Let's say you're a writer. (Chances are pretty good that you are, if you're reading this.) No doubt you've asked yourself the question, "What are publishers looking for?" If you've been lucky enough to attend a conference or other event where you could speak directly to an editor, you may even have heard a variation of this answer: "Show us something new and fresh. Something we haven't seen before."
Well. That's not extremely helpful, is it? It's about as vague as, "A writer with a strong voice," or "I'll know it when I read it." Voice is a nebulous term that has a slightly different definition for each person who uses it. We can address it, but not today. As for an editor's gut, there's no way to pin that down other than bribing them with food. But what about writing something new? You can do that, right?
There are only so many plots out there. The exact number is debatable, depending on who you ask. Three, six, nine, twelve, thirty-six... But one thing almost everyone agrees on is that "there is nothing new under the sun" (a quote that proves its point since it was first written in Ecclesiastes 1:9 and has been used countless times since).
Great, everything's been done already. Now what? Let's use the example of romance. The basic romance plot is: two people meet, good stuff happens, bad stuff happens, good stuff conquers bad stuff and the two live happily ever after. That's it. "But," you might be thinking, "what about a romance where they don't end up together?" That, my friend is not a romance, it's a love story (think Nicholas Sparks). They are two different animals.
So... you're writing a romance. How do you make it new and fresh? Obviously, it's not so much in the plot of the story, but in the way you tell it. All the little details matter. Including, but not limited to:
Your characters' idiosyncrasies
Where the story is set
POV - 1st or 3rd? Past or Present Tense? Single or multiple?
Is it a straight romance, or a genre mashup?
While you're making your story different, make sure it's not the same (a small distinction). We've all been warned to stay away from cliches. That also goes for well-worn tropes particular to each genre. For romance, something we've seen far too much of is the Irish heroine with long, curly red hair, emerald green eyes, and a hot temper. If you've got an Irish heroine, that's fine, but what can you do to make her different?
The point to all this is: Only you can tell your story. THAT is what makes it new and original. It's great (and important) to read widely and be inspired by other authors, but you don't need to become them. The world doesn't need another Stephen King or Janet Evanovich, or Nora Roberts. The ones we have are just fine. What we DO need is the unique perspective and voice (there it is again) that you bring to your work.
When an editor says he wants something new and fresh, he's essentially saying he wants you to take one or more of those basic, oft-used plots and give it your authentic, original twist.
You can do that, can't you?