To the Heart, or to the Market?


There’s a lot of advice floating around author forums on how to do indie publishing the “right way.”

And there’s no shortage of input from people outside the indie publishing world on it, too.

But how does an indie writer, struggling to make it in a sea of self-published books and authors, know what advice is good and what should be ignored?

Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast answer to that. So much depends on what business model you’ve chosen, and what your goals for indie publishing are.

One thing is true, however: Just because it worked for one author doesn’t mean it’s going to work for another. Or any other, frankly.

Here’s an example: I wrote about the Liliana Nirvana Technique of having a simulated “back list” for writers to release and generate interest and attention from the publishing platforms. (Amazon.) But, while the method has been tried and proven by more than one indie author, many others indicate they tried it and it didn’t succeed for them.

What’s a writer to believe?

This morning, Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a great article discussing whether writers should write to market. That is, she’s talking about whether writers should write what sells, or write to heart – that is, what they love.

I’ve struggled with this for the longest time now. When vampire fiction became The Hot Thing, I considered writing vampires. I can write vampires, even if I don’t love vampires. Read a few popular books by the vampire hipster authors, and I’d have enough of the modern tropes in hand to write something similar. Probably. (I don’t want to overstate my abilities here.)

And when porn – sorry, I mean erotica – exploded into popularity with the rise (sorry) of 50 Shades of Grey (and if you don’t know it yet, this is actually Twilight fanfiction), I considered writing that, too. (I’ve done it before, but not for publication. And no, my conscience wouldn’t let me do it. I’m probably lousy at it, too. What I did write didn’t garner many views.)

So now what? What’s selling now? What’s the most bankable thing I could write to make some money now? to grow a readership now? to be able to leave my day job behind and write full-time?

See, that’s the goal for me. To be able to write full-time. To sit at home in my underwear scratching myself and create stories and have people pay me for that. Wait…maybe I’ve said too much…

Anyway, the point is, full-time writing is my goal. I want that more than anything else in my personal life. Okay, maybe the lottery, but only if it’s over $300 million.

To get there – writing full-time, not the $300 million lottery  – from here requires replacing my income, and affording health insurance benefits for me and my family, out of pocket. In other words, becoming a full-time writer means sustaining my current lifestyle. I don’t want to be a full-time writer who can’t afford car insurance, or the occasional night out on the town, or visits to the doctor or dentist, never mind rent and utilities.

Or, y’know…food.

It’s not a simple thing to do. And the world of readers has so far delivered a message I didn’t want: That I stink. No one’s buying my stuff.

Truth be told, there could be a lot of reasons for that. It might be because the covers aren’t professional enough. It might be that the blurbs aren’t engaging enough. It could be I have too many short stories and not enough novels for people to buy.

Or it might be – and this scares me sleepless – that I don’t tell very good stories.

It could be a lot of things, or a combination of things, but the bottom line is, no one’s buying my stuff.

Not yet, anyway, but I’ve had a couple of books out there for a long while now. I’ve got a lot of short stories and collections of them (about ten all told). But nothing’s moving. I get one sale every so often. Because the numbers never move, because no one’s interested in what I’ve written so far (by sales figures, at least), it tempts me to do something different.

Romance sells. It’s very difficult for me to write and write well, and because I have no idea what the tropes and conventions and requirements of that genre are (and I don’t read it), I can’t do that. Not well, at least, and the readers of that genre will rabidly destroy poseurs. That’s true in all genres. Try getting away with that in sci-fi.

Same goes for erotica, personal beliefs aside. I don’t know the tropes, conventions, requirements. Same with pretty much anything, believe it or not. I’m not really someone who studies genres and what should go in them.

As a writer, I don’t even know what I’d like to write if I tried writing to market.

But Kris Rusch, who’s been a professional writer for more than 30 years, says writing to market is a mistake. Just as much a mistake as writing to trends. (Even gatekeepers tell you not to do that…right before they reject your query because your story doesn’t match current trends.)

She advises writing to heart – writing what you love and will keep writing, because you love it. Why?

Because if you don’t, you’re going to eventually quit.

She’s seen this more than once. A writer chases the latest trend to try and earn some money, to break in, to get noticed, whatever. Then the trend changes and the writer has to write to the new one. Then that fades from popularity because the TV show that made it huge went off the air, and so it’s off to the next marketable, salable thing.

If the writer is lucky, KKR says, they’ll hit on a market they love. Then they’ll stay with it.

Wanting to be a full-time writer is one part of the struggle. But staying a full-time writer requires more than the ability to hit a market at the right time, or catching a trend while it’s hot. You have to sustain the momentum, put more and more of your work out there, and if you’re writing to market, you’ll need to constantly watch what’s selling.

Writing what you love instead of to market – unless they converge, which is the jackpot all writers hope for – provides longevity not possible otherwise. Markets can, at any time and without prior notice, change, and leave the writer fumbling to discover what sells all over again.

Something to think about.

-jdt-

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One thought on “To the Heart, or to the Market?

  1. I agree with KKR. It’s also more of a “if you build it” mode of writing, I think. Tell the stories you want to read.

    Yeah, so the story goes. I dunno. If I knew, I’d be selling, right?

    Grey was Twilight fanfic?! Well blow me down, I had no idea! *shudder*

    Ha! “Blow.” Nice. I see whatcha did there.

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