How Breaking Genres Can Help You Get Published

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Agents, publishers, and editors are always looking for “fresh writing.” They want something new. Something they’ve never seen before.

Four years ago, I was just a reader attending college classes for my business degree. I hadn’t written anything other than school papers, but decided I was going to write a book and get it published. Well, pipe dream or not, I wrote that first book, pitched it to publishers, and now it’s sitting on bookshelves in other countries. How?


Column by Brennan S. McPhersonauthor of CAIN (May 2016,
Broadstreet Publishing). Brennan has always wanted to tell stories,
but it wasn’t until his junior year in college that he built up the nerve
to try. Three years later, CAIN, his first novel, was born. Brennan is
privileged to be married to the most amazing woman in the world
(who also happens to be his best friend), and works full-time at a
small non-profit. Visit his website to get the free short e-book prequel,
ADAM, and the first 30 pages of his novel for free.

As you know, there’s a lot that goes into publishing a manuscript. To say that it’s the result of any one decision would be a mistake. But I think it’s safe to say that the biggest part of hooking the publisher was that I tackled a familiar story in a way that smashed the division between several genres.

(Do you need different agents if you write multiple genres?)

Sure, CAIN is biblical fiction. It’s the story of the first murder as recorded in the first book of the Bible. Cain gets mad at Abel and kills him. Simple. Right? But my novelization of the story has serious sci-fi, fantasy, and even horror elements. It doesn’t sit nicely in any particular genre.

The premise: Cain’s decision births a terrible evil, and when that evil threatens to consume him, he sells his soul in exchange for power. Doing so changes him. He must drink blood to survive, and he gains the ability to see (albeit imperfectly) through time. But the evil inside him has plans of its own. Will Cain be able to overcome the child of sin, or will he and his family be crushed in its jaws?

When I pitched the project to the publisher, I had no platform. No background in writing. I didn’t even have an agent. All I had was a proposal and manuscript that I had labored over for three years. But to the publisher, the above premise was intriguing and unique enough to interest them. Of course, everything else had to fall into place after that, but if the story hadn’t stood out as unique to the publisher, I don’t believe I’d be standing where I am today.

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Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “I’m unpublished but I KNOW I’m a great writer!” Maybe you’ve been shopping around a well-written story to agents and publishers, yet still experienced rejection after rejection. Believe me, I understand how extremely discouraging that can be.

But before you start thinking you have no talent as a writer, look to the story itself. Is it unique? I mean really, truly unique? Or are there 100 other books out there with an extremely similar plot or main character? Did you push boundaries? Is it a book that could be a trailblazer for a new sub-genre?

We are artists. And artists have to be fearless. We have to take chances. We can’t be afraid of failure. Because we will fail. That’s inevitable. But “failure” is just a stumbling block we need to turn into a stepping stone.

If we follow in the footsteps of the giants who came before us, we’ll inevitably look small in comparison. How many amazing writers are writing straight thrillers? Now count how many amazing writers are writing Amish, dystopian thrillers. Which one would you shoot for if you wanted the best chance of standing out?

(Do writers need MORE than one literary agent?)

Although blazing our own trail can be risky, it might just be what leads you to the promised land. Be courageous. Take risks. Blaze a new trail. It might just change everything.


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