Should Writers be Unique or Write to Sell?

This morning on bookstagram, a fellow bookstagrammer posted about their weekend read. It was a story about a teenage girl who is sick and so prevents many people from getting near her. But, surprise surprise, she enters a relationship with a boy and has to find a way to let people in. The book’s title? “Sick Kids in Love.” It doesn’t even try to be creative. That’s like a vampire novel calling itself The Sparkly Vampire Meets the Awkward Loner. (Not that it’s fair for me to criticize a book without reading it, but by the summary alone, which I often use to decide whether I want to read something, I’d be letting this one go.)

It was the same thing with vampires back when I was younger. Our local library’s YA section was so saturated with vampire books–I’d say that was 50% of the book selection– that I got sick of going to the library and went to Barnes and Noble a lot more. (Of course that could just be a slight on my local library, but still.) I think it goes without saying that not every teenager wants to read the same thing. Perhaps that library was trying to make reading “cool” by being super-trendy. But there was nothing for me there. I personally don’t want to read the same story over and over again, nor do I want to pay money to do so. Yes, I do like psychological thrillers featuring obsessive love, but the books still need to do something different to keep my interest. I’m even tiring of the Netflix versions of these because the same cliches keep popping up. What I do appreciate is when a thriller tries something new.

So what can writers do if they do have legitimate interest in writing something that’s seen a lot? Do something new, even if slightly. I took a copywriting course recently, and one technique that advertisers can do to enhance their brand’s message is finding a unique selling point. Meaning, if you want to write another book about sick kids, for example, add something that hasn’t been done yet. Some ideas might include characters being cousins who hate each other, having it be a thriller where the guy isn’t who he seems and may have something more sinister going on, adding a racial/cultural conflict, etc.

Is their risk in doing something new? Sure. But you’d be hard pressed to find me, or many readers, complaining about actually doing something different. In my reviews, even if I don’t like the way something is done, I will almost always applaud seeing something different. Every time I see a character have a good relationship with their father, I want to jump up and down, because it’s so weirdly rare these days. Who knows? Writers may start the next popular trend.

Ultimately, writers should write what makes them happy. If they enjoy writing what they create, chances are it will be a good story. And if something is popular, there will probably be an audience for it. But I think, too, that creativity is important, and that writers shouldn’t hesitate to break new ground. People will eventually get tired of hearing the same narrative over and over. If they’re ultimately doing it for the money, they may do better, and be happier, finding a different career path, as it’s so hard to make a career from it to begin with.

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