Skip this post if you don’t want to hear me do another “writing for passion” post. (I received feedback a while back that someone was tired of reading these types of posts. So I figured I’d give the heads up in case this isn’t your cup of tea.) 🙂
That aside, here we go…
Recently, I came across a pre-made cover that I thought would make a great new cover on a very old book. I’m in the process of systematically going through my backlist and updating covers. The older covers I did look awful. But buying new covers to replace them has taken time because I have to save up money in order to do it.
Anyway, as I was sorting through pre-made covers, I thought to myself, “I want that cover!” Right after that, another thought came to mind. “What if someone doesn’t like it?”
And that’s when it hit me. The ultimate downside of writing to market (or writing to trend, as some want to now call it) is “other people”. If you start writing for other people, you will have to involve them in the decision-making stages of your book. Everything from the content of the book, to the cover, to the description, and to how it’s marketed will revolve around other people. You have to anchor yourself in other people’s opinion.
And guess what?
Other people never agree on one thing. They all have different opinions. I only have four beta readers, and there is always one who doesn’t like something the other three do. That’s just in the content of the book.
Over the years, I’ve asked for feedback on marketing strategies people want me to use, covers I’m debating about using, titles for a book, the next book to write, plot ideas, character types….
Every single time, I got different answers. No one could agree on any one decision.
This is why it is impossible to please every reader who picks up your book.
Writing to market is like being a traditional publisher. Traditional publishers pick stories based on what the market wants. Everything they do to package up the book (content, cover, book description, keywords, pricing, timing of publication, and marketing) is all based on the market. You are chained to other people.
There might be money in it, but it is really no longer the author’s unique work. It is a work by committee. The result is a watered-down story that has no unique voice and is, ultimately, forgettable. I’m sorry, but at the end of the day when all is said and done, I think books written by committee are forgettable. There’s no spark in them. There’s no passion. There’s no flavor and excitement. When I read these books, I feel like it’s more like a “this is how to write a successful book in this genre” manual.
I realize that a lot of people will disagree with me. My method obviously isn’t a lucrative one. Writing for passion often means you aren’t earning a lot of money, and ever since I shifted to writing for passion, I’ve lost about 70% of my income. But writing to market was killing my ability to write. I had burned out. I had reached a point where I hated writing and never wanted to write another book for as long as I lived. And that scared me because ever since I was a teenager, I loved writing more than anything (except for God). Writing was the driving force that used to get me out of bed in the morning. I felt more alive when writing. It was fun and wonderful and fulfilling. Two years after seriously writing to market, I hated writing more than I hated anything. My entire attitude toward writing had done a complete 180.
Unlike other authors, I didn’t stop writing when I hit rock bottom. I knew the love for it was still there. It was just buried under all the, “But you have to please the market or no one will ever buy your books ever again” and the, “you’re not a real writer if you aren’t making a ton of money” arguments.
I knew the answer was within me. I had to shift my mindset. I had to choose love for writing over love for money and other people’s approval. So I wrote through this transition. It took me six months after I made that mental shift before I could sit down at the computer and not think, “I don’t want to do this.” Those were days when I looked forward to my scheduled days off. It was like pulling teeth to get those books written, but I knew the only way I could get back to the enjoyment of writing was by getting past the writing to market mindset. Avoiding writing was only going to make the journey back more difficult. After those six months, it got easier. I started having days where I enjoyed writing. From time to time, I actually sat down at the computer and looked forward to working on my stories.
Today, I hate my days off because I’m not writing. I make myself take them because days off give you a break that helps you recharge your creative juices. I’d rather think, “Bummer. I can’t write today.” instead of “Bummer. I have to write today.” It’s a huge difference. So after two years, I’m finally back to the place where I love writing more than any other activity under the Sun. And it’s wonderful. Writing for passion is the solution to burn out.
I no longer write by committee. If I like something, I put it in my book. If I don’t care for something, I leave it out of my book. I pick characters I want to write about, and I pick stories I’m most interested in doing at the moment. I pick covers I want. I market the way I want. If I have a question about something or want to bounce ideas around, I’ll ask for opinions, but in the end, I know the decision is mine, and I take full responsibility for every aspect of the story.
One great thing about writing for passion is that the critic doesn’t matter. There are people who will hate something about every book you write. All you can do is ignore them. They are “other people”. Their vision doesn’t line up with yours. Taste is subjective. You can’t please everyone. It’s pointless to try. I’ve been dealing with critics for over a decade now, and the number of complaints have only gone up since I went back to writing for passion. No matter how hard you try, you can’t satisfy the critics.
Here’s the way I propose to shift your mindset on people who don’t like your books. (Only do this is you are writing for passion. It won’t work if you’re writing to market or trend.) Realize these are your books. They have your name on them. You’re the one putting the time, energy, and money into getting them into the world. You’re an indie author. You have the freedom to do things your way. What ultimately matters is what you think of your work. Writing for passion is about following your heart. It’s not about doing what other people want.