I know one of the frustrating things about submitting a book to agents and editors is the whole, "We want something fresh and different we've never seen before! Except we also want something familiar and easy-to-market."
I was looking at writings from 4-5 years ago, when I was first taking professional writing seriously, and I'd forgotten how much I initially struggled with writing for the market. Throughout my teen years and early twenties, I think I found my writing voice working on various projects. 90% of them were about my fictional world Arestin, and could be best described as "fantasy slice-of-life family saga." If you're thinking it would be hard to market "fantasy slice-of-life family saga" ANYwhere, you are probably correct. It wouldn't have even fit in YA because the characters were all ages, not to mention that "fantasy slice-of-life" itself is hard to pull off. It would be as if J. K. Rowling announced a series about Harry and Ginny and Ron and Hermione raising their kids and their relationships with their friends and families in the peaceful years after they leave school. Except, you know, without even being J. K. Rowling.
And the other 10% was semi-historical fantasy rather like Magic Under Glass or Between the Sea and Sky except not nearly as cohesive.
Nevertheless, I don't think anyone would say I didn't have unique ideas, or that I couldn't write, or that my writing itself didn't have commercial appeal... I just couldn't get it all together.
The trouble, for me, was puzzling out a way to tell a unique story in a commercial way. I think that's really what people are asking for. I think everyone has a different path to figuring out how to do it. I had to learn how to give my characters something exciting to do, and a plot that put their magical abilities to use, without sacrificing my love of intimate, quiet moments and the grounding of everyday, relatable life.
There was some major turbulence along the way. I kept trying to write contemporary fantasy, sometimes an Arestin novel and sometimes not. Both were just turning out awful. I found out I can't write first-person present worth a damn, I hate my snarky narrators, and I don't want to write a humorous novel, although I can write a novel with humor IN IT. I was extremely prolific and experimental in '05-'06...and almost ALL of it was crap that makes me cringe worse than things I wrote in '02-'04 when I was just having fun with that fantasy slice-of-life fantasy saga. Some of it was very commercial and fun and who knows, it might have even sold...if I'd cared to finish it. It just. Wasn't. Me.
But I'm glad I took the time for both phases. I think my grasp of what is my OWN voice and how to make a story that is structured in a marketable way are both so much stronger for my years of writing for myself and my years of writing junk to try and fit a mold.
(Also, don't forget, I'm having a giveaway for an ARC of Everlasting! Only a handful of entrants right now, and all you need to do is comment on my last post! Yay!)