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Originality and Freshness

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Jonathan Lyons has an interesting post about fresh and original ideas over at his blog. He makes some worthwhile points that all aspiring authors should remember.

“I read hundreds of published books a year, hundreds of manuscripts, hundreds of partials, and thousands of queries,” Lyons writes. “I also read numerous book reviews and have conversations with authors and colleagues about books each week.” This is something would-be writers should all remember. You may think you’re a pretty avid reader. You may think you keep up with the trends. But you don’t follow publishing as a job. Hell, I blog about publishing but even I don’t follow it like an agent or editor.

Too often, naive writers pitch agents by proclaiming, “I have an entirely original idea that’s never been seen before in publishing! It’s about a boy wizard who goes to a school for magic and who plays a game in the air.” So if you find yourself bragging about the complete originality of your work in a query letter, be careful. It may be new to you. But it may not be new to a professional.

“This problem seems to arise the most when it comes to memoirs,” Lyons continues. “Since the individual has lived the life they’re describing, the story will of course feel original to them. They might also feel that the book can be a support for other people who have suffered the same problem.” This is another thing I face a lot with people who approach me seeking advice on publishing. It’s heartbreaking some times. Kind-hearted people who have experienced so much tragedy and so much turmoil invariably say “I have to tell the world my story so others can benefit.” And although I agree with them about the nature of their life, I know it’s going to be tough to convince an agent or editor that the world needs yet another recovery memoir.

“So when I receive a query, more likely than not I’ll have been pitched or read a similar book in the past,” Lyons writes. “The query should convey both in the style and substance something new, something that jumps off the page. Easier said than done, I know.” 

And therein lies the mystery. Some writers just convey the same old things in a new way. Their voice is original or their perspective is skewed or their presentation is novel. It’s not enough to have a great idea or to have lived a great life. It has to be conveyed in an original way.