28. The way I understand it, originality is essential for a LITERARY novel and problematic for a GENRE novel, though category books that cross genres, like Diana Gabaldon’s, can be very successful if they are good enough.

    One bizarre book I recently read is Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune, which starts out as a family drama, dabbles in romance and erotica, and ends up a Wild West tale. What a crazy ride! The unexpected turns were exhilarating.

  29. Joe Pote says:

    Awesome post, Rachelle!

    Both honest and encouraging.

    Yes, a truly unique perspective is much more difficult to communicate, no doubt about it.

    But isn’t that why we write? To find a way of effectively communicating the unique perspective God has given each of us?

    If it was easy, anyone could do it! 🙂

  30. Christine says:

    Isn’t easier to point the finger at Publishers and blame them, than it is to go back to our work and … (what is the word I’m looking for? edit, fine tune, strip, restructure, change, strengthen, beef up, fix, improve) work on it?

  31. Thanks for the encouragement, Rachelle. I’ve always felt my work is a misfit for the market.

  32. Lori says:

    Recently, I listened to “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”. The novel is a series of letters that are written in 1946 between an author in London, her publisher, the publisher’s sister, and various people from Guernsey who the author befriends.

    This book is definitely now a favorite of mine.

  33. Sarah Hershkowitz says:

    The C.S. Lewis quote I keep close at hand is: “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

    And thanks to all for lengthening my “Books to Read” list 🙂

  34. I love all the book suggestions. Recently? Zone One, by Colson Whitehead (genre fiction through a highly stylized literary fiction filter). The Flame Alphabet, by Ben Marcus (though maybe trying to be too original). Light Boxes, by Shane Jones (just pure imagination). Always a fan of Evening, by Susan Minot – I’ve never read anyone write stylistically in a way to mirror what’s going on in the plot before!

    (PS: All the classics were crazy originals outside the “formula” of commercial fiction.)

  35. Stephanie says:

    Perfectly said, and very encouraging.

    I just finished reading MISS PEREGRINES HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN, Ransom Riggs’ debut. I generally do not read YA. The maturity level is always a bit outside my forte. But this book was so unique, filled with beautifully bizarre photos. It had a little of everything, even romance. Definitely worthy of being on the best sellers list for the past year. It’s wondrous!

  36. Sue Harrison says:

    The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Putzsch
    Snow Day by Billy Coffey
    Emilie’s Voice by Susanne Dunlap
    Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (Anything by Kate DiCamillo)

    Thank you for a fun post and a great way to hear about great books, Rachelle~

  37. Just finished re-reading “Hearts in Atlantis” by Stephen King. Definitely outside the box. King mixes tinges of the supernatural with honest social and political commentary and open hearted nostalgia. And he does it in a series of novellas that could reasonably be combined into a single novel.

    Imagine pitching that:

    “So, I’ve got this book about Vietnam, that’s also about growing up in the 60s. It’s broken into several sections that make minor characters major characters…oh, and one of the stories leaks a bit into my surreal supernatural series but only people who have read THOSE books will even understand that part.”

  38. Lisa says:

    I think originality also takes a certain amount of bravery, to challenge ingrained thought patterns or help others see things from a new perspective. I think Kathryn Stockett’s The Help was original and brave.

    • Joe Pote says:

      “to challenge ingrained thought patterns or help others see things from a new perspective”

      Yes!

      I’ve concluded that this is the fundamental role of a writer.

      If all I do is reitterate what everyone else is saying, or already knows, what’s the point?

    • Now there was a BOOK! The Help shook up so many people, really, really shook them up!
      The Help also led to many fresh discussions and parted the waters a bit more in terms of ethnological and socio-economic stereotypes.

      Rarely does a debut novel deal with such an explosive issue. Group A decides that Group B is inferior due to the higher ratio of melanin possessed by members of Group B, and therefore are primary targets for subjugation and exportation.

      The Help could be anywhere about anyone. I have spent 37 years having to validate my father’s intelligence to certain people because they are astounded that someone with dark skin can be smarter than someone who lloks like moi.

