It is frustrating when literary agents ask for different types of submissions. Most prefer a short synopsis, but some want you to throw in a chapter-by-chapter summary too. Guidelines give word counts, which vary from one agency to the next. Some specify the numbers of pages they require - at the moment ‘two’ seems to be the new ‘one’.
Agents know that for every publisher submission, editors need to consider how they can market the new author and their product. Therefore, it makes sense for some agencies to ask that submissions include an outline of comparable novels. If your proposal is similar to a published novel then your chance of getting it on the shelves will increase. Not surprisingly, new authors are encouraged to follow trends. Commercial novels must slot into a genre to aid marketability. So are we expected to lose our unique styles in order to fit in? If this is the case, then surely readers are missing out on variety. Miscellaneous bookshelves in shops should have tantalising headings such as, ‘Try something different today.’ Alas, books will always be pigeon-holed, but surely writers should maintain a degree of individuality.
It could be argued that the traditional mode of getting a commercial book published doesn’t encourage creativity. Unpublished authors are constantly being warned against the dangers of daring to be original. ‘You’ll get nowhere if you’re unique.’ ‘Follow the tried and tested routes. Don’t be tempted to wander off the beaten track.’ ‘Choose a genre and stick to it - even if your work ends up like many others we’ve read before’...
Be wary of plagiarism: “To use another person’s idea or a part of their work and pretend it is your own.” [Cambridge Dictionaries online]. Never intentionally use anything that you’ve read, without attributing it to the author. There are only a few basic stories, so there’s a chance that most tales have already been told in one way or another. Most of us have mortgages to pay, but no one should be desperate enough to ‘borrow’ or tweak someone else’s phrases, plots, endings and/or beginnings. We should all be inspired by those who have come before us, but be aware that there is fine line between inspiration and theft.
If you try to be original from the start, you’ll develop an individual style. You’ll reach creative maturity by using this process; at which point, you can mould your work into a genre and still maintain individuality. Begin by writing about any moment in your life. There’s nothing to stop you setting this in a different period, location or universe. Draw on your own experiences throughout. The result might be that your novel happens to be similar to another book, but this would be purely coincidental. Think about what prompted you to write in the first place. Get it all out of your system. Be as original as you can be, for as long as you can get away with it! Variety is after all, the spice of life.