Friday, August 27, 2010

The Pros and Cons of Writing to Sell

As we all know, in terms of novel writing, there is a wide variety of markets we can choose: Adult, Young Adult, Middle Grade. And then there is a wide variety of genres within those markets: Adventure, Romance, Mystery, SciFi, Fantasy, Thriller and the list goes on. There are even subcategories. Some markets are bigger than others and so some are easier to sell to than others. So, my big question for today is, do you choose a market and then write? Or, do you write and hope your piece fits into a market and genre? There are benefits and drawbacks for both methods.


The benefits of writing to a specific market/genre:
• You have a place ready for your piece when it is done.
• You don’t need to go back and make major changes to force a fit.
• To write to a specific market you need to have first done the research about that market. Therefore your piece will have a greater chance of a good fit.

The drawbacks of writing to a specific market/genre:
• The perceived market could be too narrow and your writing could lack originality.
• The market of choice could be the rage now, but will die by the time you’re ready to query.

The benefits of not writing to a specific market/genre:
• You have the freedom to write what you want.
• Passion can drive your writing.
• Originality may be easier to achieve.

The drawbacks of not writing to a specific market/genre:
• Lack of knowledge of a genre and how it fits into a market.
• You discover after you’ve finished writing that your piece has no real place within any market.

I’d love to hear how you approach writing and the market. Are you willing to change or adjust for the hope of a sale? Or do you feel like you are giving up integrity if you write to sell? Do you just write and hope to deal with the selling later on? Have you found the middle ground? If so, where do you think that middle ground might be?

37 comments:

  1. I guess it all depends on whether you're an artist or a craftsmen/women :)
    Artists wouldn't usually pay much attention to money and commercial success, but those who only see writing as a profession would.

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  2. Dezmond, I think an artist can be free with their art and still work within the realms of sellability. Likewise a 'crafter' can still be artistic. But you are right: it depends what they want out of their writing.

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  3. I like reading a wide variety of genres, so I'll probably write a wide variety of genres eventually. Currently I'm writing YA steampunk because it seemed like fun and a character wouldn't let me not write it. :)

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  4. Jemi, I started writing a steampunk short story!! Well, I threw down some ideas for when I have time to write it once I finished my WIP first draft (soon!!!). I'm amazed how many times I have to explain to people what steampunk is too ;)

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  5. I have a general idea of where mine will fit, but I write what I want. I am hoping that I am never told that I have to change drastically just to sell. I love writing too much for it to become something I have to do the way someone tells me to, ya know? Then it will become a job. :)

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  6. Michelle, so it would depend on how much you'd have to change then? I'm not sure I'd be that strong. If it means getting published, then I hope it becomes a job I love.

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  7. Oh, you're so right. I am all talk. lol I see what you mean!! :)

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  8. This is where I struggle most as a writer: figuring out where my book, which does not easily fit into any genre, will go. But you always hear how agents are desperately seeking originality, and that's what I'm trying to do (whether or not I'm doing a good enough job is another issue)! But I understand why the publishing industry is wary: if they take a risk on something different, it may not turn out well and that's money lost on their end. Then again, what if it DOES end up the next best thing?

    Thankfully, though, writing is not all I'm interested in doing with my life, so I can be in this for the long haul if need be.

    Excellent points, Lynda!

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  9. you come up with the hard ones!!
    (loved the breakdown btw)
    right now, i'm just writing stories i like. genres confuse me. if someone has suggestions on how to improve my work, i'd really really consider the suggestions, because it's likely they know better than me... if they wanted to change the whole thing... well i'd wonder why they were interested in the book in the first place! i don't think it makes you a sell-out to work as a team with your agent/editor to improve your book... i don't think arrogance is a noble thing... and i don't think that we should trash our integrity in the pursuit of the dollar...
    so...
    i don't know... what was the question? (i hope this made sense- my brain is getting ready to quit for the day!)

