Skip if this topic is boring you. (I know I discuss this quite a bit.)
Writing to market is like this for a lot of writers:
The downside of writing to market
I came across this comment about writing to market while browsing a writing group recently: “Writing to market means you have to write the same thing over and over. Talk about depressing!” This was by a writer who was writing to market, by the way.
Then, while on another venue, I saw this by a non-writer: “I make very good money, but I want to quit my job. The only thing stopping me is that I’m terrified to give up something safe for something that is risky (but could be rewarding).”
As a disclaimer, I modified the quotes above to protect the people who said them. I felt these two people listed powerful reasons why writing to market sucks. In the second quote, the person wasn’t a writer, but the same idea applies.
Writing to market boxes you in. While you have some wiggle room, you have to deliver on the expectations of the reader. You can’t veer too far off the path. The readers in your market are expecting a certain type of story. There is a formula you have to follow. If you are planning to reach the same audience with every book you write, you are, essentially, writing the same thing over and over. I don’t care how many little “extras” you allow for; in the end, you are limited in what you can write. I know this because I wrote this way for a while. Eventually, you run out of anything “new” or “fresh” you can write.
So why do authors write to market? Sales. It’s all about the money. Knowing you have a better chance of earning money is “safe”. Books written to market do sell. There’s a reason you see so many similar books on the market. Most readers tend to like the same kind of books. Publishers figured out early on that they maximized profit by delivering books that garnered the most readers. Back when I started publishing ebooks in 2009, there was no talk about writing to market in the indie author sphere. That came a couple of years later. Once you figure out there’s money in something, it’s natural to look for a way to maximize how much you can bring in.
Writing what you’re passionate about is risky, but it’s also a lot more rewarding than writing to market.
I don’t care how much authors report their sales, at the end of the day, nothing is more satisfying than going back over a book you wrote and being happy you wrote it. It’s really sad when you hear about authors never rereading books they wrote. I realize these authors don’t think it’s sad, but, to me, it’s sad. Sales don’t last. They fluctuate. A book is never a bestseller forever. Eventually, it fizzles out and loses popularity. This is the natural way of things. When I was a kid, my parents had a calendar of funny quotes, and one of my favorite quotes was, “Money talks. All mine says is good-bye.” Making money as a writer is like that. The money might flow in, but eventually, it leaves. It costs money to live, and it costs money to run a business. You have to keep pumping out books that will maximize your profits in order to stay ahead. It’s exhausting, especially when you run yourself into the ground like the writer above who hates what she is writing.
At the end of the day, the only real thing we have is the book. Our books will outlast us. None of us know how long we have in this life. I’m 47. My mom died at 48. I just found out a friend lost her adult son unexpectedly. People of all ages die for one reason or another. People tell me I’m grim when I mention death, but I don’t see it that way. The awareness of death is a reason to make each day count. Writing what I love means I am enjoying the small amount of years I’m allowed here on this Earth before I end up being reunited with my parents. Every day you dread what you’re doing is a day you aren’t happy. I realize not every part of the writing process is going to be fun. There’s always going to be something that sucks. But, overall, what do you want your days to be like? I think it’s far more important to have joy in a short life than to have misery in a long one.
So what kind of books do you really want to write? What is going to fulfill you? There is something to be said for feeding your soul. When you are doing things you enjoy, you’ll have a much better outlook on life than people who spend their time doing things they hate. When you’re happy, you physically feel better, you’re able to engage with people in a much more meaningful way, and you’re more likely to make better choices. You have one life. Choose how you spend your time wisely.