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Write What You Know, or Write What Sells?

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

  1. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I find that #3 must come before "Write what you love."

    I.e., if what appears on page happens to be a sign of "can't," I simply can't love what I find there. I know this from much personal experience, heh. It is quite obvious I haven't written what I love, even if I had a lovely idea behind my efforts.

    Sometimes I feel that focusing on "what I love" or the grand idea of "artistry" can become a little narcissistic. Narcissus stares at his reflection and feels great love; but perhaps only his eyes see that lovely thing. The water could be rather muddy, his reflection very unclear to any passersby who happen to appear, but he loves it. And what's wrong with that? If Narcissus is happy, shouldn't that be fine for Narcissus? Maybe; I don't know. But all too often there's not even a pool of water, not a real pool, but rather only the idea of a pool and the idea of that beautiful other staring back. The "what I love" doesn't actually make it to the page, may only be a dream for the future. This might not be a problem for the writer, but what does it do for passersby?

    Let us suppose that the author goes the extra step and builds a pool of water and many props around it so that any passersby catching a glimpse of the pool will find something lovely reflected there—the author's own lovely thing, but now presented in a way that others can love it also. Could you make the pool an exhibit and sell tickets to see it? Possibly. But what if no one wants to see it? Is this the fault of the 6+ billion other Earthlings who refuse to pay the price? I don't think so.

    I also find difficult the proposition that someone can write something that sells without loving it at least a little. Maybe he loves it precisely because it sells, heh. But I'd imagine there'd be a passage here, a passage there, a slight twist on the most common stock, and he'd take a little pride it in. Or a third possibility: He has written the most common of common stock and nothing else—but done so rather well, and loves it for that reason.

    I suppose you could say I, too, am not a fan of approaching these considerations as if the 3/4 choices are exclusive.

    TheCatholicCrow likes this.
  2. Russ

    Russ Istar

    Very sorry to hear about your husband's health problems. I hope he has a strong and wonderful recovery. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

    Also, please accept my apologies, and frank embarrassment, on the part of this community that I allegedly am a part of at MS, for being the first one on this thread to do you the courtesy of recognizing your troubles.
  3. Russ

    Russ Istar

    Different people write for different reasons and different people have different writing goals.

    What I find troubling is people who refuse to acknowledge that other people's writing experiences, goals and reasons are valid and have value. It strikes me inappropriate and oppressive when people suggest theirs is the one true way, or are unable to comprehend that others might d0 things for different reasons or motivations. This is particularly troubling where the experience being ignored or devalued is one of a group that is also oppressed or disadvantaged in other ways.

    The person who suggests (as the link above does) that money is the only way to value writing is an unhealthy as one who suggests that writing in a commercial fashion is not perfectly valid or that only love can get you through the hard work of writing a novel.

    I have a friend with three kids and a long gone deadbeat dad. She works a full time job and publishes two or three category romance novels a year (and if you are curious she makes about 5-8k cdn a book). This pays for her kids extra curricular activities and helps put gas in the car and pays for a vacation every year if she does it write. This award winning author does not write out of love.

    One famous author said not too long ago that that she continues to write "out of fear of the IRS". She was only half joking.

    One of the most successful novelists of the modern era said this about his writing:
    Now, there is no need for everyone to write for those reasons, but it is important, and civil, to recognize that some people write for commercial reasons and they are equally as capable of producing great work, or art if you prefer that term, as those who write for love or art's sake.
  4. Super kitty hugs for you, Chessie, and your family. :cat:
    Ronald T. likes this.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    It is worth pointing out that you are an audience as well. What sort of stories do you like?

    There are more of you out there than just you. That's an audience.
  6. Btw Chessie, I really only skimmed your post and completely missed that your husband's health crisis was occurring in the present. My initial reaction was that it had happened some time ago until Russ pointed it out...I will hope and pray for a swift and full recovery!
    TheCrystallineEntity likes this.
  7. I find that giving characters similar experiences to mine actually helps me overcome those experiences. Many of my characters have a 'well of sadness' hidden away inside.
  8. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

    You just described the literal definition of a boring novel. The same characters, the same plots, the same interactions your readership has seen a million times before.

