This post grew out of a discussion at one of my favorite blogs, Read React Review, specifically this post, “At What Point in the Writing Process Do Writers Think About What Will Sell?” Comments in italics are from Jessica, who wrote the original post. My comment was lengthy, and I’ve continued to think about the issues she raised.
I wonder where in the writing process writers think about this.
As you surmised, this is a difficult question. If you’re a writer who reads in your genre (and most are, that’s how they learn their genre), then you’re steeped in it, and to some extent genre equals what sells to readers of that genre and vice-versa. And round and round and round she goes…. Plus, if you read in that genre, likely you’re attracted to it anyway, on some deep level.
There is sometimes input from agent/editor/crit partners to try one thing or another. I haven’t really had that yet, but it’s common, and if I got such a suggestion, I would consider it seriously, to see if I could make that idea my own. I think it never hurts to consider outside advice, whether I take the advice or not. Sometimes others can see my writing more clearly than I can. I might be especially good at a particular type of story and have no idea that those stories are any better than anything else I’ve written. I might be good at something that’s more salable than what I’m currently writing. Again, it’s a tangled process of decision-making.
Here’s an example of how I think this process works for me. I’d like to do a Victorian historical romance one day, and one reason is because mass market historical romance sells more than erotica and I’d like to make more money for a book. Market-wise, there seem to be a few more Victorian-set romances at the moment, so presumably they’re selling.
My other reasons for that goal, though, are myriad: I love historical romance – it’s the sub-genre I read most of these days – and I am always wishing for more Victorian-set books, and I love research. The Victorian period is a nice segue backwards from the Edwardian/WWI I’ve already used, so I’d be following my own interests. I already have some books, which I’ve been sporadically reading.
The thing is, if I wasn’t intellectually and emotionally interested already, I don’t think it would have occurred to me to try and write a Victorian historical romance in order to make more money. You’re not guaranteed a sale, especially in a genre in which you’ve not previously sold. It’s not worth it (to me) to put all that time and mental effort into a project unless I’m going to enjoy the heck out of it. For most novels, your hourly rate (counting writing, thinking, researching, editing, revising, proofing, marketing) is…minimal.
So far, this project consists of a few notes on hero and heroine, a few research books I’ve purchased but not yet read, and a substantial research wishlist (ahem, yes, I know my weaknesses!). The project is a carrot to me, a prize for when I’ve done the work for which I’m already contracted. That looms larger for me than any monetary motivation.
Does saleability function like a limiting set of pre-writing conditions, which, once determined, leave the writer free to forget about them, as long as she stays within their boundaries? Or is sales always one of the voices in a writer’s head as she types away?
Since I’m under contract right now, I tend to think more of my editor’s opinions and the constraints of the line for which I write. Luckily for me, the Spice line does not seem to have many constraints. If I’m in doubt about something (real example: the male/male scenes in The Moonlight Mistress), I write what I want and let the editor decide. So far, both of my editors have been okay with my decisions. If the editor requested a change, I would probably make it, because after all, they’re paying me for the book and they have more experience at what will sell. I do want people to buy my books and read them. If I felt strongly about, say, cutting a scene, I would bring it up with my editor and give her my opinion. But I suspect in most cases I would end up giving in, or at least compromising. Knowing myself, the editor likely sees the whole picture of the novel more clearly than I do.
I wonder if a never-published or early career writer has to pay more attention to what sells?
Since I support myself with an office job, this is less of a concern for me. I write for my own purposes first, money second. The money is icing, for me, lovely but not necessary every day. I know this about myself: I would write even if I wasn’t being paid. I did it for years.
I know a number of people who support themselves through writing. It’s difficult, and can be very unreliable as you wait to be paid, especially if you don’t have a large output and are dependent on a limited number of contracts. I do not want to attempt that at my present level. I am more comfortable receiving a regular paycheck. Worrying about money is stressful and makes me less interested in writing. If I was selling amazing amounts of money with every book, that would be different, but I don’t think that’s likely to happen!
I’d love to hear opinions on this post.
I have to admit. I started to think that way. My first three completed manuscripts had the freedom of being completed before anyone was interested in my work. Then I started worrying about what next. Where should I go for my "career"? My agent is absolutely lovely — she had even freed me from those constraints by encouraging me to write whatever high-concept, unusual thing came to me. But I still felt that I owed her to try to write something salable. I blogged about that dilemma here: http://www.jeannielin.com/index.php/youll-never-work-in-this-town-again/
I like your point about making your own decisions and letting your editor do their job and give direction. We don't want to become one mind with our editors. They have their expertise, and you have yours.
Like you, I have a day job that I intend to keep. But I do want to sell the next book and the next book. Real bad. For love or money, right now? I don't know what will make money, so the only guide I have is love. I'm not being idealistic either! I'm actually admitting my cluelessness and that some things are out of my hands. I can only work on the things that are within my control.
I don't know what will make money, so the only guide I have is love.
