Whether you’re writing for the market or challenging it head-on, you’re bound to have a few questions. Understanding the ins and outs of genres and subgenres is no easy task, and it’s only made more difficult by capricious readerships and literary agents who seem to change their minds on “what’s in” overnight.
In this unpredictable age of biweekly best sellers and fickle fandoms, many writers are left wondering, Should I be writing for the market or trying to change it? While we can’t tell you what the next best-selling trend will be, we at Writer’s Relief have compiled the most common questions we’ve received to help you and your writing survive in this genre-driven market.
“I want to get published, plain and simple. Do I need to write for the market in order to have any hope?”
The short answer? No. The long answer? It depends on what you want published.
If you’re writing in a commercial genre (like mysteries or Westerns), it’s important to know the conventions of that genre. If you’re writing literary fiction, you have more leeway to do as you please.
“Does writing for the market increase my odds of getting published?”
Again, it depends.
Literary agencies don’t run on donations. Yes, all books are labors of love for agents and writers alike. And many agents represent books that they know are NOT going to be smash hits, simply out of love.
But being able to take a risk on a pet project is an available option only when an agent is making an income. Some of the most unlikely stories do become big hits—and agents love to discover the next genre-busting best seller.
But there is something safer in sticking with what works. The question is: Does it make you happy to do that? If the answer is no, then our advice is to go with your gut, throw out questions of marketing and positioning, and write the book you want to read. A lack of authentic passion when you’re writing a book will be obvious.
“I don’t like ______ novels, but they’re the only ones getting published. Should I write one?”
This is another question we receive quite often, and while the answer really boils down to your ability to step out of your comfort zone, we don’t recommend it. Writing about something you don’t personally enjoy can be frustrating, and you may have trouble finding the motivation to see the project to its completion.
Instead, focus on what you love. As a true fan (as opposed to an outsider looking in), you’ll know what you and your readers want to see in a story, and you’ll be able to correct elements that don’t jibe with your like-minded community.
“What’s the downside of trying to tap into a popular trend?”
The truth is that most writers don’t realize this is a “high risk, high reward” tactic. Yes, writing for an already popular genre will garner attention from market-savvy agents, but only for as long as the trend remains, well, “trendy.”
Simply put, the dedicated fan base required to push your genre-specific novel into the limelight can be fickle, making it difficult to rely on for a surefire success. This is all well and good if you’re the kind of writer who can pump out two or three books a year (think James Patterson), but those who take a year or more to polish their work may find their genre cycling out to make way for the next Twilight or Harry Potter.
“If I want to write for the market, how should I start?”
Do some research (and a lot of reading). Knowing the rules of various genres and subgenres can be important, but knowing your target audience is just as crucial. Remember, an agent may accept your work, but it’s the readers who will decide whether or not to pull your book from the shelf.
In a best case scenario, what you personally want, what readers want, and what the publishing industry wants will align and you’ll be on your way!
“I want to write about ______ because it’s popular right now. How do I do that without looking like a copycat?”
Writing for the market to match a popular genre can be tough; even when you’ve done everything right, readers may be turned off if they believe you’re simply riding the coattails of a best-selling novel. Our advice? Don’t title your book Harold Planter and the Chalice of Flame.
If you have a unique style and approach to a trendy topic, feel confident in following your own muses and seeing where they lead! The important thing is always to write what you love—and if what you love corresponds with a popular trend, lucky you!
Do I have to write stories and poems that are trendy to get published?
Short stories and poems are published in a very different literary landscape than books. Literary journals and magazines are looking for strong writing that doesn’t have to match any current markets or turn a profit. Instead, they want writing that speaks personally to the editors. Details are offered in their respective submission guidelines.
It’s imperative for short fiction writers and poets to understand what individual journals want in their work rather than using the global market as a kind of template. Visit individual sites and check out archived issues to see what kind of subgenres and topics they prefer.
But for those interested in publishing longer works with literary agents, the current market can be worth studying, if only for informative purposes. Even if you’re not into the latest mermaid/astronaut sci-fi romance craze, researching the market can help you discover what trends are bubbling up to the surface.
And who knows? The next trend might just be along the lines of what you’re working on now!
Photo by Olivander
QUESTION: Do you write for the market or fight against it?
Granted, you have to produce viable material to make it in this business. Yet the only way to distinguish yourself from other authors in the genre is to write that breakaway novel that emerges above the rest of the pack. One of the best ways I’ve found is through my style as a postmodernist novelist, which suggests you allow your writing technique to set you apart to the point of what is being called ‘cross-genre’. Lots of agents will arbitrarily reject your work for doing so, but to achieve greatness you must demonstrate a quality unique among your peers.
Your article failed to mention one thing. Luck. Like in Las Vegas there are more gamblers than there are winners. I’ve decided if you want to sell books then write one about how to sell a book. In Las Vegas they build casinos for the hopeful and the casinos are the only one’s making money. The same is true with writing. In the end, you must write because you love to do so, or like me, you will drive yourself crazy trying to keep up with “what’s in”. I’m a hairstylist so I see trends come and go but there are timeless hairstyles that when tweaked will fit into any fashion scene. Enter the editor whose job is to tweak. So I write, cross my finger, pray and press the send button!
“Write the book you want to read.” I agree that lack of authenticity is going to reflect in the work. If the author doesn’t have the passion and desire in their gut that drives the work forward then they’re pretty well doomed.
I have a manuscript that includes choosing or not to marry a gorgeous man who comes from a culture where women are expected to be submissive. While I think it valuable for women to find out about the man’s culture before marrying him, if possible, the culture involved is one whose feathers, the U.S. and others do not wish to ruffle, even though women who do marry these charming men often become prisoners or worse. I have seen several memoirs ghost written for these almost illiterate women, but not one written as a novel by an educated woman. This is also a sort of Romeo-Juliet story, but in modern times set in the Middle East and D.C.and includes exotic travel while on business. In case of offending agent ‘political correctness’ any suggestions re how to present the man in best light but just too different for a modern Western woman? Also, should I leave it at a :Dear John” or have her wooed and won by her longtime, and patient work colleague, Jake?