Part of the Indie Author Series
For decades, traditional publishing wisdom has said don’t chase trends. It made sense. A book in traditional publishing usually takes two years or more from finished draft to for sale. By the time a traditionally published book hits the market, whatever trend the writer was chasing is long gone.
But, as indies, one of our major advantages is that we’re quick and agile. In many ways, we’re only limited by how fast we can write and find slots with our chosen editors and cover designers. Because of this, self-published authors have an option that traditionally published authors don’t. We can experiment with writing to market.
Writing to market isn’t a new concept, but it’s been gaining notoriety in the past few years, starting with C. S. Lakin’s pen name experiment and making news more recently with Chris Fox’s 21-Day Novel Challenge. The technique certainly has its detractors, but I think it’s important for us to know our options as indies and to make informed decisions about what will be best for us and best for our career. Writing for market won’t be for everyone, but it will be right for some.
When an author “writes to market,” it basically means that they study a genre, figure out what features the current bestselling books in that genre share, and then they write a book that fits those tropes. For example, Chris Fox wrote his book Destroyer to fit what was hot within the genre of military science fiction. He discovered that readers were devouring books about maverick captains in decrepit ships saving the world, so that’s what he wrote.
This is backwards from how most of us write. For most of us, we come up with an idea we love, we write it, and then we start to think about its marketability. That means that sometimes a book we love doesn’t sell. It might have been excellently written, but it wasn’t something people were interested in reading.
Done correctly, writing to market can provide a higher income and fewer frustrating “misses.”
So if we’re thinking about writing to market, how do we go about it? What do we need to consider?
#1 – Make a list of popular genres we already enjoy reading.
One of the critiques against writing to market is that it’s selling out. My first answer to that is “so everyone working at a job they don’t adore is selling out?” Obviously that’s not the case. Being responsible adults means paying our bills even if we don’t love the job we have to work to do it.
Beyond that, we can write to market while also writing what we love. Many writers (myself included) read and enjoy more than one kind of book. I’ll read a cozy mystery, followed by military scifi, followed by a romantic suspense, followed by urban fantasy. I’d be happy writing in any of those genres. I don’t, however, read or enjoy steamy billionaire romances, so I shouldn’t try to write them. I’d be miserable.
When considering your next book idea, writing to market means taking into consideration where what you love aligns with what’s selling.
#2 – Choose at least 3-5 of the currently bestselling novels in that category and study them.
We need to know the category well before we can create a book that fits it. We’ll be looking for commonalities between the books that are selling well because those are the themes and tropes that are resonating with readers right now. (Susan Kaye Quinn has an excellent section on this in her book For Love or Money.)
There are two potential pitfalls in this step. The first is that it takes time. If you’re a slow reader or busy, things could change before you’ve finished your analysis.
The second, more important one is that not everyone is good at this type of deconstruction. We all have individual skills, and being able to spot patterns within general examples isn’t a skill that everyone has. If you struggle with this, then writing to market might not be for you.
#3 – Figure out how to deal with or avoid burnout.
Writing to market requires writing fast. Trends can change suddenly, and if we don’t write and publish quickly, we’ll miss the wave.
This can lead to a hectic production schedule and burning out if we’re not careful. Before we attempt to write to market, we need to think about whether we can write fast, whether we want to write fast, and whether we work well under pressure.
Not everyone has a life that allows them to write at the pace required to write to market. Not everyone wants to. And not everyone can produce high-quality work under intense pressure.
Deciding to write to market is about knowing ourselves and what we want.
#4 – Make a marketing plan.
Part of the appeal of writing to market is the hope that books written to market will “sell themselves.” Once they hit the top 100 in their category, avid readers of that genre find them, and because they were written to appeal to those people, they’ll buy them. Theoretically, that means organic sales will be high and the need to market will be low.
The problem is that we still need a way to make our books visible enough that those avid readers will be able to easily find them. When a book is first published, it has to work its way up in the rankings based on sales before it’ll appear on any of the lists. We’ll still need to break the visibility barrier in the first place to get those starting sales.
In that sense, writing to market isn’t a magic wand that guarantees wild success.
Have you heard about writing to market before? Is it something you’ve considered?
Marcy Kennedy is a suspense and speculative fiction writer who believes fantasy is more real than you think. Alongside her own writing, Marcy works as a freelance fiction editor and teaches classes on craft and social media. She’s also the author of the Busy Writer’s Guides series of books. You can find her blogging about writing and about the place where real life meets science fiction, fantasy, and myth at marcykennedy.com.
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