How To Write For The Market While Still Writing For You

Let me quickly say: I don’t believe any writer should be following trends. That’s not what this post is about. However, I do believe that writers who want to get published traditionally need to have their eyes open to what the market is doing.

Why You Don’t Follow Trends

  • Trends are something that no one can predict–especially when they end and you don’t want to be on the tail end of something when the booksellers are no longer stocking that “thing.”
  • Trends are established years before anyone knows about them. With the year(s) of writing, contract negotiation, and production, by the time a book comes out it’s either starting a trend or with a trend that you have no idea about until it’s on the market. Therefore, trends are started 2 years prior.
  • Following a trend is a quick way to date yourself and risk unoriginality.
  • Agents aren’t looking for trend followers; we’re looking for writers who have something unique to say about the world, even if that type/genre of story has been done before (romance, historical etc).

Why You Follow The Market

  • To me, follow the market means reading industry news sites, going to the bookstore a lot, talking to librarians and booksellers, and/or joining a book club. Plus, reading a ton!
  • Write for the market means to have your eyes and ears open to what’s selling and what people want to read. Do your own market research as I mentioned above.
  • The market is the group of people that would potentially buy your book. Do you know who they are?
  • The marketplace is where your book is sold. Do you know which books are being chosen as “staff picks” and “recommended reads”?

Why You Still Write For You

  • If you write for trends, are you really writing for you? Is being a follower going to be the thing that gets you up in the morning? Is chasing something the right way to hone your craft?
  • Usually, most writers I know, get excited when they’re doing something special to them. Something that’s unique to them.

At the end of the day, the special books are the ones that stand out in the market and start trends. The books that are well-crafted and speak to people like few books do. So, the bottom line is that you have to write for you because you have to work on that craft. You can’t move readers until you’ve understood how to exercise your talent.

For more on this, read a great interview between editor Lee Boudreaux and LitHub.

Q: How do you conduct your “market research” as a writer?

The Myth of the Overnight Success and What Those Stories Have in Common

Publishing has become a sensationalized industry. Journalists love to write about the death of the business, while those of us in it know it’s a multi-billion dollar industry that’s doing just fine, thanks.

Big stories consume the media cycle: the million dollar advance! the 18-year-old who secures a big publishing deal! and lastly, the overnight success! 

The overnight success is something that sounds great in theory, but deep down writers know it’s a publishing unicorn.

Things like honing your craft, writing a novel over the course of many years, and having a quiet publishing story are the backbone of this business. It’s hard for publishing to get out front of stories because there are so few that blow up and the majority of books are average sellers.

Thinking about Mark Zuckerberg’s book club has most recently perpetuated this myth. Some call it the second coming of the Oprah book club, but no matter what it’s going to move some copies. Whenever a tastemaker or someone in a position of power selects a book to promote (like California by Edan Lepucki) publishers can only react. Publicists are some of the hardest working people in publishing, doing everything they can to get their books noticed. But as soon as someone in that position taps a book as ‘one to read’ things get moving.

There is no rhyme or reason for when many books blow up. If there was a formula, us lit agents would know about it already. Which means there isn’t any tips I can give you to fast-track yourself to success. But we can try to unpack the times it’s happened.

What ‘overnight success stories’ have in common:

-They touch a nerve. Sometimes it’s cultural, political, business, or social–but whatever it is, it has its finger on something. (i.e. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother)

-They fill a gap in the market. The most common case of a book being highly successful is when it does something that no other book has. That’s why books like Station Eleven, The Age of Miracles and The Night Circus did so well. They take our world and put a twist on it: fantasy, magical realism, sci fi. This is the touchstone of many non fiction successes too like 2014’s breakout cookbook Thug Kitchen.

-They’re not always well-written, but they have other highly redeeming qualities. It’s not always The Goldfinch-type books that take off. Sometimes they aren’t the highest breed of literature, but what they lack, they make up for in other areas like character or plot. (i.e. 50 Shades of Grey)

-They tap a market that reads and has money to spend on books. It’s one thing to write a good book, it’s another to make sure it finds readers. And readers that have disposable incomes or a purpose to buy something. A market like the graduation sector is a big one. That’s one of the reasons The Opposite of Loneliness took off in 2014.

-Sometimes they set trends, and sometimes they’re the first to follow–but they’re never the last. New Adult is an interesting case study since we have some space since it took off in 2012. The first few authors continue to be the best selling. (i.e. Cara Carmack)

-They are never the author’s first book. Whether it’s your first book or your fifth, books that have been hiding in your drawer or published, the breakout book is almost never the first book you write. (i.e. Gone Girl)

Q: What keeps you motivated? The work you’re doing or trying to achieve acclaim?

What is New Adult Fiction?

bwbooks2I still get asked about New Adult on a regular basis. So here’s my notes about what it is:

  • New Adult is about characters from age 18-25 engaging in the next step of their lives
  • It’s about many firsts (like romance and going out into the world to live alone)
  • It’s intense, 1st person writing, dramatic fiction and very fun.
  • It’s about high intensity, lots of stakes, a passionate journey, and strong desires.
  • New Adult readers are an engaged readership. They are loyal readers and fans.
  • New Adult readers should go to their bookshops and tell booksellers what they want to see in stores. Booksellers need to know what readers want.
  • New Adult editions are original trade paper. Editors are looking for authors that can write and produce fast, good work. Continue reading What is New Adult Fiction?

Plotting Fiction: has it all been done before? 5 ways to keep fiction fresh.

This infographic about Man Booker 2011 prize plots got me thinking. There are only x number of plots in fiction. Some have argued 7, some have argued 36, some have argued over 100.

So how do you continue to keep it fresh?

  1. High concept: big plot ideas (THE LEFTOVERS, THE AGE OF MIRACLES) with traditional human experiences (coming of age, falling in love, family breakdown)
  2. Trends: you don’t want to be following them, but you can see what’s working and think about how to bring a new angle to it. And you can also see what isn’t working right now (i.e. publishers aren’t really buying westerns)
  3. Genre blending: i.e. women’s fiction meets mystery
  4. Contemporary inspiration: the ‘modern family’, globalization… Continue reading Plotting Fiction: has it all been done before? 5 ways to keep fiction fresh.