Wednesday, April 22, 2009

To Market, to market, to sell a fat book

This week, I asked both Molly and Sinead: "If you were me, what would you write next?"

They both know me. They both know the industry. They both read a lot. They've both seen virtually everything I've ever written. Who better (other than my agent) to have an opinion on such a topic?

And I got two different answers, but together those answers melded into something profound and clear and useful. Exactly what I wanted/needed to hear.

My conclusion: I have to stop thinking so much about the market and just write the shit out of whatever idea feels shiniest to me right now. If it's the shiniest one -- to me -- I'll be able to write more shit in. Wait. That's not what I meant!!! ;-)

That said, I think some of the best advice I've heard about writing popular fiction (particularly genre fiction) is to write with one eye on the market. To figure out what elements of popular books/movies/TV/culture you can incorporate into your work, etc. etc. and still make it fresh. And nothing makes me more crazy than wanna-be-writers who complain that the industry is too close-minded, when said writer doesn't get requests on the query for her novel about her elderly aunt's adventures in needlepoint, written from her cat's point of view.

But all that "keep an eye on the market" advice aside: I think I had a small epiphany a couple of days ago, (that I shall probably reverse in another couple of days--cause that's what I do.) And it has to do with my personality type more than anything.

Confession: I'm highly analytical. My strongest traits on the Myers Briggs thingy are N and P. I almost always see two sides (sometimes four) to any particular problem or issue, I don't always come to conclusions in a linear fashion, and unless pressed by some kind of urgency, I hate making decisions. I can make them. But don't see the point if I can put it off for further analysis. ;-)

But what this means is: worrying about the market, about what's selling now, about what might be the next big thing, about what would be the smartest genre or sub-genre to aim for, about which genre best fits my particular strengths and weaknesses as a writer, is not necessarily a smart thing. For me.

My endless analyzing leads to nothing but frustration and second guessing. Which then leads to depression and anxiety inviting crazy over for tea.

(My apologies to Molly for plagiarizing that last bit. It's an homage to this post, where she talked about professional jealousy inviting crazy over for a BBQ.)

Ultimately, so much about this business ends up being about luck, and trying to control luck can lead to insanity.

The magic get published equation: Talent, Persistence, Luck

We can only hope to control two of those, at best.* And while, when we start a new novel, we can make an educated guess, about what's likely to happen in the market in 9-months to a year, (first date when we can realistically hope to be on submission, assuming we need to write the whole damn book -- add a year to that if you need to find an agent), or 2 - 3 years from now, (first date we can realistically hope to hit bookstores) -- the best we can do is guess. Whether our guess, an arrow shot high and hard into the stratosphere, hits the two-or-three-or-more-years-out bulls eye is highly dependent on luck.

*Caveats to above statements:
I suppose you can't strictly control talent, either... but you can learn how to make the most of your talent. Really, that magic equation should substitute skill for talent...
Also, you can influence luck by taking opportunities and putting lots of great work out there, but I think that's as much related to persistence as luck...
Did I mention I tend to be overly analytical?


Anonymous said...

Having several wips in different genres, I decided in my latest "talk with self" that I'm going to pursue the one that's most me, the one that speaks to me the most, the one that I feel the most committed to. And market by damned. Brave words when talking with one's self, but I think there's some truth there somewhere.

Anonymous said...

And I'm also not going to sweat the typos when I leave comments. :)

Kimber Chin said...

Maureen, with the tv you watch and the courses you take, I don't think you consciously have to write to market. You would naturally write to market.

Yes, your stories will be a bit different but that's a good thing ('cause what has been done has, well, been done).

'Course this is from someone who has walked away from market but I consider myself a hobby writer, not a professional.

Amy Ruttan said...


I've given up writing to market. I just work on what calls to me, because it's all about Talent, Persistence and Luck.

Sinead M said...

But such a tough question. What is marketable and what isn't. I think I've worked it down to their being marketable elements to everything and from there it's about the shiny, shiny idea and the execution..

All of what you said in your post, but much more eloquently...

Stephanie Doyle said...

Talk about "market" writing. I needed to come up with a new idea for my Romantic Suspense proposal.

I had an idea of what I wanted to do but not much detail so I pitched it as "House meets Bones."

That was it. She LOVED it! Totally cracked me up.

I'm going to try this now with all shows I love. American Idol meets The Office. Survivor meets Whe Wire. (that could be fun actually).

I can't help with the what to write thing but I'm a firm believer in listening to the loudest and biggest voice in your head.

Who ever is shouting to you from fictional heaven saying Pick Me! Pick Me!

That's the one.


Kwana said...

Great post. You do have to write the shiniest idea. I think the needlepoint cat one rocks it out!

Molly O'Keefe said...

I really like Kimber's point - that you can't help but write to market -- makes sense to me!

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