      I hope Miss Stockett’s next book makes The Help look easy.

  39. I agree that there are trends in publishing, and that the industry can be a bit bandwagon. Our local B&N now has an entire section dedicated to “Teen Supernatural Romance” for example. But I also agree that good is good. No matter how unique, weird or unconventional.

    I read an interesting interview with Jim Butcher in which he admitted that he couldn’t initially get anyone interested in his traditional fantasy series. Then he invented genre bending Harry Dresden, the wizard gumshoe. Supernatural noir? That’s pretty out there. Sam Spade having conversations with Queen Mab?

    Suddenly he’s a mystery writing superstar with his own TV show and comic book series….and has no problem getting his “traditional genre” series published. Sometimes you have to go outside to get inside…

  40. The Night Circus. Agree with CG Blake that the settings were imaginative. I thought the unconventional choice to use second person POV very naturally invited the reader into the circus scenes. Truly magical and one of the best reads I’ve had this year.

    I also enjoyed The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a cinematic story that relied much more on illustrations than words.

  41. Roxanne says:

    A perpetual negative viewpoint has a negative impact on our ability to succeed – in any facet of life. Putting the focus instead on creating such a high quality, engaging story that it transcends genre is great advice. Thanks!

  42. Lisa Jordan says:

    Sometimes a writer’s originality is an excuse to break rules they may not understand why they’re being broken.

    I write category romance, and yes, there’s a formula, but each writer has a unique voice, and that particular voice is what makes each story stand on its own merit.

    As far as unique books I’ve read lately, I loved The Help & Water for Elephants. Yes, they’ve been out for a while, but I’ve been pokey about getting them read. Also, Jim Rubart’s novels are unique in the way they speak to the reader.

  43. Zan Marie says:

    Original, creative books stand out. If you’ve never read Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER, you owe yourself a read. It’s impossible to describe the blend of genres, but the writing is beyond amazing. Her entire bibliography is this way. Add the fact that she’s one of the most accessible writers I know and regularly critiques others and helps new writers at the Books and Writers Forum and you’ve got a winning combination. http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?folderType=MB&nav=messages&webtag=ws-books&redirCnt=1

  44. The first thing I noticed about memoirs is that I never finished one. They’re too long. People hate when you talk about yourself

    I came up with the idea of the memoirvella, a 50K or so memoir. My two old agents said publishers wouldn’t even consider it

    I sell over 300 a month now, and I’m just getting warmed up. 🙂

    • Joe Pote says:

      I think it depends on the memoir and how it is written.

      Memoirs in general, yes, tend to lose my interest.

      But a memoir that reads more like a collection of short stories, except are real-life experiences?

      Those I can’t put down!

    • Jill says:

      Memoirs are very popular, though. I read them avidly, regardless of length, not because the authors are talking about themselves, but because they’re filtering life and observing the world through their experiences. If a shorter memoir is succeeding in giving new insight into the world, then it will work. But I have to say, when I enjoy being inside somebody’s mind, I don’t want the work to end. If it’s working for you, though, carry one. You might have to publish a sequel.

    • A member of my book club refers to memoirs as legal voyeurism. Makes me giggle.

  45. David Todd says:

    I thought In the Shadow of the Ark by Ann Provoost was quite unique, and a good read. It’s not true to the Bible fiction, but it’s a good read, from a unique POV.

  46. The Dovekeepers, Hand Me Down World, The Language of Flowers, Into the Free, Turn of Mind, Every Last One, Outside the Lines (aptly named for this post) all in the past few months.

    Cheers to pressing on. Doing just that. And having some fun planning where my launch party will be someday (soon) 😉

    ~ Wendy

  47. CG Blake says:

    Meant to write, it is possible. Darn iPhone again. Sorry.

