Thursday, May 31, 2012

Market or Heart

Yesterday, off the cuff, I posed a question on Twitter for writers:  Do you write from your heart, or do you write for the market?

Not a single person said, unequivocally, "For the market."

Not.  One.

There were some responses that blended heart with market in the way only a seasoned or well-informed writer could express.  But everyone else said, without apology, "MY HEART!"

Truly, that's what we're told when we're starting out.  "Write what you know.  Write what you love.  Don't try to be a trend-chaser.  Don't write for the market, because by the time your story is ready, the market will have changed."

There is wisdom in that.  If we want others to be passionate about our work, then we must be passionate about it.  And how can we be passionate about something we don't love?

And yet...

The market is a very real monster.  It might not want anything to do with what we love.  Even if we write what we love really well.  Even if our critique partners and teen readers and spouses and next-door neighbors and hostile family members and agents all LOVE what we've written.

We might still get chewed up and spat out by a market that isn't friendly to our genre.  Or, more common these days, that is saturated by our genre.

It's called GENRE FATIGUE.  And it stinks.

So, what's a writer to do?  I suppose it depends on what a writer wants.  And that still doesn't make for an easy answer, because if a writer wants to be published, but everything that writer loves and breathes and bleeds for isn't what the market wants...then what?

Should the die-hard adult fantasy writer force himself to crank out a middle grade adventure?

Does a love for paranormal romance need to give way to contemporary YA?

Do those of us who adore dystopian above all things (alas!) turn away from the stories that make our hearts soar?

Must we redefine our hearts in order to become truly publishable?

Or do we press on, following our hearts, writing what resonates with our souls, willing to ride out the market for as long as it takes for our turn in the sun?

Where does art separate from business?  And how?

No, I don't have an answer for you.  Because this is an intensely personal decision each aspiring author must make on his own.

Where do you stand?  What is your dream, and what will you do if your dream's trajectory isn't lining up with your heart?  Will you morph, or will you doggedly cling to what you've always loved best?

As always, I'm all ears.


  1. I write for the heart. I truly believe that if you don't write a story with your whole heart, then that comes across in your words and it hurts your story. Unfortunately, as you said, it's not always what the market wants, and that sucks. It really, really sucks. But I can't force myself to write a story when my heart is aching to pour out the words that it wants to put on the paper.

  2. Yup! Great question, and one my writer friends and I have been talking about a LOT lately.

    I love science fiction. Love reading it, love writing it. Love, love, love.

    But, perhaps in true self-deprecating fashion, I'm starting to think that maybe it's not that the market isn't friendly - maybe *I'm* just not writing stuff that stands out enough in the market.

    I just came up with the first YA contemporary romance I've ever really thought I could get excited about writing. I'm giving YA sci-fi one more shot, but after that? Who knows - maybe I'll discover that YA romance is what I was supposed to be writing all along.

  3. I'm going to keep writing the best stories I can, and hope the elusive market finds a spot on its shelves for my work. I don't know how else to do it, anyway.

    I keep hearing we shouldn't write to the current trend, because the trend will be over before our book is ready for publication. If the goal is to inspire the next trend, then what better way than to keep producing the best stories possible, and hope to be part of the next trendy wave.

    It's kind of a self-defeating way to go about it, but I'm looking forward to reading all the responses here in case anyone has a better philosophy or strategy.

    Thanks again for making me think about my process, Authoress! :)

  4. You are absolutely right that it depends on your goals.

    If you goal is to be traditionally published, you have to create a work that a publisher is going to see value in. Agent Rachel Garden talks about that in her blog "Write a Break In Novel"

    But if your goal is reach readers with your story, you can use alternate means. I'm just crazy enough to believe that other people love what I love. The trick is finding and connecting with those people and sharing my story with them.

  5. There's been a rip-roaring discussion on Absolute Write about this recently, too. Right now, I can only write what's in my head. Or maybe I just haven't tried to write for the market or a 'trend'. Maybe if I tried I could take my quasi-literary love story and turn it into a zombie-filled teen gorefest (is that what's in now?) or something else, but I don't know that I'd be very happy doing that. I guess that makes me a heart person.

  6. I have to admit to thinking about this question when I started my WIP. Even so, I didn't find it an either/or problem. I've got a big file of ideas, so I poked through them and picked one that makes me happy to write and that I figured might also please the market.

