Thursday, January 07, 2010

Take a Risk—Stay True to Your Voice by Jennifer Stanley

Jennifer Stanley
Stirring Up Strife
Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur
Pub date: January 2010
Agent: Jessica Faust

(Click to Buy)

Author Web/Blog links:;

You’re ready to write a novel. You’ve outlined all twenty-three chapters and plan to write about vampires in a fresh, exciting, and bound-to-be-profitable way. Soon, Twilight fans will have a new obsession and you’ll be raking in the profits from the bestselling novels, movie rights, and merchandising.

Or not. In fact, the rejections of the proposal it took you six months to create have cited something “missing” in your voice. How could that be? You penned a supernatural love affair for the ages! It should be sent straight to the most powerful editors, not to the slush pile!

Don’t despair.

I’ve been there too. I’ve written more than one less-than-stellar proposal, believe me. Back when chick lit was all the rage and any book resembling a Sex in the City episode flew off the shelf, I decided to pen a chick lit-style mystery. My agent (the fabulous Jessica Faust of BookEnds) regretfully informed me that my voice wasn’t working. She was right. My attempts to form a plot focusing on cocktails, high fashion, and one-night stands fell flat. Road kill flat.

The book wasn’t me. Chick lit was selling, but I couldn’t write it. These days, vampires are hot, but I can’t write them either.

Then what do we do, fellow writers, when we can’t put our spin on what’s already selling? We color our voice with personal experience.

If an experience can move you, then it can move your readers as well. Case in point: I’d returned to church after a twenty-year hiatus and, inwardly kicking and screaming, joined a monthly Bible Study group. Taking this risk changed me. The people in the group changed me. I assumed they’d be a bunch of stuffy, judgmental, humorless, blue-haired Republicans and, except for the Republican part, I was completely wrong. They were flawed, funny, courageously honest, generous, beautiful, and wise. I’d never laughed so freely or cried so openly as I did in their presence.

I wanted to write about these precious people. I wanted them to solve crimes, to puzzle over obscure clues, to ensure that good triumphed over evil. In the end, I wrote a mystery series about church folk and two major publishing houses offered to buy it. And there wasn’t a single vampire in my proposal. I was in heaven (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Your richest, most believable voice will be born out of dozens of such personal experiences. So don’t get hung up on Carrie Bradshaw or Bella Swan or whatever the next trend may be. After all, you don’t want to ride a trend; you want to start one. Forget what you think people are looking for and write your story. Your voice will outshine even the glitteriest vampire.

Jennifer’s new release, Stirring Up Strife, is published by St. Martin’s Press.

Available at your local bookstore or, Barnes & Noble, Borders. To contact the author please visit


lynnrush said...

Thanks for this post. Most encouraging. Loved hearing your story, and your humor made me smile.

Kate Douglas said...

Boy, does your post ever strike a note! I've made no secret of the fact it took me twenty years to sell a book to a NY pub, and it didn't happen until I quit trying to write what I thought NY wanted. When I finally gave up, and started writing a fun and sexy serial for an online publisher--stories that flowed naturally in my own voice and without any goal rather than to have fun with my characters--I got the NY contract and the success I'd given up on.

Of course it wouldn't have happened without Jessica, but she recognized what I'd been searching for all along--the fact I'd finally found my voice as a writer. It seems so obvious to me now, but it comes down to writing honestly, to believing in your characters, your story and yourself. What you've written, Jennifer, is probably the most important advice any writer can ever hear. Congratulations on your new release!

Bernita said...

Just....thank you.

Aimless Writer said...

Very inspiring! Thank you so much for this wonderful post. I think sometimes writers need to be reminded not to give up.
Rejections can be hard but they are just another notch in our belts.

Dawn Maria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joyce said...

Wonderful post! Thanks for telling your story.

Kimber An said...

It helps to off your muse and let your characters run roughshod over your imagination.

Oh, sure, my eyeballs spin around in my head once in a while.

However, I am incapable of writing anything not in my voice.

Too much like high school English papers and being forced to write about a book someone else wrote which I couldn't care less about.

Donna Lea Simpson said...

Great post!! And right what I need to hear and believe right now.

As a career novelist I've often taken trends and warped them to suit me, and I've made it work, but I really need to be true to what I want.

Thanks, Jennifer!

Judy Schneider said...

Thanks for the insightful post, Jennifer! I keep telling myself I'd love to turn my work-in-progress, a mystery, into a thriller (to make it more marketable??), but I'm simply not a thriller writer. Thanks for the vote of confidence -- a mystery it is!

