BUT...publishers are still searching desperately for the next BIG THING. Julia Churchill reminded us all that if there's no new talent, the well will dry up. There's only so many copies of Harry Potter special editions anyone would want on their shelves.
For those of you who couldn't make it, I've picked up the main points below. It was a timely reminder to me about not getting arrigant about writing. There's still lots to learn and Sarah's a great teacher. I hope Sarah won't mind me 'stealing' her talk.
The key points then:
1. The Concept. Needs to blow people's socks off. Sarah used the example of 'Thirteen Reasons Why' as a story with a great concept. A boy discovers a tape from a girl who's recently commited suicide. In the tape (there's 13 of them) she expains the boy is one of the reasons why she killed herself. Of course it needs great writing (we're assuming you know how to write by now), but its the concept that took it put it on the best sellers list.
2. Larger than Life characters THAT YOU KNOW INSIDE OUT. This has probably caused me more rewrites than anything.
3. HIGH STAKES. What are the personal stakes, and what are the public stakes? Failure must matter! It keeps the reader rooting for the hero. If they fail it will be VERY BAD.
4. Deeply felt theme. In the end, what's the story about? DO NOT preach to your readers. But why are you writing in the first place? What story do you think is so important that you want to spend years trying to tell it? If you're going to spend that amount of time, it's got to be something that matters, right?
5. Vivid Setting. The setting must be a character of its own. Think Hogwarts. Think Gotham City. Batman in Milton Keynes wouldn't work, would it? It doesn't have to be a fictional place, but it's got to breathe just as deeply as the rest. In fact it could be second only to the protagonist in importance.
There endth the lesson.