  48. CG Blake says:

    The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was an unusual premise built around a fantastic, magical world. The setting was its strongest feature. Morgenstern’s skill at creating a vivid and detailed world impressed me, especially considering this was a debut novel. Someone else mentioned The Time Traveler’s Wife and I would agree. The non-linear plot is risky, but Audrey Niffenegger really pulled it off. I agree, Rachelle, it is possid to break in with a non-formula boom but the premise must be original and the writing must be of a superior quality to get noticed.

    • Allison Duke says:

      I’m reading The Night Circus right now and you’re right, the setting is amazing. The writing and structure are also what I think of as edgy and original. Non-linear, switching tenses, seemingly unrelated plot threads. I’m fascinated by it because I could never write like that, and I’m very interested to see how it all works together through the rest of the book.

    • Nancy says:

      Totally agree. I thought this was such a nice deviation from the other books I’ve read lately. Beautifully original. I can’t remember the last time an author put settings and images in my head that I had never remotely imagined or seen.

  49. So true. It’s time to stop and complaining and write. Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver is the last one I remember. Sometimes those unique and original books are just downright disturbing. Thank goodness – we need to be disturbed in order to do the real thinking and creating.

  50. Timothy Fish says:

    Books would be boring if there weren’t some originality, but as a reader, I’m not looking for much originality. I want the gumshoe to solve the crime. I want the knight to save the princess. I want Prince Charming to find Cinderella. I want enemies to become friends. I want Aladdin to realize he is better off without the Genie. I want the yellow brick road to lead to Kansas. In all their variations, I just want the same old stories we’ve been telling for thousands of years. Put them in a different setting. Make the goals and the cause different. But keep telling the same stories.

    • Joe Pote says:

      For light entertainment reading, I agree with you, Timothy.

      However, I also love finding a book or poem that causes me to see things from a completely new perspective! Those are the books I really remember, come back to, and recommend to others.

      • Timothy Fish says:

        I would argue that the heavier the story the more we need it to follow tried and true. The wellknown plots are like the framework on which we hang the story. A heavy story needs a good sturdy frame or it will collapse. Since the reader has a good idea of where the story is headed, they have more time to consider the weightier issues.

        • Joe Pote says:

          Argue all you want…your arguments have no influence on my personal preferences.

          Which is the really cool part about basing an argument solely on personal preferences! 😉

          No, seriously, you make a very valid point. Communication is greatly eased by the use of familiar story plots.

          However, real life does not follow conventional story plots, nor is creativity limited by them.

          Sometimes an unconventional plot can be a powerful form of communication…if done well. But it is not easy to do well…and tends to fall really flat when done poorly…

          • Timothy Fish says:

            That depends on how you look at it. The traditional plots are all based on real life. As storytellers tried to find ways to relay information most effectively, they naturally discovered them. The only reason we can say that real life doesn’t follow a traditional plot is that we begin the story in the wrong place, end the story in the wrong place, or leave something out. Or we may even put something into the story that shouldn’t be there.

            Even the outline of the history of the world follows the natural storytelling pattern. God created a world that rejected him. He sent his son into the world to redeem it. The world would not accept his son. Soon, his son will destroy the sinners and rule the world. That is not unlike a good knight’s tale. A king is having trouble with a neighboring kingdom. The king tries to make peace. The other kingdom rejects the peace treaty and attacks. Our hero leads the charge to drive the enemy back across the border. But it is also not unlike a romance novel or any other well written story.

  51. Patrick –and Mark–Yes, genuine originality is not often in the quick read. Writing voice, like the singing voice, is originality’s intangible, essential element. An original book stays with you, expresses something you’ve always felt but couldn’t put into words, observes something old in a new way, deepening your understanding of the world. And so on!

    Vijay Balakrishnan’s Peace, Inc. is original not just because it dares to take on the aftermath of 9/11, but because it does so fearlessly, owning up to the fact that human beings, even after a tragedy, are still out for themselves. Yet….It’s a very tender book despite its snarkiness. That’s originality.

