I'm posting this for our newest member, Flo. You go, Flo!
Way back in the 1990's, after the publisher of my first two historical romances was shut down, I had some rejections. I then started getting this strong urge (writer's instinct) to research and write a proposal set in England. My agent then thought I should stick to American-based settings, which were hot at the time, not English. My gut instinct told me to send that proposal out on my own, but I failed to follow it. Instead, I turned my focus to reading and writing category romance. Historical romances dropped off my personal radar until ten months later, when I visited a book store and suddenly noticed that almost every single release was English, Scottish, or Medieval based.
Was I psychic? Was this a coincidence? Nope. I think what happened was that my writer's instinct, well honed by years of following and studying the market, had kicked in.
A while after the above event, when a different, equally talented agent I had didn't want to represent one of my category romance proposals, I submitted it on my own. Even later, when a third agent in a contest didn't care for my pitch on a different book, I wrote it anyway and submitted it. These were ideas that my instincts told me were different enough and that kept me excited through the writing. Both books sold.
So if your intuition tells you to write something for a long enough time, there might be a good reason. Possibly, the emotion in that idea is holding you captive, and it could well do the same to an editor. Or the idea is innovative, or fresh enough to sell, even if the trend is almost washed away.
How do you hone these instincts?
Studying your genre or targeted publisher with an intense focus is one way. I don't mean just reading, I mean intensely reading and studying. For the three months before I started writing a category romance, I read fifty-two of them. That gave me an instinctive feel, I believe, for the rhythms of category writing and for how each of my targeted lines differed, as well as what plot lines were fresh, underdone, or not used yet. Ditto on the Inspirational romance market.
Not only read, though. When I finished a book, I would jot down the title, release date and author, and what I strongly liked about it, and what I really didn't like in it. If I had only a lukewarm reaction to some part of the book, I did not note it. The idea with these notes is to see what elicits strong reactions, good and bad, to help hone your instincts about what makes an appealing book so it will sell.
Another way of getting an instinct for possible market changes is reading writers' emails in loops to see what plot lines they are working on. When I was a writing instructor for a correspondence course in the 1990's, I critiqued many, many proposals from all across the country. I received a lot of the following plot line: a woman, hurt by her husband or long time boyfriend, starts all over again. I spent a lot of time telling students these were not category romance and back when this was going on, there wasn't a huge market for these books. But then, not too long afterwards, the chick-lit and women's fiction waves hit. The market for my students' proposals opened wide. I've heard about this "idea plain" in the sky that drops ideas, but I think what people write might more reflect current news and trends in society (at least in contemporary fiction.) The eighties and nineties were a time of marriages falling apart in greater numbers, and these stories were begging to be told.
So watch news and documentaries to see if some subject makes your mouth drop open or arouses your emotions--if it grabs you, it might grab an editor. If watching true crime shows on lost children makes you understand or see a pattern in kidnapings , that revelation could become a hook. My February book started after I saw a brutal murderer who was set free from lack of evidence. Later, they found the unarguable evidence that he was guilty--and could not arrest him for it again. That whole episode just wouldn't let go of me.
So how about you? Have you ever just felt with all your heart that your proposal is something you just have to get out there? Is there an idea niggling at you that won't let go, but it seems crazy to try it, based on what you know about today's market or on your own abilities? (Try it anyway.)
Or does the whole idea of writers' instincts make your head explode? Maybe you call it something else? Do you have other suggestions for honing your writer's instincts when it comes to creativity?