I recently wrote a blog post that made me realize I had a lot more to say on the subject of one hot point in the comments—writing to market. First, my incredibly astute commenters did a great job of pointing out that a writer has to write what captivates him or her, what catches a lot of him or her and demands to be written. Yes. This is what writers do—give voice to dreamworlds and imagined landscapes and burning, compelling stories. If you don’t have a story wrapping you around its little finger, if the characters aren’t making you want to bleed them onto the page, it’s not worth writing.
But what about if you want to sell it?
I didn’t say publish it. I don’t say that because I believe that any kind of sharing could be considered publishing—after all, when I post this blog ramble, the button I hit is called “Publish” and, well, it is. It’s providing this content for the world at large. That’s publishing in a nutshell. But whether you want to self-publish or go the traditional route, when you decide you want to sell your writing, there’ s a new wrinkle in the question.
I want to first distinguish between writing to market and writing to trend. I think they’re different. Writing to trend is chasing rabbit trails of hot-selling books, trying to make your story the next Twilight or Harry Potter or Eat, Pray, Love. Writing to trend means ditching what you love for what you hedge your bets might sell. It’s kinda like death to the soul of your writing—the passion is gone, you’re marrying the safe guy instead of the guy you love. To give it a clichéd metaphor. Writing to market, however, is being aware that there is an audience, that they have certain expectations, and, if you’re really serious about selling, noting that they buy some stuff and don’t buy other stuff.
I noticed recently that the market I’m aiming for (traditional publishing) isn’t really buying my stuff (introspective, character-driven historical fiction set in 18th century or 20th century America). Yes, there is some out there. But when I read agent wish lists and new releases and scan the bookshops, these kinds of works are in the minority, losing out to droves of pre-Revolution-era royalty/court stories. Not my thing, to read or write (nothing aginast these--I'm just not interested in royal people and the court—I like ordinary, hard-toiling stinky people). And I can see the great irony—when you write the book you wanted to read, to fill the void out there, well…sometimes the void is there because not enough people are interested in what you wanted to be reading the first place. (Questions of whether I should explore self-publishing, whether my impressions of what’s selling are skewed, whether I’m just an insecure nutjob, shall likely be addressed in future posts.)
I noticed recently as well that there’s a story that’s been begging me to write it for quite some time. It’s a story about an imagined future, not a reconstructed past. It’s a story aimed at young adults, not grown-up people. It’s a story built on choice, movement, change and external conflict more than development, relationships, and internal conflict. All of these things are, yes, palatable to the market right now.
And I thought…I can keep writing what I know is an uphill battle to get the market to notice. Or I can give this little story a shot—this story that happens to fit what the market is asking for. I decided to let the market influence me. I have no idea how it’s going to pan out, long term. After all, the market is fickle. So you have write what you love, regardless.
For right now? I’m loving this little experiment, my characters beg me to come play every free minute I have, and the writing is flowing like it never has before.
What do you think? Does considering the ultimate outcome of your project—selling, publishing, or otherwise—play into your decision of what ideas to pursue? Is it selling out to even open the door on The Market discussion?
And, as you consider these questions...May the Fourth be with you all...sorry, couldn't resist!