Do You Write for the Market?

My Favorite Local Bookstore: Women and Children First

A little while ago, I came across this post about the importance of writing to genre conventions for marketing purposes at edittorrent. It reminded me of a question that comes up from time to time when I am talking to other writers.

For instance, I will tell someone who is in a similar career position to me (as-yet-not-conventionally-published-but-working-to-be) that in the course of writing my first two books, I learned more about the market and wrote my third book accordingly. Invariably, I will get some version or other of a head tilt, a look-down-the-nose, and a pronouncement of “oh, I couldn’t think about things like that, I have to follow where my creative spirit leads!” Nine times out of ten, this is followed up by a snide remark about vampires.

(Fear not! They say vampires are Right Out, so there’s no need to lose any energy feeling martyred now if you don’t want to write about them.)

But here’s the rub, as far as I’m concerned: you don’t have a creative spirit. You don’t have a muse. (Neither do I.) I have spent too many years deconstructing literature to believe in any of that romantic claptrap about Literature being Magical. You have a brain, influenced by the society in which you live, the company you keep, the job you do, the beliefs you hold, question, overthrow, rebuild (with your brain) on a daily basis. Writers, as I long have told my literature students, make choices. Writers make choices. Perhaps they do not always–perhaps they rarely–make those choices consciously, but they make them.

The product of the artist is informed by all kinds of unromantic things that are not in the least Magical. I understand that it  feels like a muse or a creative spirit. I too have those voices that talk to me and to each other in my head; those characters that I could swear are real people just asking me to put words and flesh upon their living spirits by means of my books, but in the end, I decide what to write. I decide what to plot. I decide whether or not to write to a recognizable–marketable–convention or not and that decision will make a difference to whether or not I succeed in the kind of traditional career I want.

I am a highly creative person, mind you. My brain is just brimming with ideas and story fragments I long to fill out. But when choosing among those fragments, why not line them up with what seems to be the wisest market information available and choose which one to tell on that basis?

Someday, if I am rip-roaring successful, I will perhaps step outside of conventions (or into a less popular genre) and play there.

I may not even care to do this, though. After all (elephant in the room alert) some of this writing-to-genre/market stuff is about learning to write well. I am not saying all uncatagorizable writing is bad writing, but I am saying that being forced to fit your writing into a certain shape can be an excellent exercise for getting really good at saying exactly what you want to say no matter the form. It’s why I like to write sonnets and haikus. Once you master various forms, you are better equipped to play with them or outside them.

Mind you, I don’t exactly think that my gender-bendy historical adventures full of girl/girl and girl/boygirl kissing are exactly a tool of the man. So it isn’t as if my writing is without edginess or risk, but there are other aspects to the stories and the forms in which I am telling them that do fit conventions and categories, the better to sell my books.

How about you? What part does marketability play in your choices of what and how to write?


6 thoughts on “Do You Write for the Market?

  1. I’ve moved from being a totally literary writer (who never got published) to trying to write for the market. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have high standards, but it does mean that I want to be read by contemporary readers. So I write with my readers in mind more so than I did in the past. And I like to think my standards are still pretty high.

  2. It’s interesting that you touched on the subconscious aspect of the muse or choices that a writer makes. I’m in such a dilemma at this point in my philosopher’s mind over whether people even have conscious choice or not. at all. It’s actually kind of freaking me out.

    As far as genre fiction and how writers come to write in a certain genre: I’ll speak about the current writer’s market, for that is all I know – I only began to study ‘the market’, albeit intensively, six months ago in October after I finished the first draft of my first novel.

    When I say intensively, I mean x100 as an obsession. I won’t go into the gorey ink and bloody details but I’m certain sometimes that it wasn’t me all those hours, pouring over genre and reading first five pages at Amazon, going to the website, judging the whole package by what they’ve published, the professionalism of their schtick etc.

    I believe that many many writers in the indie pool are simply not that good as writers. I mean, there are a lot of indie novels that are not good writing period. Unfortunate and awful (on me) as that sounds, I just have to say it. In many cases, I believe that the genres were perhaps chosen for the sake of popularity and possible sales, but at the same time it seems that a great many of the writers in genre follow one another on social media and have what seems a common interest in that genre, the most popular being supernatural fantasy – with romance thrown in, all the better.

    Now, for my part, with my own little eensie weentsie novel (106k at the moment), I started with a simple idea that a girl goes off to find her father she never knew, and when she finds him, she ends up hanging back and just watching him instead of introducing herself, and she gets carried away documenting his life on the qt. That’s all I had at the beginning. I had the father character from a study I’d written years ago named Walter willow.

    The thing was, I never had really attempted to write a novel until then. I hoped that it would happen for many years, but it didn’t. So, last October, I sat down with my character sketch and idea about him being some girl’s father. Thirty-eight days later, I had 85k words give or take.

    Well, oddly enough, the novel ended up being a supernatural romantic fantasy!! And honestly, I was not even awawre of the genre. I mean the closest I’d come in the past was reading Anne Rice. So here I am with this ‘genre’ novel and I’ve decide to go ahead with it as such and say what the heck! It’s been a great learning experience of course, and I plan to carry on with at least another book to finish the story.

    So that’s my story on genre, how I got there and how, after I found out I’d written something as common as a housefly… now I’m scrambling to try and make it as sexy as possible, in a literary way of course!! Thanks for making me think about this. I still can’t believe this genre thing happened to me quite the way it did. I blame it all on Star Trek.

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  4. That’s really funny, Bree. My first book happened in a similarly weird way, though it wasn’t (at all, alas) a popular genre. However, I later accidentally began writing a space opera that is languishing in my subconscious while I do other things for awhile.

    As for Indie writers choosing popular genres and hoping to make money that way–I agree that a lot of the writing is simply not very good. But I think the motivation most of those writers have is a love of that genre and a lack of knowledge about…the market. They think they’re going to be the next runaway bestseller. And stories of obscure writers who Made It Big abound, contributing to the fantasy and not telling anyone much about the way it REALLY work. As far as I’m concerned, a self-published novel has exactly the same chance of being the next [insert wildly popular book series here] as the writer has of winning the lottery.

    The good news is that unlike the lottery, you can learn about the way publishing really works and increase your chances of some success (though it likely won’t be enormous success). It’s still a long-shot, but at least it’s an educated long shot!

  5. I agree that pie in the sky gets a helluva lotta forks comin’ at it. I just find it hard to believe that a person could love to write and fail miserably. But then, that’s what love is all about a lotta times. It’s about lovin’ not chiseling out an Anthony & Cleo relationship. Anyway, I’m all over the place today. I do have the ink-ling that you’re one of the lucky ones with faerie dust in between the lines and I’m one of those ones who believes that good writing is more dependent on magic than craft. I began writing in earnest in high school, two years of creative writing. We wrote a short story a month on top of everything. My teach used to bring me out in the hall and make me read my stuff to him. I didn’t realize at the time totally what was going on. He didn’t say directly, but he thought I was plagiarizing. See, magic… Maybe some people just don’t believe because it isn’t in them. Cheerio, cocoapuff.

  6. Pingback: What the f… genre! | Man Rabbit

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