Making Money Mondays – Why Writing to Market is a Trap (or the best thing ever!)

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I know, I promised I’d talk about mailing lists, Mailchimp, and BookFunnel, but that’s gonna have to wait a little bit.

Yep, that post title is clickbait. But it does describe what we’re going to talk about today – Writing to Market and when it’s a good idea. And when it’s brutally stupid. Because like so many things in life, the answer is “it depends.”

Some of the few questions where the answer is NEVER “it depends.” Just for a giggle before we get going –

  1. Should I put my finger there? The answer is almost always NO.
  2. Should I try this exciting new piece of sushi prepared by the student sushi chef? Again, NO. Two words – Puffer. Fish. Things you do not do with rookies – eat their sushi, let them pack your parachute, summon ghosts, build pipe bombs.
  3. Should I climb or jump off this? If you’re under 30, the answer is probably YES. Over 30 – NO. Your bones don’t knit as fast as they used to.
  4. Should I write what I love? YES.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of writing to market, give a listen to the Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast, because it’s something they talk about quite a bit, with varying degrees of Internet Correctness (Internet Correctness is a quotient that measures how much I personally agree with something, as opposed to actual, quantifiable correctness). Regardless, I quite enjoy their podcast and get a lot out of it. It’s 100% worth a listen.

But basically, writing to market is just what it sounds like – you take a look at genres that are selling well, read fairly heavily in the bestsellers of the format, crack the formula, and churn out some books that fit the formula. It’s a way to make a pile of money in fairly short order, and if you’re looking to make a living as a writer, it’s a perfectly acceptable way to do it.

And many of us do this, to a greater or lesser degree. For myself, I write books that I want to read, but if it doesn’t sell, then I don’t write many, if any more of them. That’s why the sequel to Genesis has been delayed, and why there hasn’t been another New Knights of the Round Table novella – the first books didn’t sell very well. It’s why there are over two dozen Bubba the Monster Hunter stories, six Black Knight Chronicles novels and five Quincy Harker novellas – those books sold well. And since I do this for a living, I pay a lot of attention to what sells and what doesn’t.

But I still write books that I want to read, and that I want to write.That’s really important to me, personally, because I enjoy writing. I enjoy telling stories, but I don’t enjoy writing things that I’m not into. That’s why you’ll probably never see me write a period romance, because I don’t read them. You might see me teleport Bubba into a Regency Romance, because I think Bubba in a Fabio pose on the cover of a book would be hilarious. And you’ll someday see me release a literary fiction novel, because I have one I’ve been working on forever. And someday pretty soon, I’m likely to release a near-future military sci-fi book, because I enjoy them.

So what pieces of the writing to market strategy do I think are good for creating a long-standing career and a fanbase that will stick with you across genres (you know, those True Fans I’ve been talking about a lot)? I think that once you figure out what type of story you want to write, there is some benefit in looking at the bestseller lists to see what is doing well, and understanding the pieces of the genre that make them popular. There’s a reason things become tropes – because they work. And eventually, readers come to expect some of these tropes, so if you have characters that could fit into these boxes and don’t, then readers get disappointed. And you don’t hurt the book by using these tropes.

The Jane Yellowrock books, the Thieftaker series, and The Black Knight Chronicles all check a lot of the same boxes as far as tropes used, but the books couldn’t be more different if we had tried. But they all have tortured heroes, with interesting ensembles or sidekicks, they all have protagonists with secrets or a mysterious past, they all have antagonists or secondary characters with some sexual attraction for the protagonist that we know would end badly but would still be really interesting, and they all feature magical elements in a recognizable world. And yet neither Faith, David, nor me have ever felt like one of us was lifting ideas from the other or that any of us were writing less than original books. And we were, to an extent, writing to market.

The big difference for me is that we are all still writing books that we love, and that we would love to read. We just also are writing books we love in a salable fashion. That’s a type of writing to market I can get behind.

Also, if you’re pursuing a traditional publishing path, then writing to market is useless to you. Especially if you are unagented and pursuing agents, your path from polished draft to published book is almost certainly a three year journey. At least. So if you’re writing to market very tightly, then sending it off to agents that you’re querying, you’re almost certainly going to get rejected.

Because the market changes too fast for that to work in traditional publishing. Period. Full stop. Seriously, if you’re writing to market and hoping to capitalize on current trends in book purchases, unless they are evergreen buying trends (i.e. romance sells more than anything else in the world, or blow up more stuff and you’ll sell more books), then you are 99% going to fail. You might get lucky, but even if you’re submitting to Falstaff, where we have a 4-6 week turnaround on acceptance and rejection of a manuscript, and you’re sending us a book that is completely proofed and 99% ready to go, we’re still looking at several months before a book is ready to go. Usually six months if the book is almost print-ready when we get it. At least a year from turning in the manuscript to delivery if it needs editorial.

So if you’re wanting to write to market, you must self-publish. There are lots of moving parts to that as well, and it can take as long as traditional publishing, but you can also get things going and have releases rolling out once a month after you get the hang of it. After all, I released Heaven Sent on July 29, and I’m shooting for a release of Queen of Kats 2 – Survival right before I leave for Dragon Con. And the next Bubba story is almost ready to go, so that will release before I go to ContraFlow the end of September. But I write fast, I have a source for inexpensive remade covers that fit my genre, and I have just enough Photoshop-fu to be able to knock out covers myself frequently for less than $20 and a couple hours Photoshop time.

So writing to market isn’t the be-all, end-all for writers, but it also isn’t a terrible idea, too. For me, it boils down to being able to write books that I enjoy, write them the best I can, and get them out there into the world. Admittedly, that last part is often the hardest.

Next time, I’ll break down some numbers for you and get granular on why I made all my books except The Black Knight Chronicles exclusive to Amazon! In the meantime, here’s the cover for the next Bubba novella, Midsummer, which blends Pokemon Go with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. No, really.

Midsummer Cover

John G. Hartness is a teller of tales, a righter of wrong, defender of ladies’ virtues, and some people call him Maurice, for he speaks of the pompatus of love. He is also the author of the EPIC-Award-winning series The Black Knight Chronicles from Bell Bridge Books, the Bubba the Monster Hunter series of short stories and novellas, the Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter novella series, and the creator and co-editor of the Big Bad anthology series, among other projects.

LATEST RELEASE NEWS – Check out Modern Magic, a 12-ebook box set featuring John, Gail Martin, Karen Taylor, Julie Kenner, Rick Gualtieri, Erik Asher, Stuart Jaffe & more! On sale at Amazon for only $2! 

Heaven Sent is available exclusively on Amazon! Check out the latest volume in the Award-Winning Dark Fantasy Series! 

Man in Black available 8/15 wherever books are sold! In book #6 of The Black Knight Chronicles, Jimmy Black is the new boss, but uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, as Shakespeare said. Monsters in the sewers, demons in the orchestra pit, vampire bikers, and Hell on Earth are just a few things Jimmy has to deal with while he tries to regain the trust of his best friend and somehow patch things up with his girlfriend. All this, and more ass-kicking than a WWE pay-per-view in Man in Black! 

 

 

 

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