I have a friend who once said, “it’s the same, but different.” It’s a phrase I use quite a bit to describe anything from food to music to, of course, books.
Writers often bemoan the fact that agents and editors are only looking for the same thing and that something different can never get published. Of course that’s not true, but what is true is that readers are often looking for the next thing, based on the last thing that excited them.
In other words, when Gone Girl became a huge hit every publisher, every bookstore and of course every reader was looking for the next Gone Girl. From a publishing perspective we were looking for success like Gone Girl had. From a reader’s perspective, I was looking for something that captivating and thrilled me in the same way that book had.
To answer the question, and get to the point, of one reader, “How do you suggest a writer create something new and different while sticking to the tenets of the genre?”
That’s the definition of hook. You create a hook that hasn’t been done yet. There are certain expectations readers have of any genre, your goal is to hook them into your story by standing out in a new and creative way. It means creating characters, or a twist on characters, that haven’t been done yet. It doesn’t mean the story itself needs to go out in a direction that confuses people, it just means you need to create something compelling and different that they haven’t seen yet, but in that genre and with some of the nuances of the genre that they will expect.
Linda Castillo did that by setting her series in an Amish community. Her suspense and plotting meets the expectations of suspense readers, but her hook brings them into a world they might have never experienced before.
Ellery Adams did that with her Book Resort mysteries. Cozy readers come to her series with certain expectations of what they will and won’t find, but the hook itself will draw more people in simply because it’s something different.
Sharla Lovelace did that with her Storm Chasers series. It’s a romance series and romance readers will find everything they love about the genre in there, but she hooks them in by giving them very sexy heroes who chase tornadoes for a living.
There are so many more of course, but I do hope that gives you an idea of what I mean about the same, but different.