I don't often quote Star Trek, but for this article, I figured these were the best words I could use to discuss a topic that's been gaining a lot of momentum within the #WritingCommunity as of late. To go boldly where no man has gone before: to write in ways no other writer has written before. Should you write what the market demands you to write? Or should you write the way you think fits your story, even if it's niche or 'worse': something that hasn't been heard of in years.
Killer of Creativity or Guardian of the New?
The discussion about writing to market (or not) isn't new. It's been going on ever since Self Publishing started to take over a large part of the writing industry some years ago. The origin of it lies in the fact that traditionally published authors had little to do with marketing campaigns and that books would (seemingly) automatically land at the right shops and thus the right readers. Self Published authors, however, discovered that marketing was more complicated than anyone could have imagined, and quickly realized that some books sell better than others... and that other books sell better during specific times of the year... and during specific times of the year... well, you get the point.
Ever since this fact has become a well-known legacy for Self Published authors, people had been trying to work their way around that system as much as people have been trying to work with that system. Huzzah: the concept of Writing to Market was born. Authors were jamming out books they knew would sell because the trend predicted there was going to be a good market for it. Sci-Fi authors would suddenly dive into Romance, Mystery authors would turn to Cozy and Lovable stories, and fantasy authors stepped away from those sprawling, made-up worlds to turn towards a more contemporary setting. Don't misunderstand me, there is no judgment attached to anything I'm saying. This is merely an observation of the way trends have influenced writers and their choices. That being said, I do think it's worth asking ourselves if this extreme shift in genres has been good for the industry. After all, if we only write what sells, how do we ever create space for something new? How do we discover that brand new author's debut or how do we find out about different concepts? We need those frontier men and women, who ride out against the mainstream to discover something new. We need a Columbus who claims the world is round while everyone firmly believes it's flat...
Writing to make you rich?
Yes, this needs to be discussed. Why? Because there are still a lot of fresh writers/authors out there who firmly believe that publishing a book equals becoming rich and famous. Why is this relevant? Because it is this very idea that supports the concept of writing to market. We want to sell our books because the price paid to read them has turned into a way to express the value of our work. Of course, we all need to make money and earn our living, but to do so through writing is a dream that less than 3% of all the writers in the world actually get to see become a reality.
"Mostly, you become a writer not because you want to be rich or famous, but because you have to write; because there is something inside that needs to come out." --- Gene Weingarten
There is so much truth in Weingarten's words. Writing is and will always be a form of art more than anything else. It is the thriving ability of human beings to express themselves, and that alone is and has always been the core business of writing/storytelling. It is because of the complex economic system that things like art have become subject to money. It is because value is expressed through money, many authors and artists alike have fallen into the pit of not feeling good enough because "nobody" pays for their work. See where I'm going with the title of my previous paragraph? Let me repeat it:
Killer of Creativity or Guardian of the New?
This is a question we must ask ourselves. If we all decide to write to market, would it be a death blow to creativity? If we only write what sells, do we protect new writers from feeling like their work doesn't matter because it doesn't get sold as well as some other genres or types of story?
Back to the basics: Writing as a form of Art.
After finding her book as a #1 NYT bestseller earlier this week, Victoria "V.E." Schwab wrote this on her Facebook page:
I’ve always known I write strange books. The kind that aren’t always easy to pitch, or easy to sell. For years, I was told, sometimes bluntly, sometimes subtly, that I wasn’t mainstream, wasn’t marketable. I didn’t get the big deals or the big budgets, but at every turn, someone was willing to take a chance on my work. To keep the door cracked open. For years, it felt like I would be standing at the edges. And then an incredible thing began to happen. The stories I wrote didn’t drift into the mainstream. The readers drifted out of it. Slowly, at first, and then more by more, they came to stand in my corner, they drew up chairs. More and more of you with every book.
I applaud Schwab from the very bottom of my heart. She is one of those frontier women; someone who boldly goes where no others have gone before. In an industry where value is expressed by money, and books that don't sell instantly get branded as "rubbish", Schwab wrote what SHE wanted to write, no matter what. And through persistence, and of course, high-quality work, she found that writing outside of the mainstream caused people to leave the mainstream as long as the work was simply is good enough. Of course, there are also factors of luck playing in this game. For example, what are the chances of finding that one agent willing to represent your work? I could (and probably will) write a whole article on that alone.
But my point is this: as a writer, it is up to you to choose whether you want to write something that is more likely to meet the success criteria of modern-day society, or write something you believe is the right thing to write.
My choice, my book.
I asked myself this same question when I started to write The Singularian Grimoire Anthologies. I mean, how many people even know what a Grimoire Anthology is? ( I'll help you there: a grimoire anthology is basically a collection of spells; fragments that, when put together, form a whole). I knew from the beginning that marketing this project was not going to be easy. And to be honest: it still isn't. The genre of the story is a mixture of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Post-Apocalyptic action: 3 genres that are niche at best. The presentation of the book through monthly episodes is also something that is likely to scare people away because diving into this series requires patience. And let's be honest: what is patience today if not an inconvenience? Thirdly, The Singularian Grimoire Anthologies are illustrated stories that include riddles and mysteries that require solving. Of course, you could read the books without doing any of that, but you'll be sure to miss some information you'll need to get that "BOOM!" effect towards the end.
Reading this, I fully understand why people ask me about the reason to keep doing this the way I've done it. The answer is simple though. This is the way this story needs to be told. Yes, there have been some changes going on, as after year 1 the complete collection of stories and illustrations is now being released as a Hardcover Collector's Edition, but season 2 is still standing strong with monthly novellas. Will this change? Maybe, but only when I feel the current concept no longer works for the stories. Read carefully: the concept should benefit the story, not my royalties. My books barely give me any royalties at all as a matter of fact (yes, according to the standard, this would brandish my work as rubbish. Is it? Find out for yourself!). The subscription barely covers the printing costs and shipping of the novellas. But I'm not here for the money. I'm in it because The Singularian needs to come out; his story needs to be told... the illustrations need to be shown to the world. I simply hope that you are curious enough to take a look, as I---like many others----consider myself one of those frontier women. A writer who boldly goes where no one has gone before...
Let me know what you think about the subject! Leave a comment below to get a conversation started.
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