write out there and nonetheless write what you’re keen on
When new writers ask, "How am I successful as a writer?" The advice they get most often is "Write to Market".
The strategy popularized by Chris Fox's 2016 book Write to Market: Deliver a Book that Sells requires writers to select a genre to write, study the tropes of that genre of books currently on sale, and then write a book in this genre that fits all of the tropes. While many writers have difficulty embracing this concept, we will find that changing our perspective makes it more empowering than restrictive.
Why I didn't want to write in the market
When I first received this advice, as with many new writers, my response was visceral and negative. I felt like I was being told to copy work instead of creating it. I made sure I hadn't started writing to fit an existing form. I told myself I was an artist, not plagiarism; and that my ideas were so wonderfully unique that they contradicted all market expectations.
After writing and publishing several novels that no one read except my mother, I began to change my tune.
What helped me overcome my initial aversion to the idea of writing in the marketplace was to change my perspective on it. I realized that there were misunderstandings that I had to overcome. With a changed understanding, I could see why writing worked in the market and why I had to embrace it if I was to succeed.
Think of it as a letter to readers
The first misunderstanding I had about the nature of the "market". I viewed the market as a threatening and unpredictable invisible hand that decided which products were successful and which products failed.
Understanding and writing in the market felt like a Sith Lord to me. To do so would mean foregoing my calling as a pure artist and embracing the dark side that proclaims that money is king.
But the market is not a threatening, invisible hand. The market is the reader. The market is the word we use for people who buy books.
Asking the question: "What does the market want?" simply asks, "What do people like to read?"
Don't see it as a dark and confusing force. Imagine understanding what people enjoy and trying to create something they like for them.
Think of it as writing for fun
I am the main chef in my family. It can be difficult to find foods that all five of my kids will eat. When I sit down to prepare a meal, I have a choice. I can do something they like or I can prepare what I want to prepare.
If I choose the latter option, I might like the food, but dinner will be terrible because I'll be spending most of it to force the four year old to try it. I've found dinner is best when I cook something with elements that we all enjoy.
For example, I love broccoli, but my sixteen year old hates it. What my sixteen year old loves is garlic salt and parmesan. It's easiest for me to steam the broccoli and serve, but then I have to hear him moan and complain when he chokes on him.
If I take a few more minutes to cover it with garlic salt and parmesan cheese and then toast it in the oven, he'll eat it without complaint and I'll be able to enjoy my dinner.
The decision to write to the market is the same decision I make at the dinner table every night. I can ignore readers and do what I want to, but I have to understand that it will be painful for all of us to get them to try.
Or I can find out what they like, invest time to understand what I like, and then write something that meets all of our expectations.
If we find passion in writing things that our readers like, we will be more successful.
Think of it as writing to the adjacent possible
We have a misunderstanding about innovation. We believe that innovative things are earth-shattering new. We believe nothing like this has ever happened before when something innovative happens.
The truth is that the only innovation that is embraced is "the possible side-by-side". If something is created beyond what anyone has ever considered, that thing will be rejected because people cannot care.
Innovators need to speak the same language as the people they are innovating for. If they don't, then their innovation doesn't matter as no one can understand them.
Writing from a new perspective or with fresh ideas is wonderful and necessary. If this novelty is unrelated to readers' expectations, readers will not understand. Understanding genre and tropes is like learning your readers' language. It is important to be innovative in your language.
Write for readers who love what you love
If you're like me, your aversion to writing phrases in the marketplace comes from our misconceptions about what the phrase means. When we change our perspective, we can change our approach to writing for our readers in a language that our readers understand and enjoy, without losing our unique voice.
Do you know what your readers love? Let us know in the comments.
Take a small step towards writing on the market today. Think of a reader you know personally. Think about what this reader likes to read. Then, take fifteen minutes to write a story in a format and style that the reader is referring to in your head.
When you're done, share your writing in the comments below. Also, tell us about the reader you introduced yourself to. And when you post, don't forget to leave feedback for your note-takers!
Jeff Elkins is a writer who lives in Baltimore with his wife and five children. If you enjoy writing, he would be honored if you subscribed to his free monthly newsletter. All subscribers will receive a free copy of Jeff's urban fantasy novel "The Window Washing Boy".