  52. Amber says:

    It’s true that original books get published. As a reader I delight in them. But… (you saw that coming, right?) …

    The issue isn’t that there’s no room for originality, it’s that there’s little room. If we say: write the book SO GOOD that they will ignore its deviations, then that implies there is something to overcome. If you stick to formula, then your writing is good enough. If you want to be original then it’s not, work harder, persevere longer. No debut author has reached their full capacity as a writer. We all go from bad to good as we practice and study the craft. Somewhere along the way someone decides it’s good enough to start publishing, but that mark is farther along, the farther you stray from conventions. In my case, I thought my work was too original/unconventional/controversial because I was told so. Before you’ve signed with an agent, feedback is hard to come by. And yet almost every piece was similar: great writing but edgy… too edgy. Love your style so definitely send me your next book. Yes, if they had loved it enough it wouldn’t have mattered but then again, if I trust the feedback, if I shopped a conventional book with my then-current skill level, they’d have signed it.

    • Amber, that is a real dilemma. I feel for you! If you read my other comment, here’s an addendum. Balakrishnan self-published his book, and my hunch is that it took on too many sacred cows: too controversial. I don’t know for sure, but readability and writing quality could not have been the issue.

      • Amber says:

        Yeah, it can take more skill to pull off a controversial topic. So, I’m not really saying the agents are wrong, but the effect for the author is the same.

  53. Laura Best says:

    I recently read, “The Underneath” by Kathi Appelt. I wasn’t sure I would like it in the beginning, but it was excellent.

  54. Publishers are always looking for original genius, but they still publish the modern equivalent of ‘penny dreadfuls’. If you aspire to Great Literature, then you have to make your readers say “Wow!”. In genre fiction, all you need is “Yeah, that was fun.”

    Also, just possibly, and despite what your mother says, you might not actually be a genius.

    • Kate Coursey says:

      Wow….who said genre fiction can’t be Great Literature? Some of the best books I’ve ever read have been genre fiction. Just because something’s “literary”, doesn’t make it better than a fantasy or alternate history story.

  55. Mark says:

    Originality certainly seems to remain important for publishers and agents from what I see.

    You mention readability though and I think this is an issue. The idea that a great book should be the most ‘readable’ is not necessarily true. Some of my favourite books were a real slog while reading them.

    Dosteyvsky for example a great writer but a good deal of his prose is not ‘readable’ – at least for me. Nonetheless his novels have the greatest of staying power.

    I think there may be too much emphasis on looking for writing that is easily digestible from the first page rather than looking at the entire novel and its lasting impression.

    • I’m with you on that, Mark. I’m a big fan of classics that make you keep plowing through, until you reach that satisfying end. Those books are the ones that stick with me forever–and though some modern books have done that, they’re few and far between. Modern books have to be a much faster read, less multi-layered and less verbose.

  56. PurpleMist says:

    I read Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and thought it was pretty unique.

  57. Lorelei says:

    I’ve been reading a lot of David Foster Wallace recently. I believe he pretty much took the creativity crown, ran away with it, and disappeared.

  58. W.G. May says:

    The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

  59. “The Quantum Thief” by Hannu Rajaniemi is my pick. It’s a brilliant blend of sci-fi and crime mystery.

    Question for the crowd- What Christian steampunk books would you recommend?

    • Oooooo, good question. My 23-year-old daughter has a WIP, as does my 27 year old writing friend. Have you any good stuff?

      • Cherry, please let me know when they release them!
        As far as my having any, the answer is not yet. The second trilogy of the Angel Blood series was planned to be, but I never got a nibble on the first book, so I’ve only written two of the first trilogy in between other projects.
        Speculative eschatology makes an awesome backdrop for steampunk, IMHO.

        • “Speculative eschatology makes an awesome backdrop for steampunk, IMHO.” How so? Since steampunk is post apocalyptic, is the field wide open? Or not even available to Christians?
          Both the young women I mentioned are solid postmodern Christians. Andrea (my daughter) writes noble character and issue filled Steampunk (think FOTR or Narnia). Heather (my 27 year old friend and English teacher) wrote a marvelously entertaining piece for nanowrimo – the key characters had sort of charismatic fantasy conjuring gifts.