And as an at-first reluctant Bible study participant myself, I'm off to buy a copy of Stirring Up Strife right now!

Thanks again!

Judy Schneider

Mira said...

Terrific post - thank you!

I agreed with every word. Right on target and inspiring to boot. I loved this line:

"After all, you don’t want to ride a trend; you want to start one."

Right on!

Thanks - congrats and best wishes on your new release!

Lydia Sharp said...

Thank you for this! Just what I needed to see right now.

Alli said...

Jennifer, congrats on your book - it sounds fabulous. And thank you, thank you, thank you for writing the words I needed to remember. After two "written to market" manuscripts under my belt I finally wrote the "book of my heart" and have started sending out queries this week. Two rejections already. But I truly believe in this book, the characters and the story and will not give up until I've exhausted every avenue. And I've started on the second book of my heart to cope with the waiting. Thanks for a great post and reminding us why it's so important to be ourselves. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Lovely post, JB. And encouraging, however, what should a writer do when agents and publishers say their voice is PERFECT for a certain genre that the writer loves writing above all others, yet those same agents and publishers tell them the genre isn't selling.

What then? Does the writer continue to write and store those books in their writer's hope chest in hopes that they'll live long enough for the genre to start selling again?

Alas, researching and writing vampires seems less heartbreaking.

Robena Grant said...

Thanks for the wise words, Jennifer. Congratulations on your new book coming out, and may you have many sales.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:56. I hear you. I wrote a novel in one of those "not selling" genres and ended up going with a smaller not-for-profit publisher. The book isn't a bestseller, but it's gotten rave reviews and is making its way onto college reading lists, where it will be a steady seller for years. If the writing is of high quality but on a niche topic or in a niche genre the book deserves to find its place, and those readers who happen to like unpopular topics and genres are out there looking for you!

Before I started writing fiction, I hosted various radio shows of roots music from around the world, something I still do along with DJ'ing special events. There's no greater thrill for me than finding an obscure album for which I've searched for months or years.

Of course, you're not going to be able to support yourself as a niche author, just as the musicians I promoted also had day jobs, including a manager of a hardware store and a city bus driver. But they were playing the music they loved and their audiences appreciated what they did.

mammydiaries said...

What a great post :)

Kristi said...

What a great post! Thank you for the reminder and encouragement!

Suzan Harden said...

@Anon 10:56

As someone who cut her canine teeth on Bram Stoker and Anne Rice, I beg and plead with writers NOT to write to the paranormal/urban fantasy market just because every "expert" says it's the "hot" market. If you don't love the genre, it shows, and we readers ALWAYS know when a writer's faking it.

The fabulous Kate Douglas is right. It may take longer to get published by writing the book of your heart, but the results will be worth it.

Steph Damore said...

Thanks for the advice and your humorous, yet insightful, voice. Best of luck with your new release.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

Heather Webber said...

Wonderful post, JB.

I have a sign hanging in my office that says Home is where your story begins . This can be deciphered many ways, I suspect, but for me it's exactly what you've said here. It's so important to be true to yourself.

I can't wait to get Stirring up Strife--it's on order.

Guinevere said...

What a wonderful post to read today! I often wonder about how "publishable" my work is because it's never the new hot thing. I don't do magic in my YA, and my chick-lit is a bit dark in its humor. This was comforting... especially since all I can be is me!

jbstanley said...

Thanks to everyone for such complimentary comments.

Good to luck to all of you honing your work and submitting to agents. May 2010 be the year your dreams come true!

Sheila Deeth said...

Thanks. Got another rejection today, so a nice post to read.

Jemi Fraser said...

What a truly lovely, inspiring post! It's so nice to hear of a success story :) Good luck with your book - I'm sure it'll be a great hit!

Jess said...

Great reminder that a writer's voice isn't just how a put a sentence together, but the way they put together plot as well.

"Your voice will outshine even the glitteriest vampire" - priceless!

Renee said...

Wow! I totally get that hiatus, stuffy church-goer thing. I've recently gone back hoping that I'll find flawed people like me too. I'm definitely adding your book to my list.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post!

anon 10:56, I understand. I hear in your words that you don't want to write in a vacuum, just putting manuscripts in a drawer. And really, who does?

So maybe you look to see what books are selling now that have some of the elements of what you're writing. And see how they are able to break through. If no one is selling in that genre, then see how you can open it up, make the story broader. Take what you do well and reinterpret it for today.

Between writing your dream novel and writing to a trend, there is a field of a million possibilities.

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