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Write What You Know, or Write What Sells?

Discussion in 'Marketing' started by neodoering, Mar 2, 2017.

  1. neodoering

    neodoering Minstrel

    Every few years a trilogy of vampire novels goes completely berserk on the sales chart, and another millionaire writer is born. So people write vampire novels. They write a thousand vampire novels every year and spam the inboxes of agents, editors and publishers with their stories. And inevitably, some of these will be accepted and will be published, and they will make their writers some money.

    And ditto with cyberpunk stories. And steampunk. And "invading aliens" stories. And "talking animals" stories. etc.

    The point is, these tried and true marketing categories are formulaic and well-defined, so all you have to do is study the forms and then produce your own copy. The competition is fierce, because it's easier to mimic someone else's success than forge a path to success for yourself, but at least you're taking a chance on material with a proven rate of success.

    On the other hand, there are those writers who strike out on their own, writing about subjects that are personally interesting to them. There is no proven track record of success for their ideas, and no neat marketing categories all ready-made. Just the desire to tell a story out of personal experience.

    Which type of writer are you? You know it's a waste of time to fight the competition for another vampire novel. But you also know it's a waste of time writing an entire novel that doesn't fit a neat marketer's dream. In either case, your chances for success are tiny, almost microscopic. So which do you think is better, and why?
  2. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    Your odds of success are slim, so might as well write what you love unless someone pays you to do otherwise. If you happen to love the type of story in vogue, or better, about to be the it thing, all the better, LOL.
  3. To answer this question I have to first ask what is your goal as a writer. Do you want this to be your "day job"? If you want it to be your day job do you want it to be your day job right now or do you want it under certain conditions.

    Take me for example, I have a profession. I like this profession. I still want to be a writer for my day job. But not right away. I want it under certain conditions, like that I make as much as I do now through my writing and other considerations. So, for me, I write what I want to write, what I love to write. I have no reason to push out the formulaic stuff. So, I won't.

    However, if your goal is to be a day job writer right now, you best write to the market. But at the same time write your passion. It's just that your day job should overcome your passion writing.
  4. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Me, I write what interests me. If it's a vampire story, it's a vampire story. If its a story about a mutant potato conquering the world, it's that. Unless someone is giving me a check to write X, I'll write what I want. But that doesn't mean, I won't choose to write a story first because I think it has a better chance to be picked up. But again, it has to be a story I'm interested in, not just what the market wants.

    IMHO, if you chase the market and don't actually have an interest in what you write, then it will most likely show in a lacklustre effort. Doesn't matter how many check boxes you tick off because there will be something missing. It's hard to articulate what that something is, but it's basically an insiders in the know type thing, like spotting a wannabe from those who are genuinely interested in something.
    Xitra_Blud and Alyssa like this.
  5. I will never sacrifice writing what I love on the altar of making money, I'm afraid...

    Some of the things I love do, I think, fit into prescribed categories that have an established readership. That's fair enough.

    (Why must you assume that people who write about vampires do it because it sells, and not because they read and enjoy vampire novels and are inspired by them, or simply like vampires?)

    Many of my books don't. Probably most. My ideas and stories are insufferably weird and I like them that way. They don't fit into genres or trends. And, well, I don't care. I write them anyway.
    Alyssa likes this.
  6. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Well, this argument looks differently from the side of "gee, I can use my writing skills to make money so I won't need to work at a job I hate and instead be able to do what I love."

    Some here seem to think it's dirty and un-artistic to focus on making money from writing. That's okay. I'll happily keep cashing my Amazon royalty checks.
  7. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

    If I want other people to read my writing, it seems only fair to consider what they want to read. I still write what I love, because I would get nowhere otherwise, but I try to shape it according to how I think my target audience will receive it. I've written several short stories, and usually ended up self-publishing those stories where I didn't have a specific target audience in mind at the time of writing.

    I'm currently working on my debut novel. I intend to look for an agent once I'm finished. I am trying to be original yet marketable. Some agents will tell you they are not interested in novels featuring vampires, werewolves, angels, etc. I'll be looking at those agents first, because I'm not writing about vampires, werewolves, angels, etc. The trick, it would seem, is to find the agent who likes what you like. This takes a lot of research. I'm reading novels that were handled by agents I'm interested in, to see if I like those stories. I figure if I hope to make any money from my writing, then I have to put in the work. It's not just writing the story that matters.

