Nancy Mercado, executive editor at Roaring Brook Press and a faculty member at Big Sur in the Rockies, said she sometimes receives submissions where the writing is great, the hook is good but the “voiciness” isn’t quite right – at least for her.  I like that – voiciness.  Kind of the writer’s answer to Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness.”  People can sense when it’s off, but they can’t always say why.  Kind of like listening to a recording of your own voice I guess.  Mine always seems to sound like the grownups in the Charlie Brown T.V. specials.  But I digress…

Voice.  We all have one in real life.  As writers, we must find a way to translate that voice to the page.  That voice is the one thing that makes us unique from all other writers.  Polished writing, strong characters, compelling plot, good pacing, satisfying ending – all of those things are important, but without a unique voice to take the reader on that journey, editors and agents are likely to take a pass on that piece.  Furthermore, they want to “hear” your voice from the first line on the first page.  Andrea Brown, president of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, said there are only so many universal themes in literature.  They’ve all been used – over and over again.  She stressed that there is no such thing as a fresh idea, only a fresh voice.  Elana Roth of the Caren Johnson Literary Agency, tweeted this on #kidlitchat last night: “Hook gets me to request [the manuscript]. Voice gets me to sign it.”

It can be difficult for pre-published writers to project voice because it requires confidence, authority and authenticity, three things that are hard to come by while you’re piling up the rejections.  Trust and patience are also factors, however.  After a while (so I’m told), your voice will make its appearance on the page if you keep writing.

If there is a “dark side” to voice, it is that by its very nature, voice is personal.  Some people will love your voice; some people will hate it.  I think of writers like Cormac McCarthy.  He has a definite, unique, and compelling voice.  Just don’t ask me to read any of his books.  His voice doesn’t “speak” to me.  Does that make him a bad writer?  Uh – obviously not.  It just means that much of success in publishing comes from getting your work to an agent or editor that hears your voice, loves it and wants to share it with the world.  Researching agents’ and editors’ tastes before submitting is essential (that will be the subject of my next post).  However, we must avoid writing in a voice we think editors and agents are looking for because it will lack authenticy and they will recognize that right away.  The best we can do is to find our own voices and be as true to them as possible.  The rest will follow.

So how do we cultivate voice as writers? Writing, writing and more writing.  In the meantime, all writers of every genre should read agent Nathan Bransford‘s brilliant post on voice from last week.  It’s certainly the best I’ve ever read on the subject.  There is great insight in the comments too.

Writing voices are, to put it in Julia Roberts’ words from Pretty Woman, “slippery little suckers.”  Once you find yours, hold on tight!

Categories: Publishing, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,



  1. Good thoughts. THey are slippery little suckers. I’m not sure what my “voice” is. Is that why no one is beating down my door wanting to sign me? I know what my blog voice is. Thanks for the tips, keep them coming!!

  2. Great post – a selection of expert voices on the elusive concept of voice.
    Thank you.

  3. “It can be difficult for pre-published writers to project voice because it requires confidence, authority and authenticity, three things that are hard to come by while you’re piling up the rejections.”

    Well put. This is so true, Julie!

    Thanks for a great post and all the good links.

  4. I have been told my voice is unique. I am confident I’m an authentic authority in my genre, physician bluegrass fiction. That might make my book worth a buck at the flea market some day, but at least they’ll know it was me.

    Dr. B

  5. littlehousesouthernprairie

    I really didn’t like “The Road” and felt so guilty about it. No more! 🙂

  6. Voiciness! I love it! Nathan B’s blog on voice is pretty awesome! Thanks for sharing Julie!

  7. Yeah, I think writing a lot really is the only way to find your voice. To have voice you almost have to write as easily as you speak. For some introverted writers, writing might actually come easier than speaking. I do think, however, that writers can over think “voice.” The less self conscious you are as a writer, the more natural you’ll sound on the page, the more voiciness you’re bound to have. I find coffee helps. Because voice takes lots and lots of energy.

  8. Still looking…but your post is heading me in the right direction. Thanks Julie!

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