The romantic side of me wants to say write what I like! Don’t sell out, do good work and keep your integrity. Yet the more business side of me is like, well, food needs to be put on the table. But the question makes an assumption that these two are mutually exclusive.
I first encountered the expression 'writing to market' from a bestselling post-apocalyptic thriller author, Kyla Stone. She compared her writing to those in the top of her genre for what they had in common. Every single one had an animal companion. In her next series, she pivoted to include a gigantic white Burmese mountain dog in her stories. This series propelled her from being a mid-list author to being at the top of her genre both in regard to sales and awards. And she's received more fan mail about that dog than any of the other two characters combined.
It suggests that finding the middle ground where the two overlap - what you like and what sells - and writing your stories from there.
I am a Fantasy genre author to my bones. I’ve been devouring those types of stories since I was a pimpled face teenager. But Fantasy is a notoriously tough genre to break into, dominated with authors such as JRR Tolkien, Brandon Sanderson and George RR Martin. They have served their time, fighting in the trenches to carve their path. Their popularity increases over the decades. So it is daunting to try to go up against these titans.
Should I try it anyway or should I try this middle ground of something I like to write which also has a good chance of selling.
There is a relatively new genre of Literary Role Playing Game (or Litrpg for short) but it is not a 'choose-your-own' adventure story. It meshes the best aspects of Scifi and Fantasy-based video games with compelling fiction. I see it is a barren landscape screaming for more material. The genre first reached mainstream popularity through Ernest Cline’s book Ready Player One.
This would be the easiest path to reach my goal of being a full time author, but could I pivot that much to write in this genre? The short answer is no. Despite the lack of competition and the fact that even terrible books are hitting the best seller charts, I just cannot bring myself to write in that genre. Readers are intelligent educated people who would see through this passionless money grab posing as fiction.
The second option is Urban Fantasy, more developed and a little older but still nowhere near as competitive as epic Fantasy. It’s the genre of magic set in the modern world. Harry Potter is the most popular example but those books have long since transcended genre. However, The Dresden Files and The Iron Druid Chronicles both deserve honourable mentions.
The concept of writing to market is still a relatively new concept for me. Even though Urban Fantasy has captured my imagination, I will need time. At this point all I have is a suave criminal protagonist with a few half baked scenes. Not enough for a story, but enough fertiliser for the seed to grow.
It may be a mistake monetarily but for now I'll continue to do what I love and release in Fantasy’s over-saturated genre. It's the place where I will need to dig my own niche in a David and Goliath story. Though Goliath may not even notice the stones I’m throwing.
Yet perhaps with time, practice, and riding that middle ground of both personal and mass appeal, my stories can make an impact.
Stew Adams, author of 'Purgatory of the Ancients' (cover shown above).
Writing what you like and writing what sells - painting pictures
One of my characters just snagged her yellow wool cardigan on a splinter in the paling fence she climbed through to get into her neighbour's yard. She tried to untangle the wool from the snag, but she was in a hurry and pulled roughly at the wool, which tore away from her cardigan.
A tendril of wool, the colour of a canary, was left dangling from the fence.
I’m making this up; both the character and the bit where she climbs through the fence and snags her cardigan. I don’t even know how I got to this.
I don’t have any idea what’s going to happen to the wool, or where it’s going to end up. It might just stay stuck on the fence paling forever. No one is really interested in the bit of yellow wool but me.
A thought did grab me though and I think I’ll go down that path. But that’s another story.
This is what I enjoy about writing. Following thoughts down rabbit holes. Creating something from nothing.
While writing this, something catches my attention. From the corner of my eye, I look across my desk and there it is. I sigh. A pile of unpaid bills.
Write what you like or write what sells
Lorie removes her backpack and hangs it off the back of the metal chair in their shared living room of the hostel in Amsterdam where they're staying. She drops the book from her hand onto the table behind Stephanie’s open laptop.
Stephanie peers over, chills down her spine. On the book's cover, the pale skin and fangs of the characters shine in a dark moonlit forest.
'I can’t stop reading this,' Lorie says, out of breath. 'You must have loved writing it.'
There’s a thud on the table as Stephanie turns the book over, the cover face down. She pushes her wide-rim glasses further up her nose and looks up from her screen and into Lorie’s eyes.
'I like my dog, I like my afternoon walks, I put up with this novel.' She taps it with her fingernail.
'Why did you write it, then?'
Stephanie's online shopping cart is filled with items she can’t afford yet. One more book signing and another European tour and she can go back to anonymity.
'I like my lifestyle too much. Let's just say it pays the bills.'
In fiction write what sells
It was a windy October morning in 1929 as Emily hurried along Lachlan Street under the shade of the shop awnings towards the office of the Forbes Advocate, where she worked as a journalist. She had spent the last hour drinking tea and gossiping at the Country Women’s Association and had emerged with a story she hoped would be suitable for page one of the next weekly edition of the regional newspaper.
Emily turned her face away from the force of the hot westerly which was flapping her long brown dress about her ankles and hissing through the leaves of the redgums as she approached the narrow shopfront. She turned the handle of the heavy front door, which was wrenched from her grasp by a powerful gust that sent loose pieces of paper flying off the desks as it swirled around the office interior.
Emily stepped inside and slammed the door shut with both hands, while the editor, Sam Knowles, crouched down on all fours to retrieve a telegram which had fluttered under his desk.
‘I've got a story for page one. Sorry about the mess,’ Emily said.
‘So have I,’ Sam said as he stood up waving the telegram. ‘There’s been a stock market crash on Wall Street and the Yanks are calling it Black Thursday. There’s a run on the banks and lots of large companies have gone bankrupt overnight. This could lead to mass unemployment, perhaps even war.’
‘Crikey! Well that trumps my story about Mrs McGinty’s mare.’
Sam dropped the telegram back on his desk, picked up his pipe and lit up, filling the room with the aroma of Erinmore Flake tobacco.
‘What’s the story there?’
‘Apparently the mare produced a colt.’
‘The rumour down at the CWA is that it was sired by the 1927 Melbourne Cup winner Trivalve, who was being spelled at the McGinty farm and jumped the fence.'
Sam roared with laughter.
‘That’s priceless, let’s run with that.’
‘You can’t be serious.’
‘Emily this game is all about timing. I’d like to run with a piece on Wall Street, but I have to be mindful of what sells. Most of our readers don’t own stocks and by mid next week that star-studded foal will be yesterday’s news, so start writing.’
Copyright held by the authors cited above; photos: Wix & Stew Adams.
Stew Adam's fantasy novel 'Purgatory of the Ancients' is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com.au/Purgatory-Ancients-Stew-Adams-ebook/dp/B0BS3DHY27/ref=sr_1_1?crid=8EDMF4OIIODB&keywords=purgatory+of+the+ancients&qid=1681451506&s=books&sprefix=purgatory+of+the+ancients%2Cstripbooks%2C312&sr=1-1
Posts on this SSOA blog are published to showcase the work of emerging writers who meet weekly to workshop stories. The posts comprise just some of the responses written in just 10 minutes as a warm up to the meetings.
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