Wednesday, June 28, 2017

What IS "Writing to Market"?

I got pretty sick after my mother-in-law's funeral last week. So sick, I ended up in the ER. I'll spare you the disgusting details. Unfortunately, I lay my recliner for three days with my meds and a fuzzy brain.

Which meant all I accomplished was talking about writing, not getting much writing, or editing, actually done.

Being limited to e-mail, my friend Jo and I had an interesting discussion last week about what most indies call "writing to market". The term is used as an umbrella device to cover a couple of different concepts.

1) Following Trends

This is one where a writer produces a work to capitalize on the latest hot selling genre/type of book. Fifty Shades of Grey is perfect example. When it hit the bestseller lists in 2012, writers and publishers flooded the market with billionaire/virgin/BDSM books.

Since FSoG itself started life as Twilight fanfic, there's the requisite romantic triangle. In fact, you can't sell a YA book to a big publisher unless it has a romantic triangle.

A few weeks ago, I re-read one of my favorites, Katherine Kurtz's Deryni Rising. The primary protagonist is Kelson, a fourteen-year-old who's about to be crowned king, assuming he survives various assassination attempts and challenges for the throne.

As I pointed out to Jo, Ms. Kurtz would never be able to sell that book as-is today. Kelson would have to be older with two girls after him at court. And that's assuming the editor didn't insist on his father's closest advisors, Duke Alaric and Father Duncan, having an illicit affair.

If you need another example, how many of you put out an adult coloring book last year after sales took off during the Christmas 2015 shopping season? Come on, don't be shy. This is exactly what I mean about following a trend.

The point is writing/publishing to whatever flash in the pan is hot at the moment is not always a sustainable career move. I've met too many writers who are burning out because they're bored producing stuff they have no passion for.

2) Hitting the Tropes

Jo advocates the "writing to reader expectations" point-of-view when it comes to writing to market. In other words, hit the tropes or at least, your version of the trope.

As in, a romance should the Happily Ever After regardless if you're writing a heterosexual, homosexual, or even an alien relationship. A mystery needs to introduce all the suspects during the course of the story and reveal who the culprit is very close to the last page. Your science fiction doesn't have to have spaceships and/or little green men, but it needs the effect of some type technological/biological/etc. advancements on the human race.

In other words, if you're writing in a genre you consume and love, you're more likely to understand the rhythms and tropes expected of that type of story. And you're more likely to continue as a career fiction writer.

I can hear y'all out there asking, "What about trends that become tropes?"

Hey, I admit it does happen, but I strongly suggest that you should aim to be the trendsetter, not the trend follower. Or even better, aim to have fun with your writing!

(P.S. If you want to check out Jo's books, here's his website.)


  1. Of course, if you want to write something with a romance in it where the main characters end up going their separate ways, with some other kind of character development going on (something besides, "Wow, a loving relationship is awesome and I'm so glad I have one!) you can do that. Just don't call it a romance. If the main POV character is a woman, you can probably call it women's fiction. If it's a man, you can just call it mainstream fiction. [cough]

    I'm on the side of Write What You Want And Then Figure Out How To Label And Sell It school. Unless I'm writing on assignment for a specific anthology with a particular theme and genre, like the Valdemar books.

    Knowing what defines a genre helps too. Way too many people think Romeo and Juliet is a romance [sigh/facepalm] for example, and then end up wondering why their "romance" doesn't sell, and/or collects a bunch of one-star ratings.

    I think this comes under the idea of being a trendsetter rather than a trend follower. If nobody else is doing what you do, you might well tap into a new and eager market.


    1. Yeah, if you don't follow a genre's tropes, you can't name your story as that genre. That was Jo's point about expectations.

      As Romeo and Juliet, I have the same issue when someone tells me Wuthering Heights is a romance. I mean, really? Have they even read it? Hell, I'd even spot them points for the damn Olivier movie. *smh*