When we begin thinking of our writing in book terms, one of the questions that often comes up is whether or not we should consider writing “for the market.”
There’s an assumption buried deep in that question, isn’t there? We assume that if we write for “the market” (that anonymous and amorphous conglomerate!) our books will be commercially successful.
So, should you write for the market?
My first answer might surprise you…
Odds are, you already are.
If you’re writing in a well-established genre or tradition, then you are writing to the market. As you write your thriller or mystery or romance novel, you are writing within an acknowledged and understood framework, with certain specific conventions and obligations related to what readers of that type of work expect.
And readers? Readers ARE the market.
But perhaps you are a poet or a committed short story writer and you understand yourself to be writing in a literary tradition more than a commercial one…
Guess what, my posh friend? You’re writing for the LITERARY market. You’re writing for people who like to buy and enjoy poetry, or short stories, or novels that defy structural conventions. Those readers — and the publishers and editors who serve them — have expectations of you that are as real as any cute-meet standard to which a romance writer is held.
Different readers, different standards, but a market all the same.
So, should you write for the market?
You are, and you should.
By which I mean, write the best book you possibly can to entice and delight your Ideal Readers.
This all starts with knowing the traditions, genre conventions and obligations that come with the book you’re writing.
And if you’re self-publishing, you’ll need to know how to market your book within its category in order to reach more readers.
So, HOW do you write for the market?
You’ve got to read, and read widely within the genre or tradition where your book will find its home.
Writing a Regency romance? Read dozens of Regency romances. (The Bridgerton series, anyone?)
Writing a political thriller? Read a small library full of them, so many that your head rings with conspiracy theories.
Writing a literary novel? Read literary novels…a large selection of the best you can find.
Read widely, across all genres and across time.
But there’s a little more to it than that. (Isn’t there always?)
Should you write for the market?
You are, and you should, but…
Should you try to second-guess and time the market within your genre?
If you’re writing a political thriller, for example, should you look at what’s selling today in the political thriller category and try to write your novel to that theme?
I don’t advise it, for 2 reasons.
Reason #1: Timing
Books take time to finish, and time to publish. Even with self-publishing it can take 4, 6 or 8 months or more to get a book published and promoted from the time it’s written. With traditional publishing, you can expect a minimum of one year from acceptance by a publisher, and more likely 2 years before your book hits the shelves.
What’s trendy in your genre today may not be trendy tomorrow. Unless you’ve got a crystal ball at your disposal, it can be hard to predict where the book market will go next.
A good story well told in all genres will always have a place, so write the story you want to write — as well as you can possibly write it. This is the best way to write to market.
Reason #2: Creative Fulfillment
It’s also important to ask yourself what writing “success” looks like to you.
If you write an entire book because you think it’s what the market wants, in the hopes of finding commercial “success” and then your book is subject to the whims and fates of the market, you could wind up bitterly disappointed by pinning your hopes to something over which you have no control.
On the other hand, if you focus on writing the best book you can write, with a premise and characters you love, and place your attention on becoming the writer you need to be to do that book justice, you’ve oriented yourself around things you CAN control.
The odds are much higher that you’ll be satisfied with the book you write and the writing life you create in the process.