It’s hard sometimes to know if what you’re writing is marketable. If others will love it as much as you do is an even tougher question to answer. So how do you know if you’re on the right track with your story? Ask yourself a few questions.
Does the writing feel right to you? If something in your story bothers you, tweak it until you get that so-perfect-no-one-can-argue-with-it feeling. Of course, someone will always argue with it no matter what you do, but if your story is where it should be, you’ll know.
Does your story feel cliché? Words and phrases aren’t the only clichés out there. Plots, character types, even styles of writing (e.g. a detective novel a la Sam Spade) can be cliché as well. One way to tell if any part of your story has already been done by millions (exaggeration, I know) of other people is if it leaves you feeling like you’ve read it ad nauseum. When your story leaves you feeling nauseous, you know something’s wrong. Rewrite until you have unique characters combined with a plot written in a fresh way. Here again, your instincts will let you know when you’ve got it right.
What do your guinea pigs, er, critique partners think? If you’re receiving comments like, “It’s fantastic!” “I got so involved I didn’t want to stop reading,” or “Your characters just feel so real. And the plot? Love it!” you know you’re on the right track. However, if you get comments from three people about your main character’s two-dimensional personality, it’s time for a little rewriting. Keep in mind, not everyone will like your story or your characters, but they should be able to recognize good writing. So, if your test reader tells you, “It looks good, but it’s just not for me,” you’ve probably got a marketable story that your test reader wouldn’t pick up even if it had been written by Stephen King or Nora Roberts.
Are you getting personalized rejections with encouraging comments? I know it’s hard to find anything encouraging in a rejection, but if an editor or agent has taken the time to write a personalized rejection with reasons why the turned it down and maybe some suggestions to improve your manuscript, that’s a very good sign. Those encouraging comments about your main character’s vibrant personality and the unique story line mean you’re headed in the right direction. Depending upon what else is said, it could mean your story is marketable as is, just not to that particular editor or agent. Research carefully and make an informed decision about where to submit next. If you get the same suggested revisions from two or more agents or editors, definitely take those suggestions under serious consideration and think about doing at least a trial revision. You can always make a copy of your manuscript to revise according to those suggestions. If you hate it, you still have the original to submit elsewhere.
What it all comes down to is how you, as the author, feel about the story. That manuscript is your creation. Don’t sacrifice your artistic liberty just to meet a market trend. By the time your manuscript is published and hits store shelves, a new trend will have taken hold anyway. Write your story as it’s meant to be told. Revise until you feel it’s ready for it’s journey into the world of submission, and trust your instincts. If the story is meant to be published, an editor somewhere will love it as much as you do. Just be prepared for the possibility of receiving 147 rejections before editor 148 falls in love with the manuscript.