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  10. Michelle, I think it's the happy medium you're after. Read Aspiring's comment. She put's it really well despite the tired brain ;)

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  11. Amanda, yep, it's something I'm struggling with as well. I guess that's why I posted the questions.

    I sometimes think the publishing industry is TOO wary. I know it's a business, I know the current climate for books is a shakey one. But I also know there are some BRILLIANT books out there that haven't been given a chance. (This could be a post in itself!)

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  12. Aspiring_x, If they wanted you to change your whole book then maybe they see potential in your writing and your characters.

    I like the way you put it -- working as a team with your agent/editor/publisher.

    I guess everyone has to decide for themselves where the line is to hold onto their integrity.

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  13. Lynda..it is difficult to find the middle path. My first few books were written without any clue about the market. Fortunately for me the publisher accepted the books and we toned down the language to suit the younger readers.
    But nowadays, I prefer writing for a specific market :Middle Grade. It then becomes easier to cater to that group and we can adopt a style, language and theme that will appeal to them.

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  14. Rachna, it's interesting to hear your experience on the matter. I'm glad you pointed out it's not just story to consider, but style, language and themes as well. Writing to a known market would make that a whole lot easier.

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  15. I don't choose a market. I just write books that interest me and then I hope they fit into a category. Most of the books I write do.

    CD

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  16. I can only write what I write. I'm a more than grown adult, writing about rabbits and cats and kids, I can't help it. My friends say I should write a book like "The Help" or some such. Not possible. I have some ideas for adult literary books, but right now I can't even imagine actually writing them. If that means I never sell a book, then I guess it's what it means, but what can you do?

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  17. I like to think that I write what I want, but I keep the idea of sellability in the back of my mind. While I do it because I love it, and I'm obsessed with my story, and I dream of my characters, etc., I don't want to be the only one who feels that way. It's totally and completely selfish of me, but it's true. So I think about the market, and I hope it fits where I think it'll fit.

    Interesting topic, Lynda. Thanks!

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  18. Clarissa, That's probably because you read a lot and you naturally know what the markets are. It doesn't have to be a conscious decision for you. (I'm guessing)

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  19. Melissa, I understand this. Some things we are just meant to write. The creative impulse takes over and there is nothing we can do about it. But at least there is a sense of satisfaction when we don't fight it.

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  20. Rosie, sharing our work with others in the hope that they will fall in love with our characters as much as we have -- I think that's the best way to look at it.

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  21. I wrote from my gut to start. I think that's the best starting point - to learn the discipline to take a novel to the end, you have to love what you're writing.

    Then I admit to tweaking to fit the submarket / subgenre that sells best in my country.

    At my recent conference, I learned what sells best where. So, if this first novel doesn't fly [or the second waiting for the spit & polish], then I am developing ideas within those categories.

    Writing is an art, but I do want a paycheck. :)

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  22. Hi,

    I write a stories which come to me - I know that sounds cliche. But they are stories which come from within and want to be heard. I guess they say there's a story inside of everyone.

    And yes, they fit specific markets/genres. But I don't choose the market/genre first and think - yes, I want to write a book for that audience. Its a little more organic than that. (for me anyway) ;)

    Great questions btw! ;)

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  23. Hi Lynda - This is a great post, especially in the crazy world we live in these days.

    I went to a conference not too long ago and heard the buzz words. Agents and Publishers, even authors saying: Dystopia is in. Vampires are out. No Zombies are in and Fairies are out. It doesn't matter as long as you write YA!!!

    I remember screaming inside. At the time I was trying to sell my romantic suspence. I was working on a couple of YA novels, but they weren't finished. Anyway, out of the chaos an agent of a number of bestselling books said something that I've clung to: "As long as you're writing what you're passionate about, your story will find a home." And I believe in that. For me, if I'm unhappy in my writing, it won't be as good. So I have to write what I love (even on the days when it feels like I'm pulling teeth - cuz we still all have those days). LOL

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  24. My latest book on writing romantic fiction stressed that you should know your market before you begin, but that sounds a bit cold. However, it would sure save reaching the end, then looking around, deciding who you're aiming at, then having to juggle word counts etc. (Which is where I am now.)

