Mistake 59: Writing for the Market

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70 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes by Bob Mayer, from The Writer's Digest Writing Kit

Why this is a mistake: It’s already too late to write for today’s market. Book-length publishing is a three-year-ahead business for a writer. Even magazine writing requires quite a bit of lead time. So what’s hot now might not be hot when you’re ready to start submitting. In fact, it probably won’t be. Many people try to ride the latest writing fad, which means you’ll be lost among the crowd.

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Also, when you’re writing for the market, you’re probably not writing what is important to you, and this usually results in writing that’s shallow and not the best quality.

The solution:
I was listening to a panel at a recent Romance Writers of America event where participants were asking questions of a couple of agents and an editor from Harlequin. And all the questions seemed to be a variation of the same thing: “What’s hot?” and “What’s selling?” which is the same as “What are publishers buying?”

I hear that a lot at conferences. And I’m not slamming it. But I’m not too thrilled with it either. Because underneath it is the feeling that if someone said, “You know, vampire-lesbian-nun-slasher-paranormal novels where the hero is redeemed and becomes a monk at the end are really hot and selling,” there would be ten such books cranked out within two weeks of conference, whether or not those authors gave a damn about writing V-L-N-S-P monk redemption novels.

I think the questions of what’s hot and what’s selling come out of a degree of frustration with publishing (which is bad) and also a degree of business savvy (which is good). But that business savvy can be taken too far, and often is.

I wrote military techno-thrillers in the late 1980s. That was stupid business-savvy wise. In the early and mid ’90s when those books came out, the military techno-thriller market collapsed. Only two or three writers survived, and even a lot of the ones who had been best-sellers went under or had to find new genres to write in. But—I got published. And I learned about writing. Even though my career kind of sucked because I was in a not-hot field. But I was writing what I wanted to, and I think that’s why I got published. Lawyer books were very hot then. I imagine I could have written one of those. But you know what? My lawyer book, if I’d written one simply because the market was hot, would have sucked and never gotten published. It’s a vicious catch-22.

Write what you really want to write, what you’re passionate about regardless of market.


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