I liked that post of yours, a while back.
I have a slightly different perspective on this question. Because my genre of choice, M/M, is itself a hindrance to selling in the mainstream. I write it not because it will make me the money I want, but because I love it and it's my heart. I suppose if I were to only think about what sells, I would be forcing myself to write something m/f that has a prayer of being picked up by NY or getting me an agent.
But at the same time, within the constraints of writing books not welcome in mainstream publishing, I *do* think about what sells, still. I have this lingering idea for a 1950's story that I likely won't write because that time period (and most post 1900 settings) aren't big sellers. I do tend to focus on what subgenres sell well for me when deciding what project to do next.
But in the end, everything I write is written for love, not money, because if I wrote for money I'd never write m/m and would switch to something I could sell to NY, which is where the real money is.
I've always written for money, first as a newspaper reporter, then as a corporate PR specialist, so I'm used to writing what other people want me to write. What I like about fiction writing, erotic romance writing, is that I get to write what I want to write. That said, I do keep an eye on salabilty. If there is something that I think will sell, that I can be interested in and feel a passion for, I'll write it.
I've written/submitted mainstrean short stories for years with only modest success at sales (3 sales, albeit 2 of them big ones). I sold the first (and second) erotic romance novella I ever wrote to the first publisher I submitted it to! The piece was rejected at first, but the editor said that if I was willing to rework it according to her suggestions, she'd take another look. Of course, at first, I diagreed with her suggestions, which I thought changed the whole focus of the story. But then I thought, what do I have to lose? I haven't been making much money doing it MY way. I reworked the novella and I sold it. That's a huge motivator.
What will sell isn't something I ever worry about. Plus second guessing the market isn't possible in my opinion. You never know what will sell. If J.K. Rowling had proposed the Harry Potter series before she wrote it I doubt she would have finished it. The suits would have sent a very nice form rejection letter saying "We're sorry but this does not yadda, yadda, yadda."
Another thing I have problems with is that 'writing to market' is going to water down your story. You're going to end up adding things to the writing that add nothing to the story, just because someone else thinks it's 'popular' or 'marketable'. Your story will end up like Pablum™ rather than General Tso's Beef.
Which, I suppose, explains why my sales generally suck. *wink*
I do want to add that in terms of edits, I've never felt my editor was suggesting that I make changes to a story so it would sell. The suggestions were always very conscientious and geared toward improving the pace, depth, and believability of the characters and the story. Of course, these things will make the book a better product, and thus, perhaps sell better. So I guess as you've said, there's both love and money in there.
As an unpublished author, you really need to think about what is going to sell, because an editor is not going to pick you up if they don't think your work is saleable. It's the reason I target erotic romance at epublishers and category at HQ Blaze, just to try and get an opening. I agree that second guessing the market is unlikely and writing to current trends don't make much sense because by the time it gets published another trend may have taken over. I heard Jayne Ann Krentz and Susan Elizabeth Phillips at last years RWA Nationals say they wouldn't be able to anticipate the 'next big thing'. I've started writing because I enjoy it and want to be successful at it. My definition of success might be different to the next person and to some degree, making money is part of that. It's not the driving force, however.
Fae, so perhaps it's better to make a little money writing what you love, instead of a lot writing something you hate? I agree, it's much more fulfilling to write what you love.
Cara wrote, I reworked the novella and I sold it. That's a huge motivator.
I think there's constant adjustment involved, love to market and vice versa. My opinions change, sometimes, depending on what the market is or how strongly I feel about the project.
Romantic Heretic wrote, Another thing I have problems with is that 'writing to market' is going to water down your story.
Jeannie, that's an insightful comment about professional editors. Of course they're being paid to prepare books to sell, but all of the editors I know really, really love what they do (like writing fiction, the monetary rewards for editing are minimal).
Kaily, you also made a great point – just to try and get an opening. A writer tends to have more freedom after their first few sales.
I never wrote thinking about sales. More to the point, I never wrote thinking "Should I change this so it's marketable?"
I didn't, because I never doubted people might want to read it.
In the end, though it's tough for me to pick what "genre" I write, I found a home for the story which spoke from my heart. It's already touched others, so I'm confident it will sell, once it's out in the big, bad world. And hopefully it'll make some folks feel like the big, bad world isn't so bad any more.
I can always dream, but I'll always write for love, not money.
I found a home for the story which spoke from my heart.
Perhaps others love it because you loved it first?
At this point in my little career, I write what I absolutely love and, also, what appears to have a market.
If couldn't find a niche for what I enjoy writing, then I just wouldn't have a publisher.
I write because I want to read the story myself, and to tell the heroines and heroes' love stories. And, I hope it's a story others will enjoy also.
However, my big wish is that artists, in general, would be far more respected and actually paid what they're worth. For the most part, imo, they aren't.
However, my big wish is that artists, in general, would be far more respected and actually paid what they're worth.
That would be awesome.