Writing Tip #9: Passion vs. Market Trends
There are two pieces of advice you’re bound to hear at just about every writing conference or group you’ll ever attend. Write the book of your heart—and if you want to sell, make sure you know the market and if the genre you’ve chosen to write is selling. And that brings us to today’s writing tip:
Writing Tip #9. Write your passion—but keep an eye on the market.
This is a hard balancing act, which we’ve discussed many times. It goes back to the two types of writers Don Maass mentioned in The Fire in Fiction: the status seeker and the storyteller. Are you seeking merely to be published and chasing the market, or are you looking to tell the story that’s on your heart? Is there a way to do both? Yes. But one takes much longer than the other. If you have a good grasp of the market, of what’s selling, and you can write in a genre that’s selling—write from the heart, not just “knock something out”—and you have a good grasp of the craft of writing and storytelling, you’ll probably find success a lot sooner than someone who’s truly writing the story of her heart. “Heart stories” are typically those that don’t fall neatly into any existing publishing category. They’re not always easy to market. But if you hone your craft in addition to writing the best story you can, you may eventually be able to sell it.
The best rule of thumb when it comes to choosing the kind of book you’re going to write is to write the kind of book you would want to read. This is different than saying write a book that fits neatly into your favorite genre to read. You may not actually write the same genre you like to read—for example, you may be best suited to write bittersweet women’s fiction but your favorite books to read may be cozy mysteries. You may write Old West action-adventure but enjoy reading literary fiction. There is no rule that says you have to write the same genre you like to read.
As we’ve already discussed, even if it isn’t your favorite genre to read you still need to read a good number of currently published books in the genre in which you’re writing to keep up with standards and styles and what’s already been published.
If the book of your heart happens to fit neatly within the genre you like to read, you’re already a few steps ahead—because you’re already familiar with the conventions and recent publishing history of your genre and you know personally what readers are looking for in a particular book in that genre.
What you shouldn’t do, though, is choose to write a certain genre because you’ve been led to believe that it’s the “shoo-in” genre or one that’s easier to get published or easier to market.
Madeleine L’Engle explained it this way in Walking on Water:
The artist, like the child, is a good believer. The depth and strength of the belief is reflected in the work; if the artist does not believe, then no one else will; no amount of technique will make the responder see the truth in something the artist knows to be phony.
You must carefully balance the choice between “choosing your genre” and “choosing your story.” Don’t compromise the integrity of your story for the expedience of “writing a book that will sell.” If you don’t believe in your story, your readers won’t believe in it either. It becomes formula, dry, with a “dashed off” feeling. (You’ve all read books like that, I’m sure.)
By staying true to the story of your heart rather than chasing the market, it may take you longer to get published, but you’re going to have better success with the story that’s meaningful, that’s from the heart. But even a book-of-the-heart needs to be marketable if you want to see it published one day.
After you have some idea of the kind of book you want to write, you need to spell it out for yourself in some detail. You’re going to have to explain it to your agent and editor some day.
You will not have to give any reasons for what you want to write. You want to write your book because you want to write it. That’s all the reason you ever have to give. All you have to be able to do is describe what you want to write. Ask yourself the following questions:
• What authors would you most like to write like? Write down the names of two or three authors whose style is close to what you think yours is.
• What genres most interest you? You’re allowed to mix genres, but one should be dominant.
• What story elements interest you most? Complex story world? Deep characters? Fast-paced action? Snappy dialogue? Romance? Remember: Choose what you want to write, not what you think you should write or what people expect you to write.
• Where and when would you like to set your stories?
• What special background or life experiences can you tie into your novel?
• What length of books do you want to write?
• Who is your ideal reader? Religious or not particularly so? Education? Interests? Age? Gender?
~From Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy
Don’t chase the market; write the best story you can and let the market chase you.