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May 14, 2020

What Does It Mean to “Write to Market”?

Graphic of pie chart with text: Is "Write to Market" Good Advice?

If we’ve ever researched how to be more successful as a writer, chances are we’ve heard the advice: Write to market. And if we’ve heard that advice, there’s a good chance we’ve had a strong reaction.

Some writers hear that advice and think, duh. Others hear the advice and feel a visceral protest.

What does the advice mean? Is there a way we can recognize the benefits of writing to market without running into the negatives?

What Does “Write to Market” Mean?

Given the dichotomy of views on the advice, we can find all types of perspectives on what “write to market” means, so I’m not going to say that my perspective is right and all others are wrong. *smile* However, I hope my view might help those who don’t like the advice see it in a different light.

Is “write to market” good advice? Click To TweetWriting to market doesn’t have to mean writing to formula or becoming a sellout. Writing to market doesn’t have to mean we can’t write what we love or that we have to chase trends. Writing to market doesn’t have to mean that we must become a plotter, planning everything about our story in advance to increase marketability.

Instead, writing to market simply means thinking of how our writing can appeal to our market: our readers. Not all readers. Our readers.

The “market” is simply readers who buy books, and we get to choose our market, the readers we want to appeal to. So just because the current trend is abc or xyz, we don’t have to choose to make those readerships our market. We can go after our readership, whatever that means to us. Let’s take a closer look…

Writing vs. Publishing

We should all recognize that, on some level, writing stories is an art form, but publishing is a business. Those two facets aren’t exclusive to each other, and writers can be business-oriented and art-oriented at the same time.

No matter our focus on the art of writing and storytelling craft, writers can have different goals for the business side:

  • How important is income from our writing?
  • Who do we want our readers to be?
  • How big of a readership do we want?

And so on. We all can have different definitions of success, and our definition will lead us to goals specific to us. So there’s no reason to follow advice geared toward certain goals if those goals don’t apply to us.

What Are Our Reader-Related Goals for Publishing?

With those different goals in mind, we can see that some writers need to think about their readership—their market—more than others during the writing process:

  • No Goal of a Readership:
    Some write without the goal of publishing. They’re just writing for themselves and getting enjoyment out of the storytelling process. If they later do decide to publish, any readership is a bonus. They don’t worry about writing to market because the business side of things is irrelevant to them.
  • Casual Goal of a Readership:
    Some write with the goal of publishing, but they don’t have specific readership or income numbers in mind. They might write for themselves or for their eventual readers, but either way, to later gain a readership, they might try to publish to market.
  • Strong Goal of a Readership:
    Some write with the end goal of publishing successfully (whatever they’ve decided that means to them) in mind, which generally requires a happy readership. So although these writers can still write what they love, they are writing to market in that they’re thinking of the end reader while they draft, as their goal of a readership is part of their process.

There’s nothing wrong with any of those approaches. And as I mentioned above, none of those approaches says anything about selling out or not being able to write what we love.

There Are No Guarantees

If we’ve listened to various marketing gurus out there, we might have heard advice along the lines of researching what niche markets are over-performing for the size of their readership and writing in that niche. Or some try to predict the next trend and tell writers to prepare with stories.

Obviously, pursuing stories along those lines comes with risks unless we’re a super-fast writer, as the “trend” can fade before we’re ready to release. And even if we are a fast writer, researching different readership markets and letting the results lead us to a decision still isn’t any more of a guarantee of success than the usual approach.

For one thing, just because the research might show that YA mermaid coming-of-age-with-a-side-of-romance stories are the next big thing, that doesn’t mean we have a good voice for the genre. In other words, if the market isn’t a good match for our writing, we’re not likely to be successful, no matter the size of the opportunity.

(And if we really can write in any genre with any voice and any style, maybe we could make more money on the side with ghostwriting. That would allow us to increase our income and still follow our muse or passion for our own writing.)

2 Ways of Making Our Stories Appeal to Readers

As I mentioned above, writing to market doesn’t mean that we have to chase a certain readership. We get to choose what readership we want and then decide how we can make our stories appeal to them:

  • If our readership goals are casual (or if we didn’t plan ahead, such as if we write by the seat of our pants *raises hand*), we can think about how to more appealingly market our stories to their natural readership. Rather than writing to market, we can publish to market. This means that after our story is done, we think about what aspects would most appeal to our readership and emphasize them in our marketing:
    Does our story include a popular trope? A certain kind of heroine? Lots of action?
  • If our readership goals are strong (or if they’re casual but we plan ahead), we can think about how to write our stories more appealingly to our eventual readers. This view of writing to market doesn’t mean we write completely different stories from what we want, but that while we’re drafting, we think about how to make the story we want to tell more enjoyable and/or satisfying to our potential readers:
    Are we meeting their expectations? Can we include a popular trope? What will make our hero more compelling to them?

Options for Writing Our Stories to Market

Assuming we don’t want to pick a semi-random niche market to write a story for, what are our other options for writing to market?

There are as many ways to write a story in a way that will appeal to readers—and remember, that’s essentially all that writing to market means—as there are ways to approach story writing in general.

Here are a few examples:

Genre:

If we’re picking a genre, we’re automatically looking to appeal to the commercial fiction market rather than the literary fiction market, which already implies that on some level, we’re writing to market. Some genres are more popular than others, but they each have a big enough readership to make an author a “success.”

So we don’t have to feel limited to only certain genres. However, each genre also comes with expectations, a promise to readers, and to be successful in that genre, we need to learn what those expectations are. Our story is more likely to appeal to readers of that genre if we fulfill that promise.

