A writer who has just begun brainstorming a novel wrote to me today. He had an idea for a book, but while doing some research discovered that it had already been written. What should he do? Write it anyway, or look for a new idea?
This is a complex question. I have another friend who recently wrote a novel in the same genre and sent it to an agent. The agent said, “We’re seeing a lot of post-apocalyptic teen fantasies right now, and it seems that every publisher is over-stocked.” Even though the authors are doing good work, he just didn’t feel that it was a standout novel.
The question becomes, “Just because the market seems saturated right now, should I avoid writing this kind of thing?”
Years ago I was walking through a museum in London, in something of a daze, admiring paintings of fat lords and ladies from the renaissance. The subject matter was very much the same from painting to painting, and they seemed to blend into one another. Then I rounded a corner and saw a similar painting—the same subject matter, an elderly lord—but it took my breath away.
The artist, it turned out, was Rembrandt. He’d taken the same old subject matter and elevated it to new levels. There was something in his use of color and light, the definition in the paintings, and his ability to capture the inner soul of the subject that said, “This is better than all that you’ve seen.”
Does the fact that the market is glutted with a certain type of books mean that you shouldn’t write that kind of book?
I don’t think so. I think that it means that you just have to find a way to do it better than others have done. Look for some cool new concepts that other writers haven’t used before. Write it more deeply, more powerfully. Speak to an audience better than other writers have done. Figure out what your own gifts and talents are, and use them to the best of your ability.
Guess what? The market is always glutted. That’s not an excuse.
Many years ago, when I was a teenager, I began writing my first novel—a story about a boy who goes to a high school for wizards. Years later, while I was writing Star Wars books for Scholastic, the managing editor there asked me to look at some books and help her choose one to push big for next year. I picked a book called Harry Potter—the story of a boy who of course goes to a school for wizards. Sure, I’d seen that kind of thing done before, and I’d even written it myself. In a sense, the market seemed glutted. But Rowling did it better than anyone else, and now people like to say she’s richer than the queen.
Quality always sells.
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