  7. The hard part, for me, is I've been working on my paranormal stories off and on for a decade & only now have them to a point to pitch. I seem to have missed the wave and the market is harder to pitch to. Not that the desire for all things paranormal will ever go *completely* away, it's just publishers are looking for other things right now. At least it seems that way to me.

    Wait a sec, though, I though I'd read you were going to take a much needed break here...hmm.

  8. I'd totally write for the market if I had the prediction and performance skills to do so. Alas, I don't.

  9. Authoress,
    I’ve always tried to be flexible with my writing despite the fact all I’ve ever wanted to write is epic fantasy. It’s what I loved reading as a kid (and still do) and it’s what I enjoyed writing.

    My dream, if you want to call it that, is to tell a story people fall in love with and want to read again and again. It’s interesting that my writing career has morphed since I began writing again several years ago. I was still bent on writing fantasy but then I noticed I had two, then three, then four little munchkins gathering around me each day to hear me read to them. So I started writing some picture books. Then our youngest received a liver transplant and I thought about nonfiction and started writing a book.

    I guess my point of relaying all this is that I’m willing to roll with the changes and adapt my writing to the circumstances before me. In the end I will still write what I love the most but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a whole lot other types of stories.

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  11. I write what's in my head and my heart. I write what I love to read. If you write a good story that touches other people, I think that's all we can strive for.

  12. I'm going to suggest... and feel free to tell me that I'm nuts... that as an author our hearts don't wrap around *genre* so much as *story*.

    I think we might like to write stories that are dark and daring and talk about life and death and danger and that's maybe best expressed, in our minds, in a dystopian future... but those stories exist in other genres too.

    Or we might love to write about love and longing and the unattainable... and we can do that in a YA contemporary, or a paranormal, or something completely different.

    I think we can look at the heart of the kind of story we like to tell, and avoid traps of genre fatigue. Which really isn't "writing to the market" so much as "writing to avoid what seems like an obvious dead end" :)

  13. i wrote a fun chick lit, at the end of its prime!
    i will re write and try again when it comes back, as everything cycles! there's always a market,

    i believe write what you feel! the writing & stories & voices are what sell and start the trends!

  14. I'm stubbornly trucking along in the realm of books that may be unpublishable. I've got a portal fantasy, an animal novel (talking rats ftw) and an adult dystopian deconstructed zombie novel (just mull that over for a minute).

    I'll exhaust the agent list. Then I'll exhaust all the small presses. Then, if I have to, I'll self-publish. The stories are good, and they'll find a way to live out in the scary world all alone.

  15. I think you have to write the stories that are in you. I could never write a fantasy story. I enjoy reading it, but my brain doesn't work that way. I know historical fiction is a hard sell, but right now that is what my heart says I should write. :)

  16. I will say that I've worked on story idea A rather than B because the market in B is flooded.

  17. I always ask myself, "if this doesn't get published, would I still write it?" If the answer is yes, then I continue. My ultimate dream is to have people love and enjoy the story, but for me, the creation is best part, and it has to be something that I believe in.

  18. I find myself in exactly the situation you have laid out, Authoress. I love, live and breathe fantasy, but my Adult high fantasy and Dystopian novels have hard to place (so far). I have two series of stories that have young protagonists and everyone expects them to be YA or MG, but they were not intended to be. There are a number of novels that, when they were written, were considered Adult SF/F but had young protagonists. Now these novels are considered by many as YA (Ender's Game Series by Orson Scott Card). I have heard the suggestions from agents and my critique group and have considered long and hard whether or not to change the age of my characters. In the end I have advanced their ages, only far enough to 'qualify' for the 'market niche' without sacrificing the intent of the story. If I find in the long run that these changes adversely affect the heart of the story, they will revert to their original ages and need to find another way, other than traditional publishing, to share their stories.

  19. For me it's both. I started out with a cool story I thought blended so many elements, but when I took the time read what's out there in YA, nothing was like it. In a BAD way. My story lacked focus and would be terrible to market. Someday I'll go back to it when I'm more skilled as a writer, but I knew I had to move on or I'd be wasting my time.

