In the past, I've blogged about the importance of writing the stories we want to write, not just following the trends. I do believe this wholeheartedly, but the reality is, will the stories we want to write sell and be enough to capture the interest of a traditional publishing house in today's competitive market? And how much are we willing to compromise the original story in our head to make it sale-able?
I am ensconced in writing my WIP, which is a light, funny, romantic road trip novel. When I talked about it with my agent, reality set in that although the story may be great, it's on the "soft" side, and therefore not what is likely to catch an editor's eye right now. Therefore, if I want to pursue traditionally publishing this, I need to start to think bigger and more out of the box than I previously had been. My funny, sweet story might actually need to have a little more of a Thelma and Louise-esque infusion to make it stand out. Of course, Thelma and Louise has already been done too. So what is a writer to do?
The best place to start is by researching all that have tread this path before you in the same genre and see what got published, who published it, and what made their stories stand out. As an exercise, literally make a list and write down the key point that singles it out from other similar works. Take all that info and set it aside, and then set to work with the really challenging stuff - finding out what you can add to your book that makes it stand out from every single one of those. When you have found that answer, and only then, move forward with your writing. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for some major frustration and hair-pulling revision down the line when you find all your blood sweat and tears may have produced a lovely story that simply can't sell because it doesn't have something unique.
Unique is key, whether you are aiming for traditional publishing or not. If your work doesn't have that something that makes it stand out, you are simply offering readers a story they've heard before. And chances are, it won't even reach your intended audience because an editor will shoot it down long before it ever gets there.
If you are wholeheartedly committed to writing what you want to write regardless of what traditional publishers want, then self-publishing is definitely an option. So many authors have enjoyed great success telling wonderful stories, undergoing their own marketing campaigns and staying true to their words. But at the end of the day, the choice is yours. Obviously, you reach a much wider market potentially with traditional publishing, but it may force you to stretch as a writer in ways you are not comfortable with as well.
I think any opportunity to try something new with our writing is a great thing, but also keep in mind that readers, especially teen ones, can immediately pick up on something that feels inauthentic, so if you are trying something new, make sure you do your research. Read everything you can and study it. Have beta readers you trust look at it for you. I have a writer friend in a similar boat (you know who you are!) and she told me just yesterday that she had to change up some aspects of her story and tread some writing ground she was unfamiliar with, and it was hard and scary, but in the end she knew and agreed that it made for a much better, stronger book with stronger sales potential.