Monday, January 12, 2015

Lessons From American Idol

Okay, I've often wondered what a reality TV show would look like for writers. Can you imagine standing on stage while someone reads part of your manuscript and then proceeds to criticize you? I get that it's not the same as singing or cooking, but dude.


I watch a lot of reality TV, and I love it. But I think those poor people! every time. Getting torn apart on national airwaves. #notmycupoftea

Anyway, I was watching American Idol last week, and Keith Urban said something that I think can apply to anyone in a competitive industry. (I also just watched Black Swan for the first time, and wow. But that's another blog post for another day.)

He said, "You're up against a lot of talented singers. So it's about making sure you find something to stand out."

I think that applies so well to writing too. With the hundreds of thousands of books being published, both in the traditional and Indie markets, we're up against a lot of talented writers. It's a matter of writing something that will stand out.

The problem is knowing what that is. Making it align with your passion. And probably forty thousand other things.

I know, because I wrote a time travel thriller that I really love. (And time travel is extremely hard to write and like afterward!) I signed with an agent for it. She couldn't sell it. We broke up. I gave it to another agent, who loved it. But, and I quote, "I can't sell this in 2015. It's not what editors want."

So we're up against a lot of talented authors, and we need to not only find something to make our work stand out, but it has to be the right kind of work. I used to think that good writing and fabulous storytelling would win out. But I have a good book with fabulous storytelling, and I can't sell it.

Just like there are a lot of great singers on American Idol that don't become superstars. It's a good lesson to learn, and I'm glad I don't have to do it on live television.

Any lessons you've learned in random places? Bits of inspiration from a commercial or something? 

Lay it on me.


Dianne K. Salerni said...

Oddly enough, you have to stand out, but you also have to have a place in the market. I had a manuscript on sub in 2014, and I know there's nothing out there like it. But not only did I have no takers, I didn't even get any "no's." Total radio silence. My agent and I assume that none of the editors she sent it to even read it. The only feedback we ever got was from an editor who had it exclusively before it went on general submission, and she passed because her publisher didn't know how to market it.

So the lesson is: Stand out, but do it in an established (but not saturated) market. Piece of cake, right? ;)

Angela Brown said...

I have a story I'll be self-publishing soon because as much as I've gotten interest in it, it's a fairy tale mash up. Those interested aren't interested enough because of the market and others just aren't interested in it since it's MG. Finding that right balance at the right moment and meeting the perfect alignment of all the planets at the same time is a tough thing to do, but Urban's advice is right. We have to stand out. Now, just HOW to do that is the ever changing formula that works for some and doesn't work for others.

At least bacon is there to bring a smile.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

This is a thought-provoking post for sure. It's a good reminder, though, to write the story you want to tell, no matter what is hot out there for now. I would hang onto that time travel book and write something else while you wait. What goes around comes around again and you'll be ready with a good manuscript when time travel is back in.
Also, I would look into small presses. Sometimes they will publish books the big box publishers won't, because the bbp's are so into competition with each other.

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

No time travel? Now THAT would be refreshing! Sheesh. I'm getting very tired of the same-old, same-old YA fantasy.
I'm sorry, Elana. Are you going to self-pub? What does your new agent suggest?

Stephsco said...

I've moved on from American Idol, but I used to watch. I cringed when singers who couldn't take criticism whined, threw fits, and promised they judges "you'll see, I'm going to be famous!" *sigh*

That's good advice for the rest of us too since we can believe our manuscript should be a bestseller, and it sucks when anyone says, "Um, hold up here."

These publishing trends will drive you crazy. I've spent a few months trying to figure out why/how something I wrote cant fit in the market. It's just so hard to predict. By the time you finish something, the trend could be over. I have a writer friend who was told by a pub that such and such trend was over, and I wondered, why didn't I see it? I read a lot of YA and watch the market, and this supposed trend did not seem obvious to me at all. Huh.

i'm erin. said...

Now I feel like sludge. But on the flip side, I thought you had great insight. I just question my own ability to write something amazing.

i'm erin. said...

Now I feel like sludge. But on the flip side, I thought you had great insight. I just question my own ability to write something amazing.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, again, Elena, thanks for stopping by my blog and thanks for the follow.

Emily R. King said...

Ouch. Yeah, I wince too (though usually it's while watching Top Chef). It is important to stand out, and according to an editor pannel I listened to the best way to do that is to BE YOU. :)

Tammy Theriault said...

Omg this is hilarious to me because I watch American iDol and if Simon was still there we would be in a world of hurt!!!

Stephen Tremp said...

All the time. But I've found I don;t necessarily have to be better than the best, I just able to compete and hang with them. If you are really darn good at a number of things but not great, then good enough is good enough. People will notice.

Bish Denham said...

Maybe if an agent can't sell it it's time to think about self-publishing it. Just because main-stream publishing doesn't want, doesn't people won't read it.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

It's about that little something extra that makes our work shine. And it's hard to do sometimes. "Fresh" is not as easy as it looks.

K. L. Hallam said...

True, oh, so very true. Many great writers, and singers, and artists --and whew. Exhausting to think of how much talent is all around us. :)

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