    It's still important to write about something we're passionate about; a topic, a character, a hook or whatever. What I'm doing now is also not found much in YA, but I've noticed YA historicals picking up from a lot of different eras, and the way I'm telling the story and the plotting I have learned from reading scads of published YA. Or at least I'm trying. I think we can take an unconventional idea, or something that truly moves us, but the way it's presented makes a difference. Paying attention to the market is a good way to help yourself out as a writer to get it done. IMHO of course!

  20. I'm curious where you stand. I write from the heart but it's still an uphill climb!

  21. Like other commenters, I'm behind writing the stories you've got in you. However, it's not impossible that as we learn and grow as writers, new stories develop within us. Maybe it's not a question of "redefining our hearts" but of stretching muscles we've never used before, you know, as an exercise. Perhaps we'll discover all new passions to write about, just from experimenting with something new.
    Some Dark Romantic

  22. I write what I love to read and because I buy books all the time that are the same genre as I write, I can only hope that there are people out there who will buy my books as well. But as a writer of women's fiction I must say that I find it hard to break into the traditional publishing scene right now because of what I write. All I see are the "other" genres all over the place. But then I hope that by not riding the current wave, my wave will come along behind it some day.

  23. Both. I write from the the heart, but I have a strong background in sales. There's no reason why I can't combine the two. In theory.

    My original writings were strictly for me. It wasn't until later that I started paying attention to and educating myself about the market. The left and right sides of my brain are forever engaging in an epic duel; the creative side wants to write what we love, while the practical side wants to pander to the market. No wonder I have so many headaches!

  24. I always feel blessed that I don't have to write to pay the bills.

    But, perhaps I'd be published if I had that motivation.

  25. so...I wrote a ya Paranormal novel and, well, you can guess where THAT went. Igot recommended to agents but quickly found that editors would rather poke their eyes out with knitting needles than read another one of those. Or so it seems. So I took a long hard look at the story and decided it was really a political thriller at heart. And now I'm rewriting. Not exactly chasing the market as much as facing reality. And Authoress,WHY are you not resting????!

  26. I have been told by a number of agents that my genre (Urban Fantasy)is hard to sell to publishers at the moment because of saturation in the market. Take note that they said "hard" to sell not "impossible". Just because a genre is saturated does not mean there is no room for unique stories with fantastic writing. The biggest hurdle is getting the editor or agent to look past the genre classification and read your work.
    I believe great writing takes into consideration both head and heart. Your heart needs to be in it to lift it from mediocre to great. Your head needs to be in it to ask the questions like "How can I make this unique?" "Why are the characters in my story different from all the rest?"
    (Oh and despite what the agents said, I sold my ms to a big 6 publisher in my over-saturated genre - sometimes it is a matter of landing on the top of the right slush pile at the right time)

  27. I write from the heart for me, all novels, which is what I want to do as a writer. I couldn't write a novel for the market because I write too slowly. The market would change before I ever finished.

    But, I write other stuff for the market, picture books, fillers, short biographies, nonficton, because it's short, and if it doesn't sell, I haven't invested a lot of time in it.

    Having said that, nothing I ever wrote for the market is as good as anything I wrote for myself . . . and yet, everything I've sold has been short stuff, written for the market.

  28. This is one of those things where there's definitely no single and true Right Answer. I'd go with those who write from the heart, no question there, but there's always this niggling little question from the brain that asks "But will it sell?"

    And to that, there's no answer but "Grr. Arg."

  29. I could write more to market. My current WIP is nothing like any recent Mature Fantasy bestsellers. Its world is more outlandish in more obvious ways, and the characters have more humor about it. Yet I do study the market, try to taper my passions so that readers might give them a shot. It's a balancing act, but I simply could not churn out soulless genre-trash even if I thought it would sell. This is too much my means of personal expression to forfeit the whole enterprise. Just part of it.

  30. I've done both, and gotten no further to getting published than the zombie chicken has in my latest submission, but hey, I'm still writing - almost every day. Even when I feel its so useless to keep going. It's my therapy - my happy place (except for those pesky rejections, like mosquito bites on my ears!) - and all my own. I figure once I ever do get close to being published, my editor will help transition my story from "write from the heart" to "write for the market." Isn't that what they're supposed to do anyway? Tweak a "heart" story into a "marketable" one? If not, guess self-publishing and e-booking is the way to go. I'm just thankful so many of my fellow writers have gotten through, by way of the Mighty Authoress's Blog. One day, I'll be a success story! Thank you so much, Authoress