Let’s face it – we writers spend a lot of time reading about writing. No matter what genre you favor, chances are you’ve probably read your fair share of articles and interviews with famous authors, eagerly looking for tips from the pros. The odds are also good that you’ve got a few books on the craft of writing sitting in your shelves.
It can be extremely helpful to gain perspective from veteran writers, but as the face of modern publishing changes it’s also worthwhile to learn from new and emerging authors. Though it’s not an exact science, understanding how others in your genre (and beyond) are breaking into this competitive industry can yield some useful pointers.
There are far too many newly acclaimed books and authors to discuss here, but let’s take a look at a few examples in both in fiction and non-fiction. What can you learn from their work? And how can you improve your own writing along the way?
1. Tap into of Culture and Myth
Not long after delving into stories of the Orisha – a pantheon of West African deities – Tomi Adeymi began writing Children of Blood and Bone. Blending vibrant fantasy, ancient lore, and themes of racial prejudice, her work has already earned her a multi-million dollar publishing deal and movie deal. Being dubbed “the next JK Rowling” is no small amount of pressure, but Adeymi welcomes it as an opportunity to address social injustice and broaden the world’s understanding of diverse cultures and myths.
Building on traditional legends and sagas of long-gone eras can help bring your own writing to life. As you root your stories in a culture that’s a bit larger than life, you’ll gain opportunities to contrast the world as people throughout the ages have seen it with how it is now – and how your characters wish it could be. Whether you use specific source material or simply draw inspiration from the lore of your culture, tapping into a larger framework can lend your story more drama and depth.
2. Draw Deeper Connections
David George Haskell is an author who draws from all aspects of his experience. Being a biologist, a practicer of mindfulness, and an environmentally-conscious writer all helps to inform his work. Drawing from a wealth of scientific knowledge and years spent in intimately experiencing nature, he writes in a way that is as sensual as it is scholarly.
Twelve trees are his protagonists in The Songs of Trees, and he describes each in the context of a broader history. An aging olive tree that stands amid ancient Roman constructions, the charcoal remains of an old Scottish hazel tree, and others: Haskell uses all them to weave botany, history, mindfulness, and ecology together.
Drawing connections between different information and ideas within your writing can help you develop a narrative with deeper significance. As you build layers of meaning and insight into your work, you’ll gain a richer backdrop – one that will help your words resonate with readers no matter what story you’re telling or information you’re sharing!
3. Play Into Your Readers’ Fears
Playing into your readers’ anxieties and fears can work well in both fiction and non-fiction. For example, a common concern these days is how modern tech impacts and directs our lives. That topic is fodder for many a dystopian novel, but James Bridle’s The Dark New Age takes a different approach. He taps into social angst to build a framework for serious ruminations on the future of technology.
In an interview with The Verge, Brindle explains how he draws a line between knowledge and personal agency. And although his writing is non-fiction, he describes an appreciation for science fiction works that “home into how little we understand about the world around us right now.”
It’s that fear of things outside their control that can capture your readers’ attention – no matter what genre you are working in. When there’s nothing to fear, there’s not much to do. When a problem is presented, action is required. Once you’ve found a pain point that will tap into your readers’ anxieties, dig down deeper. What (if any) part of their fears is unfounded? What parts are legitimate? And perhaps most importantly, what can be done about it?
4. Approach the Familiar from Unexpected Angles
The topics of fertility, child-bearing, and parenting: they can spark excitement or terror (or cause a mixture of both). Yet Jessie Greengrass steps back from these emotions to draw you into a different view of motherhood. Sight is a tale that The Guardian describes as “hovering between the novel and the essay.” Greengrass weaves a journey that connects personal narrative and art, philosophy and physiology.
Examining ideas and events from different angle can help you establish a unique point of view and make your work more memorable. As you write, identify areas where you can turn seemingly predictable themes on their head. Don’t be afraid to delve into unexpected territory!
An important caveat: readers may appreciate uniqueness, but they won’t enjoy your work if it’s incomprehensible or completely unrelateable. Make sure your writing maintains its own internal logic.
5. Most Importantly: Do the Work
What do all these diverse and emerging authors have in common? They broke into the world of publishing by taking tangible action. Simply put, they wrote! They did the work – and they did what they had to do to get their words in front of the world.
Remember, everyone starts out as a novice. What separates aspiring authors from those who are published is usually a combination of perseverance, effort, and a bit of luck. You might not be able to control every one of those elements, but taking the time to do the work is a reward in its own right.
There’s only so much that dreaming and planning can do. If you want to break through as an author, pen must meet paper (or at least, your fingers must meet the keyboard). Learn from other authors, then take the next step. Get inspired and get going!