Should you write to market or for yourself?
Jan 26, 2019 3:35 PM
by Lincoln Cole
Write to Market
This is a tricky topic. A lot of authors will recommend that when you write, you pick a niche market and attach yourself to it. This is called writing to market, and it is exactly what it sounds like: you find fans, and you tell those fans a story they want to hear. Then, when you are done, you start over and do the same thing.
For example, when vampires got super popular, everyone realized a vampire novel would sell well, and as a result, there were hundreds of them overnight. Then, when zombies took center stage, suddenly everyone was writing about those and adding their voice to the crowd.
This strategy takes a lot of market research to determine where markets are trending and what is getting popular at any given time. You also have to learn how to write different genres you might not be super comfortable with.
It can also backfire if you simply become just another author who is always behind the curve. Then you would end up selling very few books and get negative credibility as being a tagalong author.
More than that, it seems that this trend is starting to wear a little thin on readers who are growing wise to the game. They get flooded with the same thing all at once and start looking for something new a lot earlier now.
That doesn’t mean it is a bad strategy for shaping your career, but it’s also for a certain kind of author who usually spends his or her time writing with the intention of it being a career, and they are always spending time researching what is currently popular in their niche to make sure they are delivering the right content.
If you are looking to make your living doing this, then it might be worthwhile learning your market, targeting readers in a specific subgenre, and selling directly to them. It helps you focus on generating returns on your investment and can actually make you a lot more money overall.
After all, the alternative is writing a book for yourself, or writing a book you think will have a large market and isn’t for a niche audience. Writing a book designed to appeal to a large number of people might end up appealing to no one at all.
Writing for Yourself
The other side of writing to market is writing for yourself. This is what I do, and I’ve never completely abandoned a project just because I didn’t think it could find a market. After all, many markets crop up around a popular book, and you could actually end up at the forefront of the next popular trend rather than the opposite.
What should you do?
Write the book you want to and just enjoy the process. There are a lot of readers out there, so if you like something about your story, then chances are someone else will, too. The trick is getting your book into the hands of enough readers that you can find the people who will love your book and writing style.
Not everyone will like it
This one is important and we need to cover it right off the bat. Just like I mentioned earlier, your book is not your baby, and when you write it and release it out into the world, you have to let it go.
Not everyone will like your story. That’s just a simple fact, and if you think you’re going to write a book that is universally loved, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening.
If you want to see what I mean, go to Goodreads and scroll through some of the more popular books. Read the comments and see how nitpicky readers can get. Or, even worse, see how rude or just plain mean some of them are. It seems like there are a lot of readers out there who don’t understand that there is someone on the other side of that book crafting a story to the best of their abilities, and books can bring out the worst in people even if they aren’t controversial.
Plus, you likely won’t have a full team of professionals helping craft and clean up your story based on market trends, so a lot of people might hate your book just because it is different. If you don’t write like Stephen King or James Patterson, they might just dislike you on principle.
Something one person loves, another is bound to hate, and that’s just life. Sometimes, a reader who might otherwise love your book will have a bad experience with it because something else is happening in their lives.
I met a guy online who gave a string of books he normally would have loved all one- or two-star reviews simply because his wife had been recently diagnosed with a terminal illness. He was having a bitter couple of weeks, and he took it out on authors he’d never met.
Don’t take it personally, and also don’t give up your uniqueness simply in the hopes of making something more people will rate positively. If your plan is to write to market just so people can complement you on crafting a great book that is just like all of the other books it was pushed out alongside, then you’re probably doing this for the wrong reasons.
Good and bad genres
That being said…
There are certainly genres that perform better than others and have a bigger fanbase, especially for indie authors. For example, literary fiction is notoriously hard to break into for many authors, especially newcomers who aren’t published through a traditional publishing house.
The reason being: the audience who enjoys literary fiction is small, voracious, and incredibly opinionated. It also covers such a wide swath of topics that it’s going to be hard to find a good niche for your book that is big enough to make money off of.
Alternatively, romance is a great genre for indie authors. It is full of simple niches that are fairly easy to break into because the audience just wants and expects a certain thing, and if you can deliver that thing over and over again, they will be loyal. If you can find a way to make them happy, you can build an avid audience who will support you through thick and thin.
Other genres fall somewhere in the middle between these two extremes. For example, space operas (similar to Star Wars) have a huge audience and can move a lot of copies, but it’s also fairly well established. If you can break into the market, there are a lot of readers, but it is tough to get a first chance.
Horror is the same way, though it breaks down into a lot of sub-niches that are fairly popular. You can build an audience that won’t expect you to release books as fast as some other genres.
Erotica is similar to romance, but it’s going to be hindered by a lot of external weaknesses, including promotional websites not wanting to promote it, or actively suppressing it out of fear children might see it, or readers who are aggressive because they didn’t realize what it meant. That being said, there is a huge readership for erotica, you just need to cultivate it over time.
The point is, there are advantages and disadvantages to any category you want to write in. Don’t worry much about this, but also don’t neglect understanding your genre and the readers you write for.