Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Writing to Market--Anathema, Accepting Defeat, or Valid Consideration?

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.

The Market.

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 clichĂ©d 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!


anachronist said...

If your characters are begging you to write them the way you planned, do not hesitate one moment. The most valuable, best books sometimes were becomming dusty in a drawer for many years. Then they became famous but an instantaneous fame was denied to them. On the other hand if you can bend your narration to fit the market better, without spoiling anything major, the choice is yours.

Jillian said...

I love that you're writing to fill a void that you see in the market. That is EXACTLY what made me want to write. I almost lost that will, last year, as I entered the writing world and learned about the market. Oh, I hated the conformity. I was drowning in it, and pulled up stakes very quickly.

I'm realizing it's a balance -- to learn the lessons of the outside world without ever, ever losing yourself. The great ones didn't shave the voice from their work to fit the world. I know now I would rather never publish than write by group think.

Not a smart choice, perhaps, but a soulful one. I'd fade away in the crowd, writing to a market. Better to learn to sharpen my tools by experimenting and asking questions, and write because there's no one on earth with my voice, and no one can speak my soul but me -- than to blindly follow what others are doing.

Now, I don't think it's smart to wander around refusing to learn and assuming you (meaning "the writer") will magically charm some publisher by being unique. I see A LOT of that sort of thinking; no learning needed, "I am an artiste!" and will be rich and famous on unrefined talent alone!

No, we all have a great deal to learn. But it's so much better done by reading, exploring, learning, experimenting -- than by hammering out a copy of whatever is selling on the market, today, now.

I think the true artists are the ones obsessed with the craft -- who love to read, who drink books, who experiment with phrases and sigh at passages -- or, if "the story" is their thing, are ravenous to create plot. It starts out a clumsy rendering of someone else's genius. (No shame in that! Painters learn to paint by studying Van Gogh.) But it becomes their own, with experimentation and practice.

Success is in their souls' eyes -- not the eyes of the world. For them, the work is never good enough, never strong enough, never a fine enough fit.

I don't believe in bending a story to fit a market -- but I do believe in tinkering and practicing, and if some of that fits a market, no shame in getting paid. :-)

But don't get lost in it. Write your soul. At least on the side, where no one can see it, while you work to find your place, in the world of writing.

But, no. I don't think it's selling out to consider the Market Question. Goodness, we have to do that. To try it, even, and if it fits our soul -- go for it. You'd be blind not to, I think; it's everywhere.

If the story that fits their market calls you, write it. Just remember that the Market is a clingy friend. If you write cozy mystery, it's going to want that forever, under your byline. You might have to take on pseudonyms, or be very sure you want to create a trademark, before you sell.

Here's my thinking: if you can befriend the Market to your soul, and not self-implode, you're one of the lucky ones. :-)

MrsC said...

You are an insecure nutjob. The good news is that so is just about every mega star author I have ever bothered to find out more about. So, it's an excellent start! Embrace your nutjobiness. Make peanut brittle, nutty oaty slices and anything else your nuttiness can add texture to :) It's why you write and don't just think about it like the cotcases. hey're the worrying ones!

Caroline said...

I think you are lucky because you have an idea in mind that can sync in with the market. If you're passionate about it--run with it!

I've never really considered writing to the market. But I am glad you brought it up as I hope to start working on something new in the next few months. I automatically thought to pick up my 18th century Rev War novel because the idea is mostly fully formed. But I've also been mulling a late 1920s/early 1930s novel set in England. I suppose the latter would be a safer bet than the former. Although I have begun to see more early American era novels coming out--so maybe there is hope for us yet!

Brownpaperbaggirl said...

I like ordinary toiling stinky people too! ;) The market is something that a writer always needs to take into consideration...but I also believe that when there is a will there is a way. Something will fall into place.