Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pearls of Wisdom - Writing to the Market

This post originally appeared at The Romance Studio blog on April 9, 2010.

When you first get serious about writing, you might start attending writers' conferences. A very popular feature at all these conferences is the Agent and/or Editor Panel. This is a great opportunity to hear what agents and editors are looking for in manuscripts, or at least what they think they're looking for. These panel discussions frequently wind up being standing room only, they are such a hit with beginning authors. My advice to you if you see one of these panels: run away!

Okay, I'm kidding - but only a little bit.

Sometimes you can learn very interesting tidbits at these panels. If you write Steampunk Westerns and Agent X declares that she would just LOVE to see a Steampunk Western, you know you should send your manuscript her way. If Agent Y declares that she HATES stories with adorable precocious children and you've just written The Parent Trap 2010, you know you should not submit your story to Agent Y. So agent and editor panels can be useful in helping you target your completed manuscript to the right person.

But if you're still trying to find your niche, listening to agent and editor panels can be a dangerous thing. I know many a writer, myself included, who has spent entirely too much time in the last five years trying to write a vampire or werewolf story because agents and editors couldn't get enough of them. Such stories are great if your heart is in them. If not, your story will be weak and unoriginal, and an agent will be able to sense that you didn't write it with passion.

Trying to tailor your novel to the wants or needs of "The Market" can lead you up a blind alley. For one thing, even writing a BAD novel can take months out of your life. If your heart isn't in it, there's a good chance you will eventually hit a block and not be able to finish. And then you'll have wasted those months when you could have been working on something you really cared about.

Don't try to guess what you "should" write by looking at the books on the shelf today, either. Many publishers take as much as two years to publish a novel from the time they offer the author a contract. That means books you see on the stand now were contracted long ago. The publisher probably already has a backlog of books in a particular genre, so if you write more of what you're seeing on the shelves, you'll be behind the power curve.

Even if an agent or editor gives her opinion on what you should be writing, remember it's just that: an opinion. The publishing business seems to be every bit as big of a gamble as playing roulette. I remember one year hearing several agents and publishers at a panel going on at great length about how the Next Big Thing was going to be French Revolution romances. That was about three or four years ago. I don't know about you, but the bookstores in my area are not exactly overrun with French Revolution romances. Sure, I've seen a few and the ones I've seen were good stories. But the Jacobins have certainly not replaced Jacob and Edward as the latest craze. And probably when Jacob and Edward came on the scene, no one had any idea how huge that craze would become.

The truth is -- the odds of getting a publishing contract are slim, and the odds of making money at it are even slimmer! But in a way, that's good news. It means you might as well write what you enjoy. If you've been trying to listen to the experts, stop it now. Don't "write to the market." Write what you love, however goofy or unmarketable it is. And maybe you'll be lucky enough to START the next craze!


  1. Indeed! Went to National once and found it fun but unless you're in the mid level or best seller lists, I found it something I'd spend money on only every five years or so. Including the panels. Hearing what agents wanted only got me down since I only write what I love (as you recommend so rightly). I see lately the First Sales in RWR this month are history, paranormal and erotica - nary a RS to be found - but I keep writing that!

  2. I agree. Write what you love. By the time you'd write what's popular, chances are it won't be the in thing any longer! A story comes out much more passionate and real if you write what's in your heart.

  3. I write American Civil War romances, both straight historical and paranormal and is that ever an unpopular time period! I'm lucky in that my publisher, The Wild Rose Press, was willing to contract all my stories and even luckier that the first published book contest I entered my CW romance in, ended up with my book taking 2nd place in the historical category. As for money, the royalties on my books aren't exactly pouring in, but I do have a few readers out there. Now, I'm trying to complete my first post Civil War romance. We'll see how that goes.

    I definitely never wrote to the market, though, just wrote the period I love and what I like to read.

  4. I've tried to reply to all your comments a couple of times but Blogger is having one of it's bad days. I'm going to try once more, then give up. Probably I'll come back later and find five new comments - all from myself!

    Susan, I have another friend who writes Civil War romances, and she agrees that's a hard sell. But you're better off sticking to your favorite niche and waiting for the market to find you.

    Lynn - I definitely know what you're saying about romantic suspense. I took all the suspense out of one manuscript and turned it into a straightforward romance just to suit an editor - who then rejected it anyway! Fortunately, I sold it elsewhere. But the moral of the story is: stick with writing what you love, because if you don't really love it - no one else will, either!

  5. Great advice, Lynn. I know I've been guilty at times of trying to write for the market, and it never works. And you're right about the agent/editor panels. I love the ones who say they want something different and they'll know it when they see it. But it seems to me I don't see any themes that are "different." So it's impossible to figure out the market. I agree to write what you love.