Following the market is a business decision.
Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.
Oh. Wait. You’re still here?
So, here’s the deal. As creative types, we like to think every plot bunny that scampers across our consciousness is worth chasing down and tackling. You know I’m right about this. We keep dream journals by the bed, two or three or five other notebooks floating around in the car or house, just to be able to capture that random, no-doubt best-selling thought that will change our lives forever.
I’m one of those writers whose Iphone “notes” app reads like the disjointed rantings of a deranged cat lady. In other words, I don’t “write” anything down. If I did, I’d require someone to translate it for me as my “hand writing” has devolved to such a bad state I had to print out my grocery list from a Word doc lest I find myself standing in the middle of the baking aisle, squinting and asking myself if I need to buy “sweet potatoes” or “Swiffer cleaners.” So I jot ideas into the notes app and hope no one but me ever tries to decipher it.
And there I go digressing again.
Anyway, my point is it’s important to find your own system of keeping track of those elusive bunnies. But keep track of them you must. It’s a crucial part of the creative process. I mean, if you’re like me, 50+ and peri-menopausal mother of three almost-grown kids at various life crossroads, also with a full-time sales job, two cats and one aging dog, well…if I don’t write that sh*t down? It is way gone into the ether, never to be recaptured.
But while you’re doing that, you must also realize that whether you’re self-published, trad published, hybrid or chasing any one of these goals, you can’t ever lose sight of The Market. That is to say, “what’s selling now.” In other words, what you can actually make money on by writing, editing, revising, re-writing, re-editing, covering, releasing, and marketing your very heart, that you’ve ripped away from the plot bunny and translated onto the page or screen, fueled by nothing but cold coffee and Doritos.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating for not writing what you love, or what you know, or what you want to write. You should by all means, do that. Every damn day, if you can work it in around everything else. It’s the exercise your creative muscle requires to stay in shape. It keeps you loose, and limber, like a nice hot yoga session.
But if you’re being honest with yourself as a future or current “professional author” you owe it to yourself to remain fully cognizant of what’s selling so that if one of those plot bunnies hops by with the next Kissing Quotient meets Hunger Games you understand what to do with it. My favorite example of this in the last few years is Stephen King (one of my favorite authors) going over to crime fiction in his Mr. Mercedes trilogy.
I’ll admit I struggle with this.
I actually paid someone once—actual dollars—to basically tell me that I should drop all projects that wouldn’t put me on a fast track to the NYT bestseller list. That I should stop writing and start analyzing. That I should spend more time studying what bestseller lists have in common and figuring out how to extrapolate that to my own muse. Because this paid person claimed, the only creativity that matters, is the sort that provides you with a living.
Hmm. Well, if I actually believed that I would’ve given up on this “creativity thing” years ago.
The Ones Among Us who can claim to make a consistent, reliable living from writing books are few, far between, and occupy a space somewhere between Oz and the Lost City of Atlantis. In other words, a mythical place we can only imagine in our most fevered dreams. A place where our desks are shaped like stacked books, our 5.1 million Twitter followers can be deployed against any nay-sayer, and we drink calorie-free mimosas for breakfast every day while one of our two PA’s answer all the Instagram comments and Facebook tags.
Not to say that we don’t all yearn for that life, or envy those who live it. Which is why we keep at this, right? Right.
So, The Market. What’s selling now.
This resembles that bead of poisonous mercury you released when your mom’s thermometer fell onto the bathroom floor the last time you were in there seeking pain killers. You chased it around the green tile floor for a few minutes, then hoped it was far enough under the vanity cabinet to keep everyone safe, then gave up. It was a slippery little bugger. Impossible to pin down.
That’s The Market as we know it. What’s hip, happening, trendy, flashy, or otherwise “new” to the eager reading public. Returning to a previous example in this, your monthly bit of advice from An Author Who’s Not Quite Made It, I give you The Hunger Games. This trilogy touched off a flurry of post-apocalyptic, mildly disturbing storylines that included starving children in the name of entertainment. Those authors were doing the whole “analyze and study” thing and in many cases, were able to coattail the current trend to success.
The number of successful “50 Shades” wanna-be’s was also impressive. Again, authors watching The Market, and applying their creative juices to same. There are some who cry “plagiarism” to this way of writing (which we won’t get into because). There are some who claim it as less creative, derivative, even lazy. But I wouldn’t go that far.
I think there’s a happy medium between writing what you love/want and writing to The Market.
Write what you love. Write as much as you can. Keep that muscle loose, limber, flexible. But make it a point to understand what’s hot. Especially if you’re seeing representation and/or a more traditional publishing path. Then get creative. Find a way to use your ideas and apply them to what’s selling. I sell things for a living. I get that the market’s the market and nothing can be done about that. In real estate, it’s mid-century modern. In booze, it’s brut IPAs, sparkling boozy fizzy water, and rosé wine. In books—
I’m assigning you homework.
Go forth and find trends in the bestseller lists in your preferred genre or subgenre. You’ll see them pretty quickly. And pay attention because they come and go—remember that bead of mercury on your mom’s bathroom floor? Yeah. Don’t blink because they’ll change.
In short, this month, I want to encourage you to write, write more, then write again. Don’t let The Market hold you back. But understand that whether we like it or not, The Market determines what gets published. And ignoring it is not in your best interests, even if you’re self-published.
But remember…never stop writing!
In the name of making a bit of money, I give you my latest novel:
One + one + one more = perfection.
Ryan Shannon’s life has finally hit a smooth patch. He’s reached the point where he believes he’s mastered the single-dad challenge. He brews beer and owns his own brewery with his brother, Quinn. The brewery is so successful they need to hire someone to manage their burgeoning sales.
When Quinn surprises him with the announcement that he’s fallen in love with someone and she has a brother—ahot brother—named Cole, Ryan is sceptical of the setup. But Quinn begs him to join them for a dinner so that his girlfriend won’t worry about her brother feeling left out
After one hookup, Cole claims he isn’t interested in anything more. Which is when Ryan hires the brewery’s new sales director—Lynette Williams, a woman fresh out of MBA school with plenty of debt, desperate to find her own way in life.
That’s when things really get complicated. Not to mention very…very hot.
They all claim that their connection is nothing more than really great sex. But Ryan, Cole and Lynette find themselves depending on one
Warning: contains love between men, and a woman!