Back in the 1990s, there was a diesel mechanic in Portland who liked to go home and write disturbing novels. His small writer’s group told him he was good enough to get published, so he polished off his first novel, and searched for a publisher. The response was the same every time: This book’s too disturbing to publish.
Our heroic diesel mechanic did the opposite of what you’d expect. He rolled up his sleeves and started a new book. This one, he swore, would be even more disturbing than his first. It’d be so violent and filthy that it’d stick out like a steaming turd on top of the publisher’s slush pile. You might not like steaming turds, he reasoned, but you certainly don’t forget them.
The strategy worked.
The book got published in 1996 as Fight Club. The mechanic was Chuck Palahniuk.
More different, not less
Chuck Palahniuk’s proof that our goal as writers isn’t to become more like the authors on bestseller lists – it’s to become less like them. If there’s nothing unique about your story, it’s going to remain buried in the slush pile.
Strive to make your writing more unique, more creative, more memorable. It’s the only way you stand a chance of getting published.
Realize, though, that you’re going to have your detractors. I call them “anti-fans.” People who find your writing so repulsive, that they take the time to send you hate mail. If you have zero anti-fans, I’d wager you don’t have any actual fans either. That means you’re not taking enough risks in your writing.
Put another way:
If your manuscript doesn’t get any negative feedback, it won’t get any incredible feedback either.
And, if your writing doesn’t get incredible feedback it’s not going to get published. If it does get published, it’s going to languish on shelves and/or be that sad book on Amazon that has two reviews.
Determine what it is that makes you a unique writer. Then, find ways to push that boundary further. Make yourself so memorable that you can’t be forgotten. It’s how you won’t end up with readers, but die-hard fans – the kind of people who get quotes from your book tattooed on the tender parts of their arms.
Numerous fans of Fight Club have done exactly that:
If Chuck Palahniuk had done what his publishers wanted, he’d probably still be a mechanic – not one of America’s most original (and controversial) writers.