Monday, January 23, 2012

Be Different! Or The Value of Finding the Unique Angle

I'm a published writer.

I'm writing this post for the beginning writers out there--this one is for you. Maybe you have been trying to secure an agent, or perhaps you've been submitting articles, essays or short stories to magazines. I wish you luck, and I have tremendous respect for you and your tenacity. Believe me...I know what you're going through. It isn't easy to break through and get that first publishing credit.

But it is possible. I know it is, because I'm a published writer--and you can do it if I can. I'm not upset if you are thinking the same thing after reading my blog--in fact I'm hoping you realize that I'm not blessed with any special talent as a writer. I didn't get my first publishing credit because I was a great writer--it came because I came up with a good idea that caught the editor's eye.

My essay (the second essay I'd ever written) was published in the May, 2006 issue of Traverse  magazine, a regional travel magazine covering Northern Michigan. I submitted it to the editor on a Friday, and they bought it the following Monday. Later, I found out that they had rejected over five-hundred essays before choosing mine for publication. Most of the rejected essays were written well, a few of the rejected essays ended up going back into the slush pile for future consideration, but most of them were rejected outright.

Most of those rejected essays did a great job of describing the region--they described the sugar-sand beaches of the Lake Michigan shore, the sun dappled, azure blue water, the fiery glow of a Northern Michigan sunset, or the beauty of the fall foliage, as seen from a log cabin on a hillside overlooking the bay. All of those subjects were covered--multiple times, with every descriptive adjective known to man dressing up the writing. The only problem was that the editorial staff had read it all before--many, many times, and none of those essays stood out because the editors get five hundred of them every month.

My essay was about an abandoned railroad bridge. There was no sugar sand beach, no sun dappled shoreline, no azure blue water in sight anywhere. In fact, the bridge itself was gone, and only the stone abutments marked the spot in the forest where it had stood. I told the story of that bridge. My essay about a lost bridge on an abandoned railroad stood out because it was different--but it also stood out because it told something about the region and the people who once lived there, and the editors were starving for something besides the usual, "My trip to Michigan" essays they received every month.

That's what it took--I didn't know anything about the publishing business at the time, but I'd stumbled onto a basic truth of the writing market. Editors and Agents see the same thing constantly--and your travel essay might be well written, but it doesn't matter if it's the same old thing. The fiction book market is no different. I can only imagine how many vampire novels are pitched to agents every month, and it makes sense that most of them are D.O.A. unless the vampires are different in some way from the rest of the bloodsuckers in the agent's slush pile.

Maybe I should think about writing another novel--one where the handsome vampire (I think I'll call him Edward) lives under an old railroad bridge...near a sugar-sand beach and sun dappled, azure blue water. There's this girl he likes (I'm thinking Bella is a good name for her), and she lives in a log cabin on a hillside near the water, and she goes to the bridge late one afternoon to watch the fiery red sunset....


  1. Good point! Finding a new perspective or fresh angle is so critical to making your writing stand out!

  2. Great post thanks!! A beginner like myself really needs to hear this!!

  3. I have to remind myself of this every time I submit an article.

  4. Love it.

    This post touches on that skill that all good writers need - to notice what others don't. You are a great writer Jeff and don't ever forget it.