    Some writers are not interested in sharing their work. Great, they can write what they love. They don't have to care about what others think. They don't need to ask anyone advice about what they write, because who besides themselves is ever going to care?

    If a writer does share but has no monetary incentive, then again, what does it matter if they write well or write crap, unless, I suppose, they only want respect. If at some point they are hoping to sell their fiction, is it a better use of time now to practice writing to an audience or to just write what they love? If the latter, are they hoping that when the time comes for them to sell their fiction, they will somehow transform the readers of the world with their awesomeness? It's not impossible. I hope to do that too, but that's not my only plan.
    Alyssa likes this.
  8. SergeiMeranov

    SergeiMeranov Scribe

    If you read pretty much any book regarding how to write compelling fiction it will address this question. The resounding chorus of answers is to not try to write what is "vogue" because that is a moving target that you're never going to hit. If tomorrow a new vampire series takes off like gangbusters and mints a new billion dollar series it won't matter at all to someone that's still writing. Even if you assume your book is finished, you still need to submit it to agents, then publishers, and then go through editing and publishing before it finally hits the shelves. At that point, whatever is in vogue has changed.

    This is why, as others suggest, I think it's more important to write what you love. The focus of a writer should be to write a good story. I think the only advice ever given in most writing books is that you should have some eye to what sort of an audience you imagine for the book but other than that you shouldn't be chasing what's popular. To me, it has less to do with "artistic integrity vs. writing to sell" it's more about the fact that good books are better to sell and read than bad books. It's a re-imagining of that old proverb that says a true leader doesn't find a group and ask where they're going so that they may lead them there, a true leader convinces people to go in the direction he's going. So, applying it here, a good author in my mind writes a good book that becomes popular, they don't focus on what's popular to figure out what to write.
    Alyssa and Russ like this.
  9. Alyssa

    Alyssa Troubadour

    Yes, vampire/werewolf/hot-guy-with-no-shirt-on fiction sells. It's also an oversaturated market. Making it brutally competitive. The end result might not have, and I'm sure you agree, literary merit. But this is being conflated with the story in question being compelling.

    compelling story ≠ literary merit (although a story sometimes has both)

    There is indeed a market for vampire/werewolf/hot-guy-with-no-shirt-on fiction and so people write this. Also, it is sort of hot. But make no mistake. The book may never win any prizes. But it is a good, compelling and generally well-written story. That is why, out of the slush pile of vampire/werewolf/hot-guy-with-no-shirt-on fiction half a mile high, that story in particular gets chosen. Because it is compelling, because it appeals.

    That, I think, ultimately, is why people read. Because a story draws them in – literary merit be damned.

    Compelling books sell. It doesn't need to be vampire/werewolf/hot-guy-with-no-shirt-on fiction. Although it does have a large following and market, which helps – they're also a very hormonal and demanding audience, though.

    Write what you know, as long as what you know is a compelling story. Because compelling stories sell.

    Even hot-guy-with-no-shirt-on fiction started somewhere. Make your own breakout genre. People will read it if it is compelling enough – though it might be a harder climb, granted, the rewards are also far greater. But please, for the love of Xenu, stop singing lascia ch'io pianga mia cruda sorte. You chose the hard road, with greater rewards if you succeed, no one forced you onto it. The stones cut everyone's feet.
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2017
  10. YES YES YES! It's nice that we think along the same lines. :D
  11. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    Write what you love, the stories that live inside you, the stories that only you can tell. Success will follow. Some writers are more or less commercial than others, and that is okay. We all follow our own artistic path.
    Ronald T., J. S. Elliot, Russ and 2 others like this.
  12. ^Well said!
  13. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    It also makes sense to learn and understand what your chosen audience likes to read and why. I don't understand when writers say they want to make a living off their fiction yet are unwilling to take their readers into consideration. I write to market and also write what I love. I'm happy with this balance, which does exist. It doesn't have to be that being an artist means you starve.
  14. This discussion reminds of a song from a musical. [video=youtube_share;iKaqJCodIf4]https://youtu.be/iKaqJCodIf4[/video]

    But here's what I'd like to talk about. There's this myth that a writer can only write one book a year or something like that. Or must be an artist. Me must suffer for their art. They don't. They can be a market writer and an artist writer. They can write for money and write for passion. It's a matter of discipline and work ethic and time.

