When some friends and I started our own business six years ago we sat down and took a look at our competition and how we would be able to stack up against them in several areas, such as price, selection, service, etc. We decided that we could beat our competition in several areas, and made plans to do so.
Six years later the only competitor left in town is a national chain that can beat us on advertising dollars and selection. But we beat them in every other category, and we continue to focus on that. We can’t be everything to everyone, but we can be the best where we can. And that’s enough to keep us doing well while others have failed.
Writers have a value proposition, too. Some are able to pull off amazing twists that leave readers stunned. Others are able to create characters we fall in love with. Some can create a setting that intrigues and fires the imagination. Still others are able to craft a plot that grabs the reader and won’t let go. Many are able to combine several of these strengths (and others), and that’s usually what makes them good enough to gain an audience.
But few–if any–writers can be good at everything. Most are able to polish up a few areas to stand out, but in many other areas writers are merely adequate. And that’s okay; so long as those areas are strong enough they don’t draw negative attention to themselves, they don’t necessarily need to be outstanding.
Still, it’s our strengths that define us as writers, and our specific package of strengths that constitute our “value proposition”, or style. Some elements are instinctive, acquired from our life-experience and the works of other writers that stick with us. Others are developed over time through conscious effort.
The point is, however, that we can decide for ourselves what type of writer we want to be. We can choose the value proposition we offer to readers. The key, however, regardless of whether we pursue a specific set of strengths or let it find us, is to be aware of what our value proposition is, and then consistently provide it in work after work. Not that you want to feel “mass produced”; you can wrap your core value proposition in original and unique concepts to both hit the right notes and keep your work fresh.
Can you imagine a Brandon Sanderson without any magic system at all? Or George R. R. Martin without the relentless introduction and extermination of characters? Or Stephanie Meyers without supernatural elements? A writer might be able to leave out one or perhaps two signature elements and still satisfy their readers, but leave out too many and you risk losing them–such as with J. K. Rowling’s under-impressive “The Casual Vacancy”.
Whatever your value proposition maybe, it’s important as a writer to know what it is. If you don’t know why your readers are following you it can be difficult to keep them coming back. So while you’re working with your peer readers or writing group, don’t just find out what doesn’t work or needs to be fixed. Take time to find out what others find most interesting and compelling in your work. Learn what your value proposition is so that you can continue to develop it, improve it, and continue to meet expectations.