While we like to think that one of the great things about getting creative is that there are no rules to follow, you don’t have to delve far into creative writing courses and guidebooks to discover that there are, indeed, several ‘rules’ that you ought to stick to when writing your novel. Your novel should be around 70,000-100,000 words long. A romance should have a happy ending. Your main character should face conflict. These are just a few examples. But how strictly should you follow rules like these?

The rules are there for a reason. The traditional publishing industry has certain expectations for specific genres, which have become fairly established over the years. Readers, too, are now used to these patterns. When a novel ticks certain boxes, it’s easy for the industry to identify who the target audience is, and this in turn means that selling and marketing a novel that fits into pre-determined criteria is a much easier job for agents and publishers than working with something outside of the norm. The upshot of all this is that following the ‘rules’ can make it easier for your novel to get published.

On the other hand, the literary world is crowded, and standing out among the thousands of manuscripts competing for agents’ and publishers’ attention is a challenge. Writing something that defies expectations – whether it’s an epic 200,000-word novel, an anti-romance, or an experimental novel with zero conflict – is one way to stand out. There are no guarantees that breaking the mould will secure you a publishing deal – in fact, it is more likely to hinder your efforts – but it’s one way to draw attention to your work. Doing something unconventional can set you apart from the rest, and make agents, publishers and readers take notice of your book in a saturated market.

So, to break the mould or not? Neither approach is guaranteed to secure you agent representation or a publishing deal. But whichever route you choose, writing your novel will take a considerable amount of time. The best answer is therefore to write the novel that you want to write, to tell the story that excites you – whether that story follows the rules or not. This will not only help motivate you to complete your novel, but it’s going to produce a story you can be proud of when you start exploring your publishing options. So let your creative instincts guide you, stay true to your vision, and enjoy writing your novel.