Should you write what feels natural … or what you think the agent/publisher wants?

I am throwing this question into the mix as we go into the weekend. Although I am suddenly aware it’s the last Friday of the month and I have been so busy I’ve not had time to think about Fiction Clinic, but we will have it next month. But this question is on my mind for personal reasons and also because of things I’ve heard talked about recently amongst writers.

So I thought I would throw it out there and see what you think?Here it is again: Should you write what feels natural … or what you think the agent/publisher wants?


I write from my heart. I don’t try to be any one thing or the other … apart from good, and that is something we have to keep working on. My short stories tend to feel more literary, some of them, my novels more commercial, but I don’t force it to be something it’s not. I love good literary writing, I love good commercial writing … actually I prefer to think I love good writing full stop and let’s leave the classification to the agents and publishers. But when it comes to seeking that elusive agent or big publisher, where the decision has to be a commercial one … should we forget what the heart says and do what’s expected to get the work out there or stay true to what comes naturally?

In my case I am writing a lot of things set in the US in my novels which is a distinct stumbling block when it comes to representation … but should it be? Because this is something that has come to my attention recently it’s made me look at the current novel that for what it’s worth I am really excited about and feels as if it’s coming along well … I had one of ‘those’ moments yesterday when I thought … yes, this is working. But since writing is like the wind — it changes from day-to-day, what I wrote yesterday might be deleted today … you know what I mean I’m sure. But it is about a US reporter. I had thought about whether she now ought to be a UK reporter but it means changing the story so much, and since voice is the one thing I love the most,  the whole voice would change. So I pose the question… do I write it as it is (60 K in now) or rework it to make it British, but change it (possibly too much) just so it gives me a better chance of getting an agent?

I think I need to stay true to the voice of the novel and what it is now … but it is something to think about.

What do you think?

And on that note I bid you all a fantastic weekend.

:Last day of the Paws Competition! Kids have until midnight ... and I might leave the form on for one extra day (you heard that here first!) LINK

Last day of the Paws Competition! Kids have until midnight … and I might leave the form on for one extra day (you heard that here first!) LINK




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5 responses to “Should you write what feels natural … or what you think the agent/publisher wants?

  1. Don Nixon

    I’d stick with what you’re doing as it is obviously going well. To change voice, locations etc after you have done 60k would be a massive undertaking. It would be much easier with a short story (I’ve done that) depending on the genre. It might be a good point for discussion – is it easier to change voice etc with some genres and sub genres? Is it harder to do with a first person narrator etc.? My own view is that certain markets do impose conditions and you have to accept those limitations if you enter them. With literary fiction however I think you should `follow your heart`.

  2. I would go every time with write what you enjoy reading not what you think is fashionable. As they say fashion comes and goes. By the time you’ve started writing what in fashion, the agents and publishers are looking for the next big thing … So forget about 50 shades and write what you enjoy writing and just hope you will start your own fashion. I’m sure if you were to speak to E.L James or J K Rowlings both of them will tell you they just wrote what they enjoyed writing without any thoughts to whether is was the next bestseller.

  3. Mandy Davies

    I’m sure you’ve considered this but, presumably, you could keep your US reporter and set the story in the UK. That way you can keep the voice that you know and even add something that shows the difference between the two countries. Personally, I would prefer to read that than a novel set entirely in the US with US characters but that’s just mt preference. I guess it would also appeal to agents/publishers both sides of the pond as well as readers in both countries. I’ve been reading Lesley Lokko books over the past year or so and she sets her books in various countries around the world and usually uses several nationalities in the same book. They are undeniably chicklit but with the added issues of e.g civil war in Sierra Leone or life on an army base in Germany. Other writers will clearly know better than me but thought you might like a reader’s perspective. Have a great weekend xxxx

    • Hi Mandy and all for your comments 🙂 Interesting. The novel is set in mostly in Moscow as it happens where the wolf girl is. She could be a UK reporter but then it doesn’t fit with the rest of it. I also worked so hard on developing her voice it needs to be what it is. What agents want, is for me to write in the head of a British protagonist I think but not sure it would work here and would, as Don says need a whole rework to change that. If you do American badly because you’re not American that’s one thing; but I’ve been told, about the JFK one anyway I do it really well. It seems odd a book might be overlooked because the Brit writer is writing American when if I pretended to be American it might not be? Now there’s a thought! But would I have to put on an American accent in interviews … FAIL. Thanks everyone!
      Debz 🙂

  4. Interesting article! I agree with everyone else in that you should not change your novel just to suit a selected group of agents/publishers because they demand it. I would stick to what feels right and focus on polishing it to the highest standard I can achieve. Your perfect publisher is out there, and you will find them.

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