I first came across the idea of writing to market in a book by Chris Fox entitled, simply enough, Write to Market. It’s a great book, and I highly recommend you read it. I’ve linked it below. I’m not going to go into extreme detail in this post on how to write to market (I’ll save that for a future post). But this post will specifically cover the issue of writing to market vs. writing what you love. Is it even possible to do both? But before we answer that, let’s cover some basics.
What is Writing to Market?
When we say “Write to Market” we mean writing a book that appeals to a specific group of readers, like fans of a specific genre. That not only means writing a book that fits within that genre but also contains several common tropes from that genre. These tropes are recognizable to fans of their individual genres, and therefore are likely to appeal to those fans.
The sad truth is, while people say they want originality, that isn’t exactly true. Consumers of entertainment crave the familiar. What they call originality is usually more like the same thing, but with a slight twist. It’s extremely rare that something new and fresh will take the world by storm. It can happen of course. Star Wars essentially started the Space Opera or Space Fantasy genres. And Harry Potter all but began the phenomenon of Young Adult books. But the chances of becoming a person like this George Lucas or J.K. Rowling are slim. That said, if that’s your goal, more power to you, but just recognize the chances are next to none.
We see evidence for this everywhere. There’s a reason why people say Hollywood has lost its imagination, with its focus on franchises and sequels. But the truth is, Hollywood has always been this way. It sticks to what it knows will sell, very rarely taking risks. This frustrates a lot of people, including sometimes myself. But just look at Star Wars for example. Sure, there were people that criticized The Force Awakens for being an unoriginal copy of the original films. But no one is saying that about The Last Jedi, or the prequels, and it’s no wonder why those films have fans more divided than ever.
People love the familiar, it makes them feel at home in their entertainment. If you write to market, you have a greater chance of tapping into that idea. You’ll have a greater chance of making money.
Is Writing to Market Selling Out?
Now I’m sure there may be many of you reading this post right now who are already frustrated with this line of reasoning. It may appear that people like me are encouraging conformity, selling ourselves out to make a quick buck. I understand how it can seem that way. And let’s be clear, I’m not saying everyone should write to market. But I am saying, that writing to market has proven time and time again to make money for many authors. I myself have an upcoming series that I wrote to market, and I will let you know how it goes. And certainly, not all books that are written to market will sell well, as there are plenty of other factors involved in the selling of books.
If you’re a fan of writing books about the autonomous lives of space molecules and their happy adventures in the nothingness of the eternal void, go right ahead and write that story. But don’t expect it to sell. In order to make it sell, you have to include some tropes in there. And that doesn’t mean that your idea won’t work as a market-ready book. That space molecule idea? Ever read the series or watched the television adaptation of The Expanse, by James S. A. Corey? With a little tweaking, any idea can work in an established genre.
Bottom line, you can write whatever you want. But if you’re writing with the intent to make enough money to sustain yourself, you’ll want to try writing to market.
Write What You Love
So is it even possible to write what you love if all you do is try to write what other people expect? Well, no. Not at all. In fact, if all you do is write what other people want, you will not be happy, and people will see it in your writing. It will appear flat and lacking passion. Because people can smell insincerity from a mile away. In his book, Become a Successful Indie Author: Work Toward Your Writing Dream, Craig Martelle presents a Venn diagram. On one side, you have a circle that says, essentially, “What people want to read.” And on the other side is a circle that says, “What you want to write.” The area where these two circles intersect is the area you can thrive in.
Believe me, I can guarantee you that there’s something you like that a lot of other people like too, be it a genre or a trope. Use that to your advantage. Find what you like that will appeal to the broadest audience, and start with that.
Should I Always Write to Market?
Here’s where some authors differ on their opinions of writing to market. But I personally think that you don’t always have to write to market. That said, if you want to make money off a book that isn’t written to market, you will need one big thing: an audience. If you’re a brand new writer, you should consider waiting on your heartfelt masterpiece until you have A) a little more experience under your belt, and B) a large group of people who love you. If you don’t have these things, your book is likely to fail.
So that is why I recommend you write to market if you are just starting out. Doing so will help you grow an audience and make money. Once you have a large backlist and are making a comfortable living off of your writing, you could consider writing whatever passion project you have that doesn’t fit with any market. If you’re established when you do so, the consequences will likely be smaller. That’s what I’m doing.