Should a novelist write to market? Should they avoid writing to market like the plague? Should they write to trend or to tropes? What does it all mean?
Take heart, gentle reader, I will do my level best to tell you what it means.
To start with, my research shows these terms to be a bit fluid. If you ask different people in the know, you might get different answers. The following is my understanding of the terms and what they mean.
Writing to Market-
What it means- Writing to Market simply means that you are writing types of books that are known to sell well. If you are writing romance ebooks, you might write a paranormal romance or a romance mystery, both being top selling genres in ebook romance. You would pay attention to the criteria of the genre and not go far outside those guidelines. For example- a main criteria of romance is that there’s a happy ending for the couple. If you write one where they die a hideous death, your book isn’t a romance. Writing to market means choosing genre and style of your book with salability in mind.
What it does not mean- Writing by formula. Formula writing means that by chapter two this has to happen and by the midpoint this other thing has to happen. Or, there has to be a rival for the heroine’s affections, or the dreaded misunderstanding. There are perhaps writers who write to formula, but that isn’t what’s meant by writing to market.
Not to be confused with- Upmarket Writing. Upmarket writing is a fairly new term in the literary world that means a book that is genre fiction combined with literary style. “Fancy genre fiction” if you will.
Writing to Niche-
What it means- Writing to Niche means the writer is purposely writing a book in a genre or sub-genre that is less popular. If you write cannibal comedies, that’s going to be writing to a niche audience. Cannibal comedies are not a genre that is going to interest a wide audience or tend to attract readers from other genres. A reader is really going to have to be a fan of the genre to be interested. Your book will be a big hit with the smaller group of readers who simply can’t get enough of funny books about cannibals.
What it does not mean- Staying true to your artistic vision. Writing to a niche can lead you to a small fan-base, thrilled with your work and begging for more, which is awesome. However, simply because one writes to a smaller reader-base, it does not mean one’s work is more valid or artistic. Authors who write with marketability in mind are not sell-outs who have given up their artistic vision, and those who write to niche are not rebels refusing to lower their standards. They are both legit ways to go, and each has its own merits. It comes down to a matter of choice on the writer’s part.
Writing to Trend-
What it means- Writing to trend is when you notice a popular trend in genres and you want to join in. Perhaps paranormal is hot, and you want to get in on that. It can be risky. What’s trending in fiction today might be long over by the time your book comes out. But, maybe you have a great idea for a piece about sirens and you can’t wait to get your fingers on the keys. You are more than willing to risk the trend still being trendy when your manuscript is ready to go.
What it does not mean- Writing to Trope. Tropes are storylines have been done so often that everyone is sick of them. They were once popular, but now they are nothing but a cliché. In romance, love triangles used to be a popular subgenre, but now they are considered old-fashioned and boring by many. In paranormal, it’s the vampire falls in love with a werewolf when the two groups hate each other. Or the young girl falls in love with the vampire. These are stories that have been done, and been done well, but then so many people wrote similar stories that readers got tired of the entire thing.
What does all of it mean to you? What should you write?
That depends. What do you want from your writing?
If what you have your heart set on is writing that vampire and werewolf love triangle, then write it. Know that it’s a bit tropey, and that you may never have a huge amount of readers. However, if what you want most is to hold that wolfy triangle book in your hand and say “I wrote this!” then do it.
If you want to write that series of cannibal comedies then do it. Know that your reader-base may be small, but they will love you to pieces. You may not make the big bucks, but your fans will adore you.
If you want to reach a large reader-base, and have a chance to make more money, you might want to write to market. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to take the path of writers such as Stephen King and J. K. Rowling. It does not make you less artistic or a sellout.
Now, all that said, it takes more than writing to market to get a book that makes money and has oodles of readers. It takes more than writing to a niche to get that smaller but fanatically loyal fan-base. You also may write that cannibal comedy so well that it gets attention from readers across the board and starts the next big trend. You can’t predict how your book will do once it’s published.
You have to start by writing a great book of whatever genre you pick. You then have to either put the work in to get an agent or publisher, or publish it yourself and be willing to do your own promotion and marketing. Your writing has to be what sets you apart, the rest are no more than paths your writing takes to get to your goal. It’s a smart writer that spends some time considering which path they want to take. That doesn’t make you untrue to your art. It makes you an artist who has a goal for their art and makes a plan for how to get there. There is nothing wrong with art for art’s sake, but if you want people to buy your art, then you need to have a plan.