Many aspiring authors/crit partners/ crit groups have this discussion at some point in their existence. It also normally generates more 'write for the market' than it does 'go off the reservation'. The reasons vary just as much. A few of the better ones are, 'Well, aren't you trying to get published by Harlequin?', 'Nobody will take that because I've never seen that before.'
The first response is one of those ones that makes me batty. First and foremost, if you want to write for HQN that is your business, but the fact is HQN isn't known for giving contracts out left and right. One of the things you need to realize is that you should never specifically tailor a story for a single publishing house unless you are under contract with them. You have to be attractive to many publishers not just your dream publisher. It is actually the job of the editor to tailor your story for their publisher – not you. They have far more knowledge regarding company policies than you do.
The second shows a personal opinion. If 'I've never seen it before' appears in a post – disregard. This in no way means your little gem won't sell. I know of several authors who made it to New York by not writing what was out there. A point that gets missed is – New York loves fresh. They have a deep driving desire for originality. Okay, so maybe not HQN so much, but everyone of their imprints has a formula, if you can work within the constraints of the formula you have a better chance of being accepted or receiving a coveted revise and resubmit (Hey, it's a nod that you've got your foot in the door).
So what is the right answer? There isn't one. Mostly, I do both. I pick common or tested plots but spin the characterization or plot drivers in a different direction. A good example of an e-published author who does this is Buffi BeCraft http://buffibecraft.com (for those of you thinking that's her pen name, it isn't. That's her given name). Her blue-collar werewolves have taken a very common paranormal element but gives real flair to her stories by adding a good dose of humor and using different plot drivers in how her weres operate.
Another example is my Raptorial Time Series. I took what most publishers consider a dead sub-genre, gave it spin by giving the 'vehicle' – the Veil – a true purpose. With the added heat and the destination occurring in unusual eras, I've spun the old, tired time travel in a new direction.
I can't say it enough—a writer writes what they like. Buffi knows she loves a good tall, dark and hairy alpha male who howls at the full moon whereas I know I need at least some fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal aspect in my stories.
Now it's your turn. What do you think works best? Or, more should I ask, what works best for you? Do you think you should write for the market, write off the reservation or both?
Until next week, cheers and happy writing,
Torrid Teasers #57 now available from Whiskey Creek Press Torrid
Master and Commander's Prey coming October 2009 from Eirelander Publishing