    I've crunched some numbers, when I'm writing, actually writing, I can crack out 5600 words in an 8 hour day. That's a little over three work weeks to do a first draft of 90k words. That leaves another 11 months to do other things. 11 months. I'd bet that I could crack out two books a year. One for market and one for love. It's possible. But we have some strange ideas that an artist must not treat their writing like a job or else their art will be some how sullied. It's a strange idea.

    So like the little girl in the taco shell commercial I ask
    J. S. Elliot, Demesnedenoir and Russ like this.
  15. Russ

    Russ Istar

    I think BSA and AEL are pretty much dead right. This is a false dichotomy indulged in by people who want to really simplify things.

    I suspect that the people posting about not sacrificing their art etc have never had to try and pay the rent through writing. Sometimes being uncompromising is a luxury that one cannot afford.

    I am also pretty confident that one cannot chase the market to any degree of success in publishing.

    AEL is right. Write what you love. Editors, agents and the public, or most of them, can tell when you are not.

    And I find it odd that the OP talks about all the genres with any success already being defined. I have been to his website and seen his pic and he looks to about my age. I am just over 50 and when I was a young guy reading spec fic, there was virtually no vampire literature, no werewolf literature, no steampunk, no cyberpunk, no New Weird, no urban fantasy, no grimdark and erotica was a tiny market. Given time I could think up a few more. These are all completely new genres that have risen from almost nothing to significant success over my lifetime. Literature is evolving all the time. There is no reason that one cannot be a catalyst in that evolution.
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2017
  16. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    Absolutely not an either or situation. Now mind you, I don't need to write for a living, but bet yer ass, write to the market you love.
    Alyssa and Russ like this.
  17. That's a very good usage of a meme. I commend you for it.

    And it's something worth considering...yes, why not both?

    I mean...here's a thought: why do we assume that the stuff we love won't sell? (I mean the fact that we love it means something; are there not other people like us out there somewhere, who would read such books if we were to find them?)

    I personally have an aggressive commitment to artistic integrity. Yeah, I know a lot of you probably find that idea annoying, but I'm committed to the ideas I love and writing them the way I want to write them. That doesn't mean I've resigned myself, martyr-fashion, to a life of being a sadly underappreciated starving artist. I think that there are people out there that will read and love my ideas.

    I know where my priorities lie. As I said before, I won't sacrifice writing what I love on the altar of making money...

    But, do we even have to choose between the two? That is what I'm pondering now...

    Some people seem to frame it like "there are prescribed categories of books that sell and if yours is a little different, well you're screwed..."

    Does the market really work that way? Somehow I don't think so.
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2017
  18. I really have no idea how one would be like "Hey, this thing is selling! I'll write a book about it of my own!"

    Writing is hard as hell. The way I see it, the only thing that gets you through it is your love of it.
    Ronald T. likes this.
  19. Russ

    Russ Istar

    Digging a ditch is hard as hell, coal mining is hard as hell, commercial fishing is as hard as hell, high steel construction is as hard as hell...but there is that whole "pay the rent, feed the family" thing...

    It appears you have a fairly narrow worldview on these things.
  20. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I've seen author interviews where people talk about how they have to write to the market, and they don't talk about vampires. Instead, it's usually, "I wrote a book, people really liked that book, and now all of the pressure is on for me to do a sequel." On the other hand, I've seen several submission guides which include something like, "We do not accept stories about vampires or zombies."

    The "market" is a big place, you only need a tiny slice of it to do well, and the bigger slices have way more competition. Honestly, anyone telling you to write about vampires - I mean, the advice sounds kind of amateurish to me.

    ^ Yeah, this. Vampires are popular. People like them, so they write about them. I don't think there's many credible people out there thinking, "I hate vampires, but I'll write about them because it'll make me stinkin' rich."

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