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. 🙂
I love this post! Very interesting way to look at it. I hadn’t considered the dopamine reward angle, either. Very interesting. I did notice yesterday when I was scheduling my ten book covers tag from Rami that several of the books have a common thread I’d never noticed before (I mean who thinks Louisa May Alcott and VC Andrews are similar??) But they all have the same general gothic romance type plotting and pacing, with the twist and the reveals and… So I see it. I guess the secret is finding people who are in sync with your own uniqueness.
And I understand your sticking to the topic for awhile. Writing to Market has been a big part of your life – writing with the idea of making money – and to change that is huge.
I went through a similar thing a couple years back, though it lasted two years of my wigey-wodging. I was making okay side money by doing the play it safe strategy, the predictable “there has to be this and there has to be that, in this place, in the story to make people like it”. But then that wasn’t enough anymore and it got to where authors had to put out five books a year to make money. And I looked at that, and started figuring up how much time I would need, and how many other things would have to go out of my life to fit all that writing time in – including making money in other avenues- so that I could make that money at books and be considered “serious” – be a “real” writer. And I played it out in my head, imagining churning out one cookie cutter series book after another, and I struggled back and forth with it for a long time, and finally realized I’m bored with the formula*, and I don’t want to put out five (though from several articles I’ve read they now recommend ten!) books a year. But, even after I made that decision, it’s taken me two years to really accept that decision and embrace it fully. It’s hard because it goes against all the brainwashing we’ve been subjected to, all of the “real” author rules. As a “real” author, money is all you’re supposed to care about, because that’s the hallmark of success.
Which as you said is exactly why indie publishing started in the first place – to get rid of that notion and create books people couldn’t get anywhere else.
But because people do love the same old same old, the people who find the unique stories rewarding are a niche audience, in my case a very niche audience, ha ha! And it is really hard to accept that; to accept the drop in numbers, the drop in sales, and know that those bad reviews may be coming back (assuming there are reviews at all). Since you have a lot bigger fan base than I do, you will probably not do too bad, even writing difference things, because you’ll have people who will hang on because they like your writing and like you.
*It usually takes me three months to write the rough draft of one of the formula series books. I wrote the first draft of Patrick in a month. Why? Because it is so completely different, so not to formula, not forced, not molded, that I got to sit back and let him drag me along. And that was amazing.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this! I was excited when I first thought of the connection between the familiar rewarding our brains with dopamine and why writing to market is so successful. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that what most people want is something familiar because they know what to expect. In my last release, I threw in something totally unexpected, and half the people hated the book because of it. The hero didn’t act the way most movies, TV shows, and books would have him act given the situation I’d put him in. But I didn’t want to do the same old thing because I felt it’d been done too death. I needed to put my own angle on it to make it interesting to me. There’s a lot of risk involved in writing for passion. You have to buck against trends and expectations. That doesn’t make for a popular set up, but I do think it helps to promote our creativity.
I’ve read VC Andrews, but I never read Louisa May Alcott so I can’t compare those two. But I do think a lot of Janette Oke’s stuff is just like other sweet romances out on the market today. It would be hard for me to tell one book from the other, sadly. I only enjoyed a couple of Janette Oke’s books because after a while, one book was so much like the others. I ended up quitting. I don’t like stuff that has been done a lot. I like something new and different. I’m the same way with TV shows and movies.
I was nodding through your entire comment. I especially agreed with writing the formula of “there has to be this and there has to be that, in this place, in the story to make people like it”. It was at the point where I started to feel like I was just plugging stuff into the book because it had to be there. If I had been writing those books for passion, some would have been written a lot differently. But would they have sold well? I doubt it. Already, my sales tanked, and I’m back to making what I did in 2011 (maybe 2012 if you consider the overall year). The whole industry has turned into a “get a book out as fast as you can” hamster wheel, and just when you think you’ve reached the right number, you find out the marketing experts have upped it again.
Right now, they’re telling romance writers to get a book out every month! There’s just no way I can do that. I could probably wing it if I did novellas, but I end up doing novels. (A novel in romance is 50,000.) I know that’s not really a long book compared to other genres, but I typically need at least that much in order for the story to feel complete. A lot of romance authors are doing shorter books to meet the once a month quota, but what will happen when we’re told to do two a month? I know one author who is actually putting out two books a month now. I asked her when did she sleep, and she pretty much said she didn’t. Sooner or later, it just seems to me that there has to be a breaking point for all authors who are pushing themselves. I know it’s possible to write quality at a fast pace, but everyone eventually hits a wall if they accelerate all the time…unless ghostwriters come on the scene. I refuse to hire ghostwriters. I want my story to be my own.
I agree. I think we’ve all been brainwashed. No one cares about you or takes you seriously unless you make a lot of money. When we started, no one thought about money. We were having fun. Now it’s all about money. The fun of storytelling has flown right out the window. It’s just sad.
Patrick was a great character. I love Jorick, too, but Patrick will always have a special place in my heart. 🙂
I hate formulas and have trouble reading traditionally published, cookie cutter romances anymore. That said, I’m trying to find a happy medium – somewhere between that and what I really enjoy writing. Not that I don’t enjoy the other, it’s just some stories are more fun to write than others. 🙂
I have trouble reading cookie cutter romances, too, and even the indie romances have gone in that direction. I can’t blame those authors. They are selling very well with this technique. Readers, overall, love them! If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be buying them.
I can’t argue with the books that make it to the top of the charts in their genre. The proof has been overwhelmingly in support of writing to market. (The same is true for making music to market, too. A lot of the risk has been taken out of the music industry once the people at the top decided on only taking on new artists who fit the mold they’re looking for.) Writing to market does pay off.
I think finding a happy medium is a great idea. That way, you get the best of both worlds. 🙂
It’s funny that you’re talking about this because I just posted on FB about how I just reread my book, Fire Wizard, and loved it. But it doesn’t sell well, and I wonder if that’s because it’s different than the typical vampire/werewolf type of book. Who has heard of a Fire Wizard except maybe in fantasy? But whether it sells or not, I wrote this book out of passion, and I don’t regret writing it. This one is special to me. So it’s a little different….
And I LOVE to read books that are different. I love new twists and things that are unusual. I like different heroes and sheroes. Different situations, different types of characters. That’s why I can’t understand wanting to read the familiar all the time. I read in so many different genres just so I don’t get bored with one. Give me fresh and different any day! 🙂
I do think the fact that it was a fire wizard instead of a vampire or werewolf had a hand in how it didn’t sell. It might not have been the only reason, but I bet it played a part. I really liked that book. It’s one of my favorites from you. Like you, I enjoy different. I get bored of the same thing. I love that you do fresh new things. That’s why I enjoy your stuff as much as I do. 🙂