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  25. I really struggled with this one this past year after attending a conference and being told that they preferred historical and I wrote women's fiction. So, I redit a romance and plan to submit it but have decided in the process that I won't do anymore as my passion is not in that genre at all--and that counts!

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  26. I think you write what comes to you. Something that hits you and draws you in and gives you no choice but to write it. When you are done you look for the right home for it....If you write beautifully, it may take time, but eventually you'll find a home for your work.

    I've Beta read a couple fantasy books and I've loved reading them, but I could NEVER write that genre...it's not me. My mind doesn't go there. I love vampires, but to write it...no way. I love teens with issues, survival stories and historical fiction and picture books....that's my thing and I can't see me doing anything else.

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  27. I wrote with a general market in mind, but not until I started submitting (and it was accepted) did I consider the specifics.

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  28. M Pax, I agree. The best starting point is writing from the gut -- as you put it. Once you know more, do research, you'll start to get a feel for the markets.

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  29. Talei, writing the stories that come to you doesn't sound cliche. It sounds creative. You're lucky what come from your heart also fits a market :)

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  30. RaShelle, I love that agent's quote. I need to write that up somewhere I can see it everyday. And yes, we certainly do all have THOSE days ;)

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  31. L'Aussie, I think knowledge of some markets is more important than others. Eg Romance. But again, I think it comes down to passion for the genre. I remember way back in high school I tried to write a trashy romance for the mass market. I'd read only one such novel previously but I was certain I could do it. The forumla was so simple. Unfortunately I lacked the passion to write such a book and it came off as stilted.

    And yes, it also saves time if you know your market in the early stages of writing.

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  32. Terri, I think we need a huge amount of passion to pour everything we have into a book and make it the best it can be. There's no point pursuing a genre/market which lacks that passion.

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  33. Sharon, I think it's awesome you know where your passion lies. Me, I'm a fantasy girl with a smattering of scifi/adventure. But I love reading a wide range of genres. But, like you, I don't think I could write a thriller -- unless it had a fantasy element ;)

    Alex, Once you considered the specifics, did you have a lot to change?

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  34. I write because it is my passion but the truth is I need it to be profitable as well. I have just had my first novel published but although I have sold a few copies to friends and family I just don't know how to sell to a broader community. It's funny when I wrote it I really wasn't thinking of a genre, really just family or light drama. My agent though classified it as a children's book and forwarded it to a children's publisher. Now with a seven year contract signed I guess I am officially a children's author. I am glad in a way because my second book is a fantasy which I initially started as a challenge to see if I could write something in that genre. I had it written in six months and have been editing ever since. I really want my writing career to be a success as it is all I ever wanted to do. Unfortunately my publisher is American and not being terribly helpful with promoting it. I would love any ideas people can give me.

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  35. Marnie, I hear your pain. Gone are the days that the publishers did all the marketing work for us. We now need to get out there ourselves and spread the word as well.

    Grats on your contract. Blogging is a good way to start the marketing process, any social media is helpful eg Twitter, Facebook. You could talk to your local libraries,and since it's a childrens book you could talk to schools. Do book signings. There's heaps you can do.

    This is a whole blog post in itself!!

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  36. I like to think that I can have it all. I try to write for the YA market, but in essence writing for the market is a form of criticism. You could be asking yourself if what you're writing 'is fitting in.' I think that if I create a real live breathing teen character and tell her story, then it should naturally appeal to teens. If it doesn't than I haven't done a good job, regardless of what the market thinks.

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  37. Dayana, that's true. There are many books that have found success even though they seem to sit just outside the market. It's because they have well rounded, relatable characters and a great story.

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I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.