          • Steampunk isn’t necessarily post-apocalyptic! Most of what I’ve seen is alternate history or straight fantasy. Even if a story were “post-apocalyptic”, I don’t think it would necessarily be off-limits for Christians, either; post-apocalyptic, in my mind, doesn’t have to mean after a literal end of the world, but just after some major disaster/war/etc. that has reshaped life as we know it into something more dire and rugged and bleak.

          • In speculative eschatology, a writer can create all sorts of “seven year” models. I’m not a fan of the theology behind what Tim LeHaye put out in the “Left Behind” series, but the books were entertaining as pure fantasy. (I’ll back that “theology” comment up if need be, but not here on Rachelle’s blog. 🙂 )

            Imagine a Mad Max sort of world in a seven year tribulation setting. That’s what I mean by speculative eschatology making a good backdrop.–The world is under the evil Maja Paja’s control. His machines of destruction guard the Pentagon, now a prison for believers. A post-rapture crew must infiltrate the prison and battle androids with particle weapons to rescue their captured leader, Pastor Joel.
            I’m making this up as I go, but hopefully I’m demonstrating what I mean.

            Anyway,I think a good seven years of insanity are a good backdrop.

            Speculative Eschatology- Guessing what the end times will be like (e.g. Dallas Theological Seminary)

    • I mentioned my cookbook, right?

      Specula tiveial eschoatolig….

      My book was about chicken.

  60. I’m reading a vampire story called Nightfire that I think is pretty original, told from a female vamp first person, present tense point-of-view.

    • Ruth says:

      Sunshine by Robin McKinley is another example of vampire books that really make you think! That vampire does not sparkle AT ALL.

  61. I loved The Book Thief.

    • Sue Harrison says:

      Another vote for The Book Thief!

    • That’s the one I was going to mention! I’m listening to it right now. LOVE!

    • Joe Pote says:

      I haven’t read it…but if this many people give it positive feedabck on a blog dedicated to writers, then I guess I better donwload a copy! 😉

      Thanks!

    • Darci Cole says:

      Interesting that so many people put this one. I found the writing itself amazing, but the story just hasn’t drawn me in. I find myself wanting to put it down to do something else because I’m getting bored. :-/ I’ve been trying to read it for weeks now and I’m not even halfway through.

      A book I read recently that was definitely a genre mix was “Dearly, Departed” by Lia Habel. I read it a couple of months ago and I STILL think about it so much that I want to go read it again! Her second book is coming out in September and I’m so excited for it.

      • I wasn’t bored with The Book Thief, but didn’t like it. I can’t really remember why now. I think I found it depressing. I always feel a like a dullard when people rave about it. (And when they rave about Peace Like a River and Gilead) So I’m glad to find someone else who wasn’t enchanted by it.

  62. Doron Meir says:

    Good advice! I think there’s also the issue of what it means to be original. Some people seem to think it means breaking conventions; to me, that’s a very crude form of originality. A more subtle way is to just be a free thinker and let your unique personality go into everything you do. That’s the kind of originality people are really looking for. I wrote about it here:
    Of Pirates and Freshness

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      I wholeheartedly agree with your observation, Doron. We see all too many books that gratuitously “push the envelope” in what you called a crude form of originality.

      It’s more complex than that. Subtlety requires a highly developed artistic skill. We all recognize it when we see it. Making it happen is much more challenging.

  63. Charise says:

    It’s not necessarily recently published but I thought “Dear American Airlines” was pretty original. I thought of it when you said it would be hard to explain, but worth recommending.

  64. I don’t know about ‘lately’, but I still love The Time Traveller’s Wife for it’s unique structure… or perhaps that’s better said “mind-bending timeline”. I don’t know how she did it, but Audrey Neffeneger is my hero.

    Ransom Riggs’ “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” had the unique bent of added photographs. It was definitely a unique read, though one that didn’t pull me in quite as effectively.

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