Monday, 15 March 2010

Voice - Is It Panic Stations Not To Have One?

In the past few weeks I've blog-hopped/forum-browsed and generally procrastinated (what else is new?) when I should've been finishing my ms. And in that time, I’ve come across this word A LOT.


If an editor loves yours you’re almost there, I've heard. Don't get me wrong, there’s a serious amount of back-breaking work to be done besides having, you know...voice.

So, this got me wondering. I know successful writers who say they had to work hard to "find" their voice. Before they did, however, they sold to various publishing houses. I’ve also heard of one editor hating someone’s writing and another absolutely falling in love with it.

One example of a writer who eventually found her “true voice” is Tess Gerritsen, whose books I love. She writes pure crime thrillers.

BUT before she did, she wrote romantic suspense for Harlequin. It’s very clear from reading her earlier work that she CAN write romance and while I think she excels at writing crime thrillers, she more than held my interest with her earlier books.

I’ve had two manuscripts rejected and two requested from the same publishing house. So was it all about my "voice" that attracted them to request more of my work, or was it the whole Ok-ish package?

I guess what I’m trying to understand is, how important is this magical word in the grand scheme of things? What exactly is it about voice that attracts one editor and repels another?

Is it a “you-either-have-it-or-you-don't” scenario? Is it the difference between a New York Times Bestseller and a doomed-forever-to-be-a-wannabe writer or is there a middle ground to work on? How important is voice to you?

Would love to hear your thoughts.


  1. Voice is tricky eh? I think it depends on what you're writing and for what publishing house. And getting an editor to like your work is very like readers buying your books - some people are going to love you, some people won't.
    But, you know, I think it's something you can develop and learn. And it's also something you can change - clearly Tess Gerristen can!

  2. I think I read somewhere once that your "voice" is the sum total of all the mistakes you make when creating an artistic piece--it's what makes you unique, even when writing in a specific style. As writers we often try to emulate others when starting out, to learn the ropes, and our true voice isn't "found" until we've played around with different ideas for a while and gained some confidence. For the record, I think you have a great voice developing :)

  3. Hi Maya. For what its worth I think you have a very definite voice. I think voice is what makes a writer distinctive. When you read their writing, be it crime or romance, you know you're reading something written by them, without name checking. For me Abbey Green, Trish Wylie and India Grey have very distinctive voices. Mills and Boon in their R told me I have a lively and descriptive voice (although they didn't want it!) and a word I've had in both my romance and crime writing applied by agents/publishers is intriguing. I guess that's maybe not voice though, but plotting...

  4. I think for most writers, their voice develops over time -- and probably always changes. New writers tend to be less voice-y and more hesitant (just as they're more likely to be passive). This hesitancy goes away as their confidence develops. Truly though, the "voice" is most apparent in narrative, and as we strive for more and more deep 3rd in romance writing, the narrative loses page space.
    1st person stories have tons of voice, as do stories told entirely from one character's 3rd person POV. In these books, voice is very important.
    Sometimes I think "voice" is used as a cop-out generic excuse for rejection, but in some cases it really can get a contract. At Lyrical, we have an editor's roundtable where we all voice opinions about submissions. The ones with a definitive voice always get a more positive response. Reading a strong voice makes it more like someone is telling you a story (someone with quirky turns of words and personality), and less like you're reading a news report or biography, if that makes sense.

  5. Jackie, I knew you could develop your voice, but can you really learn voice? Hmmm, that intrigues me endlessly! But that saying, I read a bio of one of the older Harl writers (forget who). She read one book, concluded she'd like to write for the line, went out and bought six, studied them and wrote one and was accepted 1st time. So, yeah, I guess it can be learned :)

  6. Felicity, I love your definition! I hope I don't have many more "mistakes" to make before I'm unique enough, lol. Thank you for your lovely compliment. And you know how I feel about your unique voice, don't you? ;).

