On Learning the Rules and Breaking Them Anyway
First of all, thank you ladies for inviting me over for WOW Wednesday! I'm so excited to be here. :)
As I was sitting here thinking through what I should talk about today, I realized that I spend a lot of time on my blog, Fiction Groupie, talking about rules. Writing rules. Query rules. Critiquing rules. Social Networking rules. We writers are faced with a daunting amount of information on what we should and should not do.
And rules are important. If you send a query and don't follow the agent's submission guidelines, you're going to get a no. If you type up your entire novel without punctuation, you're going to get rejected. And if all you do on Twitter is promote your blog/book/excerpts/whatever, people will run away screaming. Rules are there for a reason.
However, I also think that focusing so much on these rules can also smother some of our creativity and kill a story that may become THE story for you. You know the one that gets you THE agent and THE book deal.
Don't believe me? Well, let me talk a little about my journey thus far.
Why It's Important to Know the Rules...
I started getting serious about writing two years ago. I had always had writing dreams. I even wrote a really, really awful novel when I was in high school. But I'd never really sat down and said--okay, I'm going to do it. So when I had my son and quit my job to stay home with him, I had no more excuses. I had an idea for a YA paranormal romance and decided to give it a shot.
Writing it was a dream. I never got writer's block, the words flowed. I had fun! (And I also had no freaking idea what I was doing.) I didn't know the rules. Didn't know that those oh-so-creative dialogue tags every other sentence and adverb vomit were bad things. Didn't know that my main character was supposed to have some internal motivation and actually move the plot forward instead of things just happening around her. I was in ignorant bliss.
And then I made the mistake almost all of us make--I queried that sucker. Before I ever had anyone read it besides my husband and mother. Before I read any book on craft. Before I perused any writing blogs.
So what happened? I got a few full requests from some great agents. Even Richelle Mead's agent requested the full. I was already picturing my book on the shelf.
Then reality hit. Form rejections came left and right. All fulls and partials were declined with a polite no. One full did get a personalized rejection that kindly told me "you can definitely write and have a good voice" but that the story wasn't different enough from what was out there. She also said for me to feel free to query her with my next project.
That one form rejection gave me hope. A few simple sentences that said--you don't completely suck, but you need work. I could live with that.
So I geared myself up for a mission--I would learn everything I could about craft and about the publishing business and next time would be different. So I started blogging and reading industry blogs. I bought craft books and devoured them. And I found a critique group that wasn't afraid to tell it like it is.
Why It's Okay To Break the Rules Once You Know Them...
And that's when I started breaking rules...on purpose. My crimes? Well, let's see...
Broken Rule #1: Find your genre and then hone your craft within that genre.
Well the next idea that came to me was for a grown-up romance not YA, so I wrote that. (That book is still under consideration at Harlequin.) Then the idea after that was a -gasp- erotic romance, so I wrote that. I followed the muse instead of containing myself in one genre box.
Broken Rule #2: Don't do unconventional things if you're trying to break in, save it for after you're established.
My erotic romance was demanding to be told in a dual timeline format. I.e. One chapter of present then one chapter of past, all through the book. Yes, that means half the story is BACKSTORY--omg, rule-followers everywhere are gaping in horror.
Broken Rule #3: Follow genre conventions.
Well, erotic romance typically means that you have a love scene very early--sometimes the first chapter. These books are sexy and you want readers to know that from the get go. BUT, my story didn't unfold that way. I don't have the first major love scene until a third of the way into the book. Putting my characters in bed before that wouldn't have been right for the story or the characters.
So I broke these rules consciously, knowing that I was taking a risk, but trusting that the story needed to be told a certain way. I hoped that even if I couldn't find an agent with this book or land a NY publishing contract, maybe I could place it with a digital-first publisher who wasn't as worried about unconventional stories. But regardless of where it ended up, I believed in my story and the way I was telling it.
And guess what?
That little story that refused to be told in a conventional way landed me my superfantabulous agent--Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary. And two months after that, we sold the book to Berkley Heat (Penguin) in a two-book deal. My publishing dreams will come true in early 2012 when my book hits the shelves. :)
It's been a wonderful ride and I'm so thankful. But here's what I've learned:
Know the rules inside and out first. Writing without it is wasting your time.
If you break a rule, know WHY you are breaking the rule and make sure it's a good reason.
Don't query your first novel until you have critique partners who are not related to you read it.
Yes, pay attention to the market, but don't stifle your muse. Tell the stories that demand to be told. I never planned to be an erotic romance author. I just wrote the stories that spoke to me.
So what have you learned on your journey? Any other queried-too-soon writers out there like me? What rules have you broken--on purpose or by accident? Which have you wanted to break but were scared to?