Monday, June 14, 2010

Write what you love not what the market does

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I thought I'd follow on from Jim's terrific post yesterday about writing with heart, and discuss an issue that is just as important in my view - writing what you love and not what you think the market will love. It drives me crazy when people say "you should write a romance - you'd make more money that way" or (even weirder) "You should write erotica - it's really hot (no pun intended) right now." For some reason there always seem to people wanting to make 'helpful suggestions' on what you should write - usually by pointing out the 'hot' genre on the current bestseller list, as if that is all it takes. Hey, if you just added a paranormal element to your mystery, shazam, you'd have it made.

If only it was that easy...For many wannabe writers the thought of becoming the next J K Rowling or Stephenie Meyers is enticement enough, as is the belief that somehow if you write to what you think the market wants, your future will be secure. Wrong.

Setting aside the obvious (that by the time you've written what the market loves now, the market has already shifted to something else) there is something more fundamental at stake. As my agent always says, you must write what you love. Why? Because it shows.

It shows if you are writing a romance when you think it's 'easy money'. It shows if you write a YA fantasy when you really want to write contemporary thrillers...If your heart isn't in it, the readers will know you're faking it.

I did a course in Australia years ago on 'how to write a romance'. I admit I did it as a lark and in the mistaken belief that 'anyone can write a romance' (I cringe now when I think of my attitude). I had never actually read a Harlequin romance before I did the class, and once I had, I realized I didn't enjoy them at all. They weren't my thing. So why did I think I could write one?? It wasn't until the end of the course that I realized my mistake: it felt fake, and then the realization set it, I was writing a romance for all the wrong reasons.

When I came to the US, I did another class and this time I fell into a different trap. This class was full of so-called serious writers and I felt the constant pressure to prove my 'literary merits' (when given everyone's ego was impossible - the only way members of this class felt good was by putting other members down). So then I faced another hurdle - how could I write what I loved when all I was worrying about was making sure what I wrote was 'literary' enough.

It took a while before I could set aside my misconceptions (that I should write what will sell, that I should write something 'worthy' etc.) Eventually I sat down and wrote what I loved, what I actually wanted to read, and you know what, it showed...(and, thankfully, it also got me published!)

So what about you? Have you ever felt pressured to write for the market, or to switch genres just because there was money it in? How have you dealt with the 'helpful' suggestions people make which means putting the market ahead of your heart?


  1. It takes me ages to turn out one manuscript, so there is no way I could write anything but what I loved to write--regardless of well-meaning friends or even industry professionals. Example: I prefer non-romance fiction. I understand it's hugely popular, but it's just not my bag. I leave that to those who love to read it and write it and write it well. But I have been encouraged I don't know how many times to add romance to my fiction.

    I have great admiration for authors who can write YA one minute and thriller the next, etc. Maybe I'll grow into that kind of flexibility over the course of time. But it ain't here yet. 8-)

    Thanks for the TKZ blog. Enjoy the thoughtful posts.

  2. I've read a wide variety of books and have found few genres that I don't enjoy to some degree. As a writer my interests are just as varied (which is probably not a good thing). I particularly enjoy examining the various genres to understand what makes them tick. I enjoy the challenge of writing stories that fall into different genres. But as the Jack of all trades is the master of none, I don't figure that is the best way to develop a career. But at the same time, I figure I am in a position to have liberty to experiment. Someday I may find a style that I enjoy that also strikes a chord with readers. When that happens I will have more reason to focus my attention more.

  3. More good thoughts, Clare. I was teaching at a conference last week, and drew two circles on a white board, apart from each other. In one circle I wrote "Market" and in the other "Heart." If you're driven by one or the other exclusively, you could end up with a book that feels fake or a book no one knows how to sell.

    I then drew the two circles intersecting a bit and shaded in that area. That's the target area. That's where that "fresh voice" comes from that, at the same time, inspires confidence in the marketing department.

  4. Great post! Like Timothy, I've tried writing in a number of genres, but I keep coming back to suspense. I belong to several book clubs, and every month during the meetings, I think," I should write a book club book." But it's like Stephen King says: no matter how hard he tries to write something other than horror, by the third chapter, a mad dog or a demon car becomes the main character. I've resigned myself to the fact that I write commercial suspense, which is not fodder for a book club, but as Popeye says, "I yam what I yam."