  7. That is so interesting, Piper. Writing 1st person was when I most enjoyed the writing process. It was so freeing and I had a blast writing my (yet unfinished) chick lit.

    I'm getting from the concensus here that "voice" can be developed over time and I guess that's a good thing and something we can all strive for.

    Whew, now I won't panic so much ;).

  8. I think voice is also about what you write best. Or maybe it is putting your voice in the market or genre that is best for your voice. I mean, I started out trying to write children's picture books. I hated it. It wasn't fun and it was a struggle. Romances seemed to fit better, but it still wasn't really clicking. Then I went to erotic romance. It was like a light went off. I still don't know that my voice is "there" or that it is suited for erotic romance. I'm playing with mysteries and erotic romance mysteries now. I'm going back and farth with this mystery theme now. And winning an EPIC with an erotic romance mystery is helping me think I might need to look into mystery writing a bit more. Maybe one day I will settle down and find my place. But I think I have a very dry humor voice.

  9. Congrats on the EPIC award win, Jasmine. If voice is about what you write best then I'm hopelessly lost, lol, because I love writing different genres! So far I've dabbled with sci-fi, chick lit, supense and Presents. I know Presents is where my heart is, though, so I guess that's the "voice" I need to listen to. Oh dear, I guess I need to tell the other voices to be quiet for now, eh?

  10. Thank you, Sally. And I totally agree about your intriguing voice. My voice was described as intense and dramatic, but alas I'm still waiting to be discovered too, lol. India Grey is awesome! I bow to her writing. I haven't read Trish Wylie yet, but I've read Abby Green.

  11. Lol, Maya. My voice would be that pushy broad leaving book long comments while editing ;)

    I think there is a difference between voice and style though. For instance, each line of HQ has it's own style that the authors emulate. But voice is unique to each author, and that takes time to find, IMHO. Some authors voices are more suited to certain styles of writing than others. But how do we know where our voice is strongest unless we try different things?

  12. Lol, Kate. No, yours would be the voice of the awesome sci-fi writer who leaves mine twisting in a time vortex!

    And yes, I agree to each writer's uniqueness, which is why we all like some authors but not so much others even within the same line. And yes, I'm all for trying different things, if only I had oodles of time and a trust fund to burn! ;)

  13. I thought of this post yesterday while at daughter's open evening. The teacher said she would know my daughter's writing even if it didn't have her name on it because of her 'voice'.

    It must be something to do with boring stuff like sentence construction but also tone, descriptive passages, how you actually draw the reader in etc. Too many little things that come together to make 'your voice' to analyse I think.

    Mine is "warm and engaging" according to the wonderful Sally Williamson (who I still love!!). Best get back to getting some of that warm and engaging on the page :-)

  14. Wow, that wonderful that your DD's teacher can recognise her writing anywhere, Jo. Now that's what I call a distinctive voice.

    Writers whose distinctive voices I’d probably recognise without their names are Sandra Marton, India Grey and Lucy Monroe. Looking forward to reading your warm and engaging stories soon!

  15. I saw "Voice" as a link on Sally's blog and had to jump in -- last year at the RWA conference, Julie Rowe and I did a workshop on that very topic.

    My biggest thought is that your voice is the way you talk. We might talk differently to our best friend and our doctor, to our kids and our neighbors, but it's still the same person talking.

    In fact, I think that if you tell your story into a tape recorder and then transcribe it, your voice will shine through on the page!

  16. Hi Laurie, it’s great to have you stop by! I've heard wonderful things about your online classes, so I’ll be sure to check them out.

    Your thought on voice is really interesting and something to bear in mind on this roller coaster journey of discovery. Thanks again for stopping by.

  17. Oh, Maya, how cool that you've heard about my classes -- that's an honor! If you'd like an email list of what's coming up, hit (or just ask Sally :)

  18. I will, Laurie. See you soon!

  19. Huh, I didn't know Tess Gerritsen wrote for Harlequin. Learn something new every day.

    I think voice is always there. But that it does develop and get better the more you write.