I’ve been thinking about tropes and clichés in writing quite a bit lately, both because of interesting posts I’ve read and because I’m trying to refine my author ‘brand’ (oh how I hate that term). After three rejections of my latest manuscript, I feel like I’m either not hitting the mark or I’m really going off into the writing wilderness. To be clear, I know I’m not writing the 'auto-buy' norm in my genre, so let’s just go with the idea that I’m avoiding the commonplace and blazing my own path. There, that feels better than just being a failure.
I was browsing at the fabulous Worthington Public Library, http://www.worthingtonlibraries.org/ this afternoon and realized it doesn’t take me long to reject a book and about ten times as long to find one to check out. So I can somewhat understand editors evaluating submissions making the same split-second decisions, but I do believe it’s incumbent on these gatekeepers to not offer up the same old storylines and archetypes time after time because they are missing new markets of people like me who avoid them as soon as I read the back cover. So this one goes out to editors, agents, and publishers everywhere; Lynn Rae’s lists of fiction Turn Ons and Turn Offs, since I know they are so desperate for my business.
As soon as I see these words or phrases I put the book down:
-any title with ‘Duke’ in it
-vampires or were-anythings
-a protagonist younger than twenty-five
-‘hiding a secret’, 'scarred', or 'walled-off'
-any allusion to psychological problems that warrant therapy/pharmaceuticals, not the magic cure all of sex and/or tracking down a serial killer
-made-up names with lots of paired vowels, consonants, and apostrophes. Can’t pronounce them in my head and can’t keep track of the characters as I’m reading
-protagonists having a fabulous career in unbelievable ways; cupcake maker, corporate art consultant, self-employed international terrorism expert, cocktail designer. Just no.
-a child in peril
Now that I’ve revealed my curmudgeon tendencies, I’ll lighten the mood and list the terms and topics that make me pick up a book instantly
-natural history. Give me dinosaurs, giant squid, sharks, fungus, viruses, and the genetic modification of any or all and I’m on board
-protagonists with appropriate amounts of self-awareness and life skills
-accurate depictions of small town life
-natural disasters and pandemics (but not most zombie apocalypses because the science is nearly always bad)
-protagonists who make clothing, art, food, or gardens as hobbies
-books set in places I’ve been, if only for me to see if the author can communicate that setting to me
There. Looking this list over, I can see I hit the reject button on about seventy-five percent of popular fiction. Hmm…does that mean I’m too picky or does it mean there are a lot of similar books on those shelves?