    A writer who is writing with a primary focus on getting paid? They'll write in the genres their readership exists in. They'll include the "required" elements in those genres. And they'll either use or subvert every trope in the genre.
    The one thing they're absolutely not going to do is give the readership the same thing they've already proven they're not interested in.
  9. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

    If you write only for yourself? Get a blog. Write fanfiction. Go to FictionPress. But that's not what authors do. Authors don't write for themselves. They write to be read.
    Picasso painted to be viewed. Beethoven composed to be heard. Shakespeare wrote to see his plays performed. Authors write to be read.
    What do all of these have in common? Yeah, they did what they did because they loved what they did. But they wanted to sell.
    The concept of "do what you love" and "do what sells" being somehow in conflict with or opposition to each other? That's complete and absolute bull****. You can do both. You should do both, imho.
  10. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

    They've seen them a million times before for a reason. Because those plots and interactions stay popular.
  11. oenanthe

    oenanthe Minstrel

    eh, I wrote what I wanted to write. I didn't consider what was "in" or what was "out." I wrote the story that barely let me sleep.

    And that's what I'll continue to do.
  12. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

    Damn. And I thought I loved a ridiculous argument.
    If those plots and interactions remained popular? They would still be constantly written. But they're not. Because the readership has moved past them.
    And with that, my time with this argument is done. (Note: No matter how personal you feel that may be, it isn't. The argument you are making is my problem, not you.)
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2017
  13. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

    I do both. I write to market and write what I know and love.

    How? It's not that difficult. There is always a fantasy market. There is always a science fiction market. There is always a spec fic market. So the stories I love and want to tell? There's always a market for them.
    I don't chase trends. Vampire stories are hot right now? I'm not going to tell one. Why? Because by the time I got one written, edited, pitched and published? The trend is going to disappear and something new will have taken it's place. Wizard school stories are popular? Again, by the time I get it published that trend is going to be done.
    But character centric, character driven, fantasy? There is going to be a market for that for centuries.
  14. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

    I think this is an important point here ... as we all ponder the false dichotomy of something you love vs something you can sell, we should keep in mind that Fantasy is something that sells. For all of us here, there really is no distinction to be made. This question really only applies if you write something like Westerns. (Really, when's the last time you heard of a massive hit in the Western genre)?

    Nobody says you have to write Romance/Erotica ... but the Speculative market isn't exactly hard up for readers. So, assuming you have a piece that's well written (and well marketed) you should be able to make at least a few sales.

    What might need to happen though, is tweaking and relabeling something to fit in better with a certain market... that doesn't mean throwing in fluff (that hated love triangle or whatever it is you dislike) it might mean putting more emphasis on one subplot versus another or changing your label from general Crime to Psychological Thriller.... that's where compromise comes in.
    That's part of writing to the market.
    Christopher Michael and Russ like this.
  15. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    All this time I have been keeping an eye on this thread for administrative reasons, but now I want to join the discussion and present my own personal thoughts and points of view.

    Some of you are describing the initial argument of this thread as a false dichotomy, which is a term that is often seen in this site and I often disagree with it. In this case, I think that you need to see it from various points of view before deciding whether it's false for you, or not. For me, the described dichotomy is very real and valid and this is why:

    I tell stories because my stories are like friends that I meet, like a spark that comes all of a sudden and starts a wonderful fire inside of me. When a story comes to me, and I get to know it and become excited by it, often it's just not going to go away and I am forced to write it down.

    To me, the work of storytelling is incredibly pleasant and rewarding even if very few people read my stories apart from myself.

    That's why I write. To me, it's as natural and enjoyable as breathing and it's simply a part of my life, a part of who I am and why I live. Even if I never get paid for my work, even if I have very few readers, I still do it.

    Now, let's see what would be the other side of the coin:

    What if I was seeking sales, marketing and earnings as my main goals? The clearest path to achieve that would be to follow the kind of characters and stories that are more marketable, more sellable in our times. Let's say that stories about crocodile hunters were the biggest fashion and business today.

    In that case, I would be forcing myself to craft a crocodile hunters story so I can reach that large and exploitable target audience. I have no interest at all in crocodile hunters and their adventures, so instead of having a story come to me and start the Magic, I would be working on some kind of artificial project and I would hate the experience instead of loving it.

