For those of you who are tired of me rambling about my experience as I shift from writing to market to writing for passion, you may want to skip this post.
That warning aside, let’s dive into the topic that has been weighing on my mind for the past few days.
Pondering the Ramifications of Writing for Passion
It’s becoming apparent to me that the way writing to market works is by giving people what they expect. It’s working off of what is already popular. It’s working off of “familiarity”.
I knew this in theory, but as I’ve been going back to writing for passion (which is writing outside of the box), I’m starting to feel this. It’s no longer something on paper. It’s now something that is right in front of me where I can experience it. Part of this is because of the feedback I’ve been getting from the past two books I’ve written more to passion than to market, but it’s also from research I’ve been doing on this subject.
I just got through watching a You Tube video about why modern pop songs (in the US) is becoming more and more “cookie cutter” as the years go on. That video has inspired this post. I have noticed how similar songs are on my radio. I do hear them in the store, at the pool, and in movies. I hadn’t taken the time to connect how this relates to the world of writing until now.
When I was writing to market, I ran out of ideas because I had used up all of the ones I knew were “safe”. If I wanted to keep writing to market, I was going to have start doing “cookie cutter” books. I had exhausted all of my fresh ideas. Now, my reviews are a lot more positive when I stay within the box of what most romance readers expect in a book. I also earned more money when I was doing that. Based off my research and my personal experience, I have concluded that writing to market does pay off for authors who use this method of writing. That’s bad news for authors who are writing for passion because it means we have a tougher hill to climb. It’s not an impossible hill to climb, but there are going to be more challenges.
My hypothesis on why writing to market works as well as it does.
Now, the question came to my mind as to WHY writing to market is so fruitful. I have a degree in Psychology, and from to time, this part of me wants to come out and play, so I figured, what the hey.
Writing to market means you give the majority of people what they want. This is why so many books are cookie cutter books. Authors are trying to make a living at this. They want each book to sell. The best way to do that is to play it safe and not piss off the people who will read your books. The You Tube video about music mentioned the problem of risk and how it’s affected the kind of music that becomes popular today. The relevant stuff starts at the 13:50 mark in the video, if you want to watch it.
Risk affects what authors write. It affects what publishers accept. It affects what gets out into the mainstream. Over the past few years, an explosion of books have found their way to online stores. What this means is that it’s harder for authors to get noticed. Authors have learned that if they want to get more exposure, they need more people taking an interest in their books. The best way to do that is to piggyback off of what has been successfully done before. The keyword here is “successfully”. That is what writing to market is. It’s taking out as much risk as possible. It’s sticking with what is familiar.
Familiarity is what attracts people. This is why there are some cookie cutter books out there. A segment of the population complains that there are too many cookie cutter books out there. There is a good reason for this. Cookie cutter books sell pretty darn well. There’s a reason why a lot of people have heard of Harlequin. Harlequin was big before self-publishing grabbed a foothold in the romance community. Harlequin is still around, but it’s not as big as it once was. The last I heard, they were shutting down some of their lines. One thing I heard about Harlequin was that they liked to base their romances off of a formula. The formula they used apparently worked since they had a huge readership. Self-pubilshing disrupted that business. Self-publishing disrupted a lot of things, but the traditional publishing business is one of them and Harlequin was a part of that.
Early on, I don’t recall any self-published author talking about writing to market. In fact, the benefit of self-publishing was that you didn’t have to write to market. The market for the traditionally published author is the publisher. The market for the publisher is the reader. The publisher didn’t like risk, so it would offer “safe”. When self-publishing came on the scene, it was about the freedom to write for passion. It was about throwing off the shackles of the publisher telling us what to do. It’s why I went into self-publishing.
Then authors found out there was money in self-publishing. And from there, the shift went from the pursuit of writing for passion to writing for money. There’s nothing wrong with making money from writing. I believe authors should make money from their work. The problem I have is when money is more important than the passion. My problem is when money is the only thing that matters.
Risk is hard to embrace. It means going against the grain. It means that you have to venture into areas other authors in your genre aren’t going in. It means potentially upsetting some people. It means stepping out of the comfort zone and diving into areas that aren’t often done. It means doing things differently. It means doing the unexpected.
In my research, I have discovered that authors who take those risks end up with less money than those who play it safe. Sure, there are examples of an author who did something different and became successful because of it. That kind of thing does happen, but more often than not, authors who are writing to market seem to make more money because they are delivering what most people expect.
The You Tube video posed something I thought was interesting at the 16:50 mark. There is something called the Mere-Exposure Effect, and it basically states that our brains release the chemical called dopamine when we hear something that is familiar to us. Dopamine makes us feel good. As result, we gain a preference to what we see and hear on a regular basis. I went on to research this idea, and I came across this online article that explained why music can be addicting. This is why we prefer certain types of music to others. So from that, I deducted that frequent exposure to a certain thing actually leads us to want more of it.
Could the same be true for books? Could there be a scientific reason why writing to market works as well as it does? Reading involves our emotions. I’m sure those emotions lead to the release of a variety of chemicals in our brains. If our brains reward us (make us feel good) when we get what we’re expecting in a story, then it leads us to want to read more books like the one we just read.
That’s something I never considered before, and I think it’s an interesting idea. So part of the problem of writing for passion (and taking those risks) is that most people’s brains aren’t tuned into “different” stories. Their brains reward them for sticking with familiar terrain. Perhaps “the same kind of story” is exactly what most people want, and this is why authors who write to market are doing as well as they are. Obviously, authors who say they write to market try to make their stories unique. They put their own spin on things. But, in the end, the goal is to please the majority of people in the genre they’re writing.
Personally, I have no qualms about writing to market. It burned me out. I can’t do it anymore. No amount of money is going to push me through forcing out a book that I can’t get passionate about writing. But I certainly understand why some authors do it, and these authors manage to do it very well. I just thought what I came up with my research on music was interesting and thought there was a correlation between music and writing books. Hopefully, I didn’t bore anyone with my ramblings. 🙂