  5. I am so happy to have stumbled onto this blog right now. This past week, as I mentioned in my comment to Mr. Bell, I shared some of my struggle. At the last writers' conference I attended, I was told that exact thing by several editors. If I want to get published, write historical. Or romance or with a twist of both but forget writing women's fiction. It isn't selling even though their catalogues are now for 2012. Who knows what people will be reading in two years?
    I can't write historical. I don't read it and don't like to do the resarch. I can't write commercial romance like Love Inspired. I threw away those books years ago.
    I found myself trying to settle just to get published so an agent would take me more seriously-- to see me as a money maker. But the more I read and the more I find out through my writing, it doesn't work to follow the publishing trends. thank you again for writing about this. So many of us find oureselves there and you are so right, it doesn't show in our writing if we don't write with heart.

  6. Great post, Clare. I’m a firm believer in writing what you love. You nailed it when you said that it will show through. An author’s love of what he or she writes will fill the spaces between the words.

  7. Thanks for sharing your experiences and heart with us.

    There are lots of traps out there. I think critique groups are one of the more insidious ones that lots of wannabe writers get stuck in. Some blogs are like that too.

    That's why I like TKZ. You've all been very kind and welcoming. Even though I've only been following the blog for a month or two, I feel at home here. I feel like I am surrounded by professionals who honestly want to share their craft and have no hidden agenda. That's what keeps me coming back.

    Thanks all!

  8. Thanks everyone for your great feedback so far - and in Tucson (where I am at the moment) it's not eight o'clock in the morning (though it is already in the 80s!). Tish - it's funny you should mention historical as I hear that maybe I should consider something contemporary...which I might but I have a feeling my heart still lies with the past! I do enjoy lots of genres and like to experiment - just revising a YA at the moment but it has to feel right. Like Jim said it's that sweet spot between heart and market that I'm aiming for (fingers crossed!)

  9. I completely agree with writing something you care about. It will show in your work. And finding something that you care about AND that others will want to read is certainly a good model for commercial success.

    The only part I disagreed with is the often stated idea that by the time you write something trendy, the trend will have passed.

    If it's a shorter trend (like zombies), this is true. But some of the longer trends (vampires and urban fantasy in general) have lasted 5 years and more. In that amount of time, a writer could write a novel that fit the trend.

    I'm not saying you should follow a trend, but I when I walk through the bookstore and see 100 urban fantasies with similar covers on the shelf, it's apparent that some writers do. And do so with some success.

    So I think the 'by the time you follow a trend it's over' theory is false.

    But I'm curious what everyone else thinks.

    -- Largo Chimp

  10. As established writers, how much flexibility do you have to choose what you write? Once you've proven yourself in a certain genre, are publishers amenable to letting you try something different?

  11. Anon - that is certainly true and many people do 'follow the trend' and have some success but many more out there do not...and I think trying to 'catch the wave' is a difficult thing to do unless you're very lucky! Stewart - I think it can be hard for established writers to convince their publishers to try something new but many have had great success writing in other genres under another name (Nora Roberts - JD Robb for example) - so I think that's often what they do.

  12. Clare,
    I enjoyed this conversation and everyone's feedback. Terri's comment about trying to write a historical made me smile. I worked on writing historicals and learning the craft for years. Many people told me to give it up and write a contemporary. I just wanted to quit because I'd invested a lot of money on conferences, books, and time away from my family to learn the craft, but I couldn't quit writing. So I figured I might as well keep on writing what I like, sale or no sale.

    Now I'm glad I didn't quit because I have a 3-book contract writing a historical romance series for the inspy market. If I'd quit, I'd never known I could do it, and I'd never have this opportunity. Problem is I've got this mad dog, a serial killer, and . . . :)

  13. Sorta kinda maybe weighed in on this yesterday & after much deliberation - feel the same.

    With that outta the way - I had a chance to read TKZ's older posts. Where's the snarkiness? You folks put real ideas & encouragement out there. Is that even legal?

    Found this site (TKZ) thru FWA - Seems the money to join FWA may have been well spent after all.


  14. Dave/Jax...glad you found us. If it's a crime to encourage writers...guilty!