Writing and Publishing

How Can a Writer Conform to Industry Expectations and Still Stand Out?

Trying to follow every bit of writing advice can push writers into a no-win situation

I listen to many podcasts, follow blogs, read magazines, attend webinars, and study books so that I can become a better writer. But somedays I wonder if it helps. Somedays my head spins with confusion, and I want to give up—not give up writing but give up trying to figure out the “right” way to do it.

My biggest struggle comes from seeking a balance of the seemingly ironclad, unwavering set of industry expectations with the near-constant plea from agents and editors to submit something unique. How can we rise above all others while doing what everyone else does?

The answer, I am realizing, is that we can’t. And that’s the rub.

Slavishly following today’s “standard writing procedures” makes our work formulaic, predictable, and boring. Yet in breaking from those requirements we run the very likely outcome of rejection for not fitting in. Either way, we lose.

In trying to obey the dictates of publishing experts I have sacrificed my vision, degraded my voice, and sapped my spirit. Yet in going with my instinct I have encountered criticism and rejection. The first is disheartening; the second is discouraging.

I’m now charting a middle ground. Yes, I will still seek to conform, to obey today’s expectations. But I won’t do so blindly. Going forward I will make informed decisions on my writing, choosing to confidently break the rules when my instinct tells me I must while following them without question whenever I can.

The result, I trust, will be conforming enough to garner attention but differing enough to stand out.


By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.

4 replies on “How Can a Writer Conform to Industry Expectations and Still Stand Out?”

I recently attended a presentation on point of view. Presenter mentioned that Nora Roberts and Stephen King both “head hop,” something we are vehemently instructed not to do. Her advice: know the rules before you break them. I guess if you are Nora Roberts and Stephen King you can get away with stuff we lowly peons can’t! 🙂

Patrica, that’s good to know, since I’ve read neither author.

I’m currently reading a YA series that does this, often within the same paragraph. It vexes me greatly and is most jarring, yet I’m still reading!

What do you think? Please leave a comment!