The Journal: Agents Want a Fresh New Voice

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Agents Want a Fresh New Voice
* Don’t look
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“Great writers make their stories authentic by allowing us to experience what their characters hear, see, smell, taste, and touch—capturing the senses so we are fully involved.” Ellen Buikema at Writers in the Storm

“When agents are asked what they are looking for, their typical answer is ‘a fresh new voice’.” Steve Hooley in “That Special Sauce” at the Kill Zone blog

Agents Want a Fresh New Voice

Agents and publishers want a fresh new voice. Everyone says that. They repeat it like a mantra, and they teach it to each other, swapping it back and forth as if it’s a brand-new concept that nobody’s ever said before. And they don’t have even a beginning clue what it means.

So having repeated the mantra, they all go back to carefully outlining, revising, rewriting and polishing. They do so harder and harder until their manuscript looks, feels, reads and sounds exactly like every other manuscript in the slush pile. And not one of them stops to think, Wait. What’s fresh and new about that?

The fact is, not one time in 69 years have I heard a writer put those two concepts together. Not once have I heard even a brand-new baby writer say, “Ah! Agents want a fresh new voice, so I’m going to revise and rewrite and polish my manuscript until it reads like someone else wrote it.”

They can’t say that because it makes zero sense. How can you create a “fresh new voice” by revising and rewriting and polishing? You can’t. No matter the reasoning, an erasure is an erasure, and an eradication is an eradication. And more than that, you can’t reveal a fresh new voice by slathering-on layers of King or Roberts or anyone else. To reveal a fresh new voice, you have to put on your big-person pants and be true to the author in the mirror.

But by and large, at least until they stumble across someone who’s willing to tell them the hard truth—like Dean Wesley Smith or Stephen King or Lawrence Block or Lee Child or, you know, me—writers commit that silly paradox over and over and over again. Specifically because “Agents want a fresh new voice,” they write, revise, seek critical input from critique “partners,” rewrite, polish and submit.

And when the manuscript is rejected, maybe even with a note attached that reads, “Sorry, but we’re looking for a fresh new voice,” they revise and rewrite again, and more conscientiously. They seek even more conscious-mind input from members of critique groups. Yes, just as if anyone else can tell the characters’ story better than the characters can.

But why do they do all this nonsensical stuff?

Because a writer’s own voice, which is fresh, new and unique to others, is boring to the writer. After all, we hear our own authorial voice 24/7/365. And especially after being taught for years to second-guess and even “correct” the voice of our creative subconscious, we can’t imagine that anyone else could actually enjoy it.

But we ourselves enjoy the voices of other writers, say Tom Clancy or Stephen King or Danielle Steele or whomever. Yet somehow we have no understanding that those writers got where they are by writing in their own unique voice.

So we strive in our revising and rewriting and polishing to sound as much like those other writers as possible. And in doing so, we obliterate our own “fresh new voice.” It’s a vicious cycle.

So listen, please: No matter how bored you are with your own voice—no matter how much you doubt that your voice is unique and that anyone will want to read or hear your stories—you’re just wrong.

Nobody else has your unique authorial voice, and nobody else has your characters in their head. The only way to get “a fresh new voice” is to let the characters tell the story that they, not you, are living. Let it out, trust it, and then don’t obliterate it with conscious-mind revisions, rewriting and polishing.

Do that, my friends, and you’ll be golden.

Don’t look for updated fiction numbers today. Yesterday got away from me. We were out much of the day, and by the time we got home I was too tired to give myself over to recording my characters’ story.

Talk with you again later.

Of Interest

See “Steve Wozniak’s startup Privateer plans to launch hundreds of satellites to study space debris” at Um, anyone else see the irony in this?

See “Ultrahot ‘superionic’ ice is a new state of matter” at

See “December Regular Workshops Now Up” at If you’re interested in Dean doing another workshop sale, comment or email him.

See “How to Write the Sense of Smell” at Thanks to The Passive Guy for the tip.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 820 words

Writing of WCGN 5: Carmelita Ramos (novel)

Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for November……… XXXX
Total fiction words for the year………… 623282
Total nonfiction words for November… 7580
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 186070
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 809352

Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… 13
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 3
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 66
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.

2 thoughts on “The Journal: Agents Want a Fresh New Voice”

    • Yup, good stuff. And most people don’t realize, the sense of smell and the sense of taste are extremely similar. Both readily evoke memories, and the sense of smell often evokes a memory of taste or flavor and vice versa. They’re interchangeable in many ways.

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