Writing for the market is a concept I’ve avoided until now, partly because I believe it’s a useless argument. Writing for the audience, or market, is very very hard. You have to spot a trend before it gets popular. Then you have to write a novel. You had to edit it, submit it, get accepted by an agent, and then get bought by a publisher. All before the trendwave crests and begins it’s descent.
Time isn’t your only problem. There’s the soulnessness of trendsurfing (if I can call it that.) You would need to be inspired to write the particular kind of story, right as it starts to get popular. The chances of that are nill. Most trendsurfers don’t have the luxury of inspiration. And if you’re not inspired, the story is bound to drag. This is one unavoidable rule of writing. A story may have all the potential in the world, but if you aren’t passionate about it, no one else will be either.
Trendsurfing has it’s benefits. If you decided to write vampire books a few months before the Stephanie-Meyer/paranormal craze hit, you would have made it huge. You could have written a series of paranormals. You could have launched your career. Hit the right trend, at the right time, and you could be set for years. Trendsurfing is like riding the stock market, I think, except harder, because analyzing the economy is much different than trying to analyze personal taste and mood.
Now lets swing to the other side of the pendulum: writing for self.
Writing for yourself is widely encouraged. If you write what inspires you, the story is infused with passion. Such honesty connects with readers. A story that you love has a drive behind it, a kind of unstoppable force that compels people to read. Editors love this in a novel: honesty, passionate rendering, drive.
But it does have it’s downs. Following your heart may mean writing something no one will read, no matter how passionate it is. Sometimes a story can get too real. Too edgy. The topic may be more than a mainstream audience can handle. No audience, no market. No market, no contract.
The whole debate is actually similar to the literary vs genre issue. When you start saying that –
writing for the market = commercial = bad, and
writing for self = art = good,
– it’s not about craft anymore. It’s about your ego. And this is the point where I usually take a deep breathe, turn around, and walk the other way. These kinds of debates aren’t worth it.
ZUCKERBROT: I have an officemate who has this wonderful nonfiction writer who…picked some subject matter that was so obscure. The agent said, "Who is the audience for this?" The writer explained that he or she was really passionate about it. The agent said, "But who's supposed to read this? You may be passionate about it—"
BARER: But you do want people to buy the book.
ZUCKERBROT: Right. It's not that you have to write for your audience. But you have to keep your audience in mind.” (from page 2 of the interview)
That really struck a chord with me. All this time I’ve been slaving under the belief that I should write what I love, just write it, and worry about marketability later. So I have. In particular, this came into play with my latest novel, Shatterbox. It’s been a strange premise from the beginning. In the back of my mind, I worried about who would want to read it. Who was my audience?
But I always knew Shatterbox had potential – maybe even lots of potential – which was enough of an excuse for me to avoid thinking about my audience. I told myself I could worry about it later. Unsympathetic protagonist? Worry about it later. Was I the only person in the world who liked this story? Worry about it later.
I wasn’t just writing my story, anymore. I was ignoring my audience altogether.
This is where we have to be careful. Often, we swing from one side of the pendulum to the other. There’s a middle ground. Write what you love, but keep your audience in mind. Watch the market, but make sure you retain your passion.
My question for you guys is, what if you can't find that middle ground? Should you stick with your story, or move on?
- Creative A