*Note: When I speak of “writing to market”, I am including the “writing to trend/fad” under this umbrella.
I’m sure by now everyone is aware that I’m opposed to the Write to Market strategy. Today, I’m going to list another reason why I hate it so much. (In fact, the more I explore it, the more I hate it.)
At the moment, I am having my kid go through a book titled Common Sense Business (Principles for Profitable Leadership) by Theodore Roosevelt Malloch and Whitney MacMillan. This is for his homeschool class titled Business: Sole Proprietorship. I figured since I run a business (which is being an independent writer), I would teach him what really goes into entrepreneurship.
While I was reading this book to prepare the lessons on common sense ways to run a business, I came across a portion that addressed the false notion that we must ALWAYS win. Winning, in terms of business, is all about profits. It’s this idea that we must see success after success, and the more we get, the more we’ll continue to get. The book continued to state that the culture in the United States is based on this unending increase that leaves no room for drops in income or failures.
As I was reading the book, I realized this mindset has trickled into the writing community. The whole purpose of writing to market is to win all the time. It’s about making more and more money. There might be a book here and there that doesn’t perform well, but the belief is that you WILL make more this year than you did last year, and you WILL make more next year than you will this year. And on and on it goes. The expectation is that it’s always going to be better. And if you don’t continue to win, you have not done something right.
So basically, it trains authors to feel like failures if their income drops. This is why when authors lament that they had a drop in income, they get bombarded with things the author did wrong. Their cover is lousy. Their description needs work. Their keywords are wrong. They didn’t do the right ads. They didn’t do enough ads. Their story sucks. Their website needs an overhaul. They aren’t engaging enough on social media. Etc, etc, etc.
There is always a reason to blame the author for a lack of sales. The writing to market mindset ignores the reality that sometimes you can do everything right and still see a drop in income. It is NOT always the author’s fault. The world we live in is ripe for success, but sometimes failure comes into the equation, too. It’s not realistic to think that everything must continue to go up. There are times they come back down. We will all face failure at some point because no one is perfect. Can we improve something with our book? Sure. But will it ever be perfect? No. Perfection is a myth.
When you give yourself over to this myth that you can create the perfect book with the perfect metadata and the perfect marketing plan, you’re going to end up disappointed. You face enough of these disappointments, and you’ll end up losing your enthusiasm for writing. The love you once had for creating new stories will wane. Writing will get harder and harder. The pressure to sell more is going to take over, and if you can’t hit the amount of sales you want, you’re going to get increasingly frustrated until you grow to hate writing.
Life is all about ups and downs. It’s just part of the ebb and flow of human existence.
This is true for every area of our lives. Do you have a good day every single day of your life? Does everything always go your way? Is today better than yesterday? Is tomorrow guaranteed to be better than today? Will next week be better than this one? Can you rely on things always being wonderful? Are the people around you always pleasant to be with? Are you always pleasant around them? Are the things you own always working like they should? Are you blessed with a repair-free existence? What about your health? Have you been well every single day you’ve been alive?
I could go on, but you get my point. If other areas in our lives are filled with ups and downs (good times and bad), then how can we expect writing to be any different?
“But, Ruth,” someone might say. “You can control your books.”
While that is true, you can’t control who buys it. That’s a factor that no author, regardless of how good they are at everything else, can accommodate for.
And yet, this is what writing to market is all about. Even if it’s not said aloud, the expectation is there. Writing to market gives the unrealistic promise that if you follow a specific formula, you’re guaranteed success because you are writing what people want to buy. This mindset is dangerous because it’s not grounded in reality. It sets the bar way too high.
As much as I hate to say it, the people selling courses promising that “you too can make tons of money if you follow their strategies” are making a big chunk of their income selling courses to authors. There’s good money to be had in these courses. When they brag about their “six figure income”, how much of that is from the courses they’re selling?
Regarding authors who brag about their “six-figure incomes”, how much of the money they make is partly due to the fact that they have an “in” at retailers you don’t, such as a personal rep at Amazon who can help place their book in front of more customers? I’ve personally benefited from special treatment at Apple years back (don’t remember how long ago at this point, but it was when self-publishing was taking off). The special placement I got from Apple helped me gain a footing over there that I otherwise would not have had. Also, how many of these authors know other authors who have a big readership to give the book exposure you can’t? Years ago, I remember Dave Ramsey mentioning a book on Amazon that had to do with building good habits. After Dave Ramsey mentioned that book, it zoomed way up in the charts at Amazon. Now, in this case, I don’t think the author knew Dave when Dave mentioned him on the show. But there are authors in the writing community who know each other, and group promotions happen. These promotions are legit. I’m just pointing out that being mentioned by a highly influential person can give you certain perks not available to other authors.
The extra perks some authors have change the equation quite a bit. That’s why you can’t compare yourself to someone else. Just because an author is making a certain amount of money, it doesn’t mean you will. The writing to market community fails to point this out. They make it sound like if you follow the advice in a certain book or course, you’re going to sell a lot of books. So you’re left believing that if you aren’t making the kind of money these other authors are, you are a failure, and you’re often blamed for not doing something right.
If you’re starting out today, it is possible for you to pay bills and even make a living, but be prepared for some ups and downs along the way. Things don’t play out the same way for everyone. If I had not started out back in 2009 with ebooks, I doubt I would be where I’m at today. Timing places a big role in success. Those who hit something big early benefit from it. Look at Bitcoin. I remember my sister telling me about Bitcoin about a decade ago. I wish I had gotten some back then. But that ship has long sailed for me. However, I did luck out with the writing thing. Would I be able to make good money if I started out today? I don’t know because I’m not starting out today, but my gut tells me there is no way. The field is different than it used to be. Back then, there were so few ebooks out that it was easy to get noticed. Now there’s a ton of books available, and a lot of them look professional. It’s hard to distinguish one book from another sometimes.
There is hope. I see people starting out who have been able to make money. Some supplement their income. Others quit their jobs and write full time. It’s going to be different for every author. You do your best and hope it pays off. That’s all any business owner does, whether it’s in the creative arts or running a restaurant or a store. Not all businesses succeed. It could be that you do everything right and still don’t make it. That is not your fault. It’s just the way life is.
Here’s the truth about the writing business. Income goes up and down. Some books sell better than others. Some books will receive praise and others will receive criticism. You can’t hit a home run every time you go up to bat. You’ll have years that are great and years that aren’t so great. That’s okay. I really think the writing to market mindset puts way too much pressure on authors, and I’m afraid all it does is weaken their joy and enthusiasm for writing. Writing should be a reward in itself. I realize you can’t eat joy and enthusiasm, but it sure is a lot easier to write when you’re enjoying what you’re doing. That’s why having realistic expectations are so important. Realistic expectations prepares you for the ups and downs that come with writing, and I believe that, ultimately, they lead you to a sense of peace that I don’t think exists in the writing to market community.