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Writing Tip #9: Write your passion—but keep an eye on the market.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

There are two pieces of advice you’re bound to hear at just about every writing conference or group you’ll ever attend: First, write the book of your heart; second, 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—but still 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 writing the story of her heart without knowing how to make sure it fits the guidelines and expectations for what’s actually selling. “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 from 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 (although that makes it a lot easier and more fun).

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.

All other considerations aside, be sure to choose a story that will keep you motivated to write it, passion and market notwithstanding.

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.

(p. 148)

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.

Once you have determined what your “heart story” is, figure out how it will fit into the market. If you’re lucky, like me, the stories you want to write already fit into a genre (every story idea I come up with automatically turns into a romance, whether it’s contemporary, historical, or science fiction). Here are some “tests” to put to yourself and your story (adapted from Writing Fiction for Dummies, pp. 39–41):

  • Who are the authors you think you write most like? Which authors’ voices, language, and style most speak to you and inform your own writing?
  • What genre does your story fit into best? You’re allowed to cross genre lines, but for the sake of marketing it, one genre should be dominant—keeping in mind that there are many hybrid genres, such as Romantic Suspense, SFR (science-fiction romance), PNR (paranormal romance), Urban Fantasy, etc.
  • What do you think is the strongest element of your writing—what parts do you like writing most? Complex worldbuilding? Deep characterization? Snappy back-and-forth dialogue? Steamy romantic scenes? Answer honestly, not with the answer you think is “expected” or “right.”
  • What settings do you like to write? Real places in the here and now? Historical settings with as much accuracy as you can get without a time machine? Fantastical settings from historical-ish to urban? Otherworldly? How do the settings you enjoy writing fit in with the market for your genre?
  • What “expertise” do you bring to the type of story you want to write? How can you tie that into marketing your story?
      (For example, from my One Sheet for the Ransome series: “Kaye’s love of the Regency era started with Jane Austen. Her undergraduate literary thesis was entitled “Wealth and Social Status as a Theme in Pride and Prejudice,” and much of her final semester of undergraduate school was spent studying Austen’s novels. Her minor in history has given her a love—a thirst—for conducting in-depth, accurate research from original source materials as well as historical, academic, and literary criticism sources.”)
  • How long is your story going to be? Are you writing a short story? The market for those is completely different than it is for novellas, short novels (e.g., category romances), novels, and epics.
  • Who is your target audience? What are their interests? their education? age? gender? reading habits? spirituality?
  • How can you adjust existing parts of or add elements to your story that will help it better fit in with the market you’ve identified for yourself?

Once you’ve analyzed your story and your writing and determined whether or not you’re writing only for yourself or for yourself and the market, then you’re ready to figure out how you can incorporate the elements that the market desires into your writing so that you can eventually share the story of your heart with your chosen audience.

But remember, above all else:

Don’t chase the market;
write the best story you can
and let the market chase you.

Work Cited:

Ingermanson, Randy and Peter Economy. Writing Fiction for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 2010. Print.

L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1980. Print.

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