    Two totally different experiences, two totally different ways to work. In this case (again, for me) the dichotomy is very real.

    Now, from a different point of view: There is indeed a market for all styles of stories, for all genres. Some markets and target audiences are larger than others, that's the point. I know that there is a potential market even for my weird and not very sellable works, that's true.

    In this case, I could follow my passion and pleasures and at the same time seek a market. The dichotomy is indeed false from this point of view, but it seems to me that the original post in this thread meant something else: Whether to seek the largest market even if it appeals zero to you, or to ignore it in favor of doing something that you truly enjoy.

    If you are really happy and satisfied with a story you have worked on and finished, there are for sure many other people out there that would like it and enjoy it as well. You have market options anyway, so if you seek sales and earning money then go for that.

    I do not seek that. I know that it would be great if my stories somehow ended up at bookstores or even the movie theaters, but that's not why I imagine and tell stories. I do what I do for my own pleasure and satisfaction, and that's not a waste of time, simply because I enjoy myself like crazy doing it.

    Also, when I receive comments from my scarce readers saying how much they have enjoyed one of my stories, that's incredibly satisfying and pleasant as well.
    DragonOfTheAerie likes this.
  16. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

    What argument? There is none. White straight male leads are still the dominant money makers. Especially in my medium of comics and graphic novels, which features sex and violence all the time. The majority of comic buyers are also white straight males.

    So if I was only interested in money I would have all the prominent characters be white straight males and the female characters relegated to sexually available arm candy for said leads so the dominant market can live out their power- and sexual fantasies.
  17. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

    In other words: you watch movies but don't read books. Got it. Moving along.
  18. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

    Who says I don't read books? I'm saying prose novels aren't relevant to what I would do because I'm not making a prose novel. Duh. You were assuming everyone here writes prose. So yeah, move along.
  19. Russ

    Russ Istar

    I think your data may be out of date, and you build in some assumptions on top of that, which I might suggest are not supported.

    This industry study put women comic book buyers at 53%

    Think Comic Book Geeks are Just Guys? Think Again - Publishing Perspectives

    I have not seen a study that currently puts them below 46%. Which would basically put them neck and neck with male buyers.

    Now comic book buyer demographics are notoriously hard to track, because so many of them are bought at independent bookstores who don't get any useful data. But attendance at comic book conventions is almost equally split amongst men and women.

    One recent (abliet small and informal) survey showed that the majority of the youngest and newest comic book buyers are female.

    If you count Manga as comics it is basically a 50/50 split.

    And that is just the easy data question.

    Firstly we now have to ask ourselves is their a reason to believe that gay males read comics at a lower rate then their straight counterparts? I don't know of any reason to think that.

    Then you have to ask yourself if asian or black or hispanic males are somehow less likely to read comics at a lower rate than their white counterparts.

    I did see a number that 5% of comic book readers were gay.

    So if you do the math it seems highly unlikely that the majority of comic book buyers are straight white males. The real players in the industry have recognized this some time ago and have started trying to diversify both employees and characters.

    The last assumption is that the large majority of straight white male comic book readers (like say...me for instance) want to read the kind of material that you suggest is a guaranteed sure sell in the comic graphic novel world.

    I am not convinced that is true either. The Walking Dead graphic novels is pretty good evidence that is not what the market is hungry for.
    Penpilot and oenanthe like this.
  20. Xitra_Blud

    Xitra_Blud Sage

    I'm definitely the latter. Not so much that I write out from personal experience, but I write whatever idea consumes my mind. I don't write with a genre in mind. To be honest, I started writing because a lot of the stuff I found on the bookshelves, I just didn't like, and you know the saying, "If you want something done right..." so I decided to create my own stories so I could have something that would be 100% what I want to read. A lot of other writers would probably jump down my throat for this, but I don't write with a targeted audience. My targeted audience is me and people like me who are interested in the same thing I'm interested in (which is interesting because someone mentioned something like this in an article when I first turned on the site). If I ever break out into the writing industry, I know that I will likely be a very indie obscure writer, and I'm okay with that. In fact, I plan on publishing indie anyway, for the freedom to tell what I want to tell.

    Interesting question, btw.

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