Premise:

A while back, the phrase high concept was frequently thrown around by agents and editors trying to describe what they were looking for. While many found the phrase vague and confusing, on some level, it means that the story’s premise alone is enough to make potential readers sit up and take notice, either from shock, recognition, or a twist on the familiar.

  • Hunger Games: Young men and women must fight to the death to entertain a corrupt society.
  • Twilight: A plain young woman finds herself the object of attention of a dangerously mysterious man, who happens to be a vampire.
  • Jurassic Park: Godzilla in Disneyland

Our story is more likely to appeal to readers if the premise itself is immediately intriguing.

Plot & Character:

Some readerships like strong action plots, and some like slower plots that put the characters front and center. Some readerships like strong or insightful character studies with lots of emotion or inner growth, and others don’t mind if the characters are puppets to the plot.

In other words, virtually any type of plot or character can be successful as long as it’s a good match for the readership we hope to appeal to.

Tropes:

Especially in the romance genre, tropes are a big aspect of what can make stories appealing to readers. Personally, I’ll one-click almost any story with a fake-dating scenario. *smile*

Romance author Zoe York is currently running a survey of readers to determine some of the most popular romance tropes. Romance authors could use this list to help them flesh out their story ideas before the drafting process.

For example, without changing the plot or character arcs we already had in mind, we could add the most popular trope (currently) on the list: The Grumpy One Is Soft for the Sunshiney One. All we’d have to do is develop the character personalities with that in mind and then allude to the trope in the story’s blurb and other marketing.

(Or if we’ve already written our story and this trope applies, we can allude to it in the marketing to publish to market. As part of working on this post, I just added this tag to my applicable books. *grin*)

And So On…

Other aspects of our story that might appeal to readers include things like: twists, character jobs/details, settings, point of view, worldbuilding, story conflict, voice, etc. Virtually every aspect of our story could help us in marketing if it would be appealing or intriguing to our readership.

Communicating to Our Market

This topic is a whole ‘nother blog post (or more), so I won’t go too much into it here. Basically, every piece of our brand and our marketing influences how readers think of us and our work. Once we have our story that we think would appeal to our desired readership, we use those pieces to let them know about the appealing aspects of our stories.

Our book’s cover is a huge way we can communicate with readers why they’d find this story appealing. If we know of other books with the same type of readership we want for our story, we can ensure that our cover is of a similar style.

Advertising can also target the readership we want. Obviously, book descriptions, taglines, metadata, etc. are other ways we can reach out for the readership we want with our story.

Have a Tricky Story Idea? Don’t Despair

Many of us come up with story ideas that don’t quite fit into a single genre. Does that mean we’re doomed when it comes to “writing to market”?

What does the advice “write to market” mean and how can we make it work for us? Click To TweetAs listed above, genre is one of the main ways to appeal to readers. However, it’s also not the only way.

If our premise, plot, characters, or other elements are particularly compelling, we can ensure those aspects are extra strong in our writing. Then we can focus on those appealing aspects in our marketing, taking the publish-to-market approach.

In addition, readers don’t always pay attention to genre if the story itself is intriguing enough. In fact, strong-enough stories create a readership and can in turn create a subgenre or crossover genre.

(Years ago, I mothballed a story that didn’t fit with current genre labels, and I just recently learned that since that time, a new crossover genre for its style has a 10,000 member Facebook group. So I might be digging through the mothballs soon. *smile*)

Yes, some writers follow through on the stereotypical definition of “write to market” that would have us chasing trends or niches. But just because that’s what they do best or makes them happy doesn’t have to affect how we approach the idea.

Writing to market doesn’t have to mean anything more than writing stories that readers will enjoy. So we don’t have to copy others, sell out, or write to formula. We can still follow our passion or our muse while making sure our stories are enjoyable to others. *smile*

Have you heard the term “write to market” before? How did you interpret and react to the advice? Does my definition make sense? Do you prefer this way of thinking about the concept or think it’s a better match for you and your goals? With this interpretation, can you think of other ways to write to market (or publish to market)?

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Sieran

Lol, I filled in that romance trope survey you linked to. My favorite was enemies to lovers, and second fav was grumpy one grows soft for the sunshiney one. What surprised me, was how some of my tastes have changed over the years. I used to adore childhood sweethearts, as in it was one of my favorite tropes ever. But nowadays, I’m more into the “mysterious stranger” love interest. I’m not sure why I had that change. Also, I used to hate the May/December/huge age gap trope. But now I’m okay with it, depending on the situation. (I’m much more comfortable with a gay May/December romance, and much less comfortable with a heterosexual May/December romance, especially if it’s a younger woman with a man who’s old enough to be her father…). Wow I realize that I have a casual-to-no readership. Yet my attitude when I write my stories, is like the strong readership approach, LOL. On the one hand, I’m writing mainly for myself. Even publishing is optional for me nowadays, and I’m not aiming for fame or money. It would be nice to have some friends (or strangers who become friends) who enjoy my stories, but I’m not that concerned about my popularity. Yet, when I write my stories, I’m constantly thinking about my imaginary audience. I think about how my readers will hate my hero because he’s xyz; my readers will dislike this ending because it’s “not supposed to end like this”; my readers will hate this wonky…  — Read More »

Dawn

I write because I enjoy it. Selling my book is not a priority, though it would be nice. Part of me wants to do a little marketing but another part doesn’t want my marketing to take away from my writing. It’s difficult to balance both. Your tips on publishing to market sound more doable.

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara

Relevant topic, thanks!

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