Are consistent voice and style everything for literary success?
Any writer I can think with a substantial reputation, going as far back as you want to go, has had a style and voice, and often themes and topics as well, that remained consistent over their entire body of work. Pick up any book without seeing the author’s name and you won’t have any trouble recognizing Louise Erdrich, Jack Kerouac, Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway, Doris Lessing, Raymond Carver, Jayne Anne Phillips, Franz Kafka, Jane Eyre, Anton Chekov – the list goes on and on. Their distinctive voices were an important element in earning them a reputation in the first place, of course. Now we have a book market where writers are expected to market not just their books, but themselves as writers. Publishers want writers who will follow a successful book with another just like it. We are expected to build an audience with blogs and tweets and Facebook and whatever other social networking schemes are popular to create a readymade audience for our next book. I have a hard time with this because I date way way back to a time when it was considered tacky for a serious writer to promote herself – but that’s beside the main point of this post. I vary from the normal pattern in that I change voice and style depending on what it is I am writing. I have two books in progress that are as different from each other as Charles Bukowski is from Katherine Anne Porter. And both of them are extremely different from my first published novel. My published short stories vary just as greatly. I’m concerned that in today’s market this may be a handicap in getting agents and publishers interested in my new books. (Even if it is, I won’t change my tack. I know who I am as a writer, and am not going to change that.) I’m curious if anybody on She Writes is faced with the same concern. I’d also like to know if anyone can think of a major writer who does NOT follow the consistency rule. What do you have to say about all this? I'm especially interested in hearing the opinions of agents, but everyone's input is invited.

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