Dean Wesley Smith has put up some good blog posts lately about writing and artistic freedom and the writing to market craze. Of course, one of the first things that happened were several comments by people who wanted to clarify exactly what they believe writing to market is: finding that intersection between what you love and what is likely to sell better. That’s like, duh, but it’s become the big “writing to market” meme that isn’t really real.
Here’s why: If you love something and you’re debating between two equally strong ideas, anyone with any self-awareness at all is going to choose the one that could put more money in the bank. But here’s the catch: It’s also very possible you’ll be completely wrong and the one idea won’t sell any better than that other idea you had. But since both ideas were pulling at you equally hard, it’s no big deal because you would have written one or the other no matter what. In this world, all is good, whether that idea gets you more sales or not.
So why’d I call it a meme that isn’t really real? Because people are co-opting the words “writing to market” to mean something it does not mean. Writing to market is choosing to write something because you think there’s a market for it. That’s really all it means. You can add all the extras to it that you want, to make it fit what you want it to mean, but it’s a pretty simple phrase. You’re writing something because you think there’s a market there.
And if you’re doing that, then you’re putting the market before the desire no matter how you pretty up the phrases. The intersection of what you love and what sells, remember?
If you limit your choices only to markets you love (as the meme tells you to), then you’re really not writing to market in any real sense at all, only claiming to.
There’s another problem with the writing to market craze—a viewpoint issue. There are two distinct ideas of what writing to market means that really aren’t compatible.
Writing to market as a verb (action). This is where I sit. I believe you have to choose to write to market. If you don’t choose, you’re just writing and if you happen to hit a market that has a lot of buyers in it, then it’s a happy accident. I happen to love genre fiction and there happens to be a really big market for it. I figure this is how I’m making my living. Some of my books have hit markets with buyers who really want to buy books like mine.
We’re the people who don’t immediately think: Hey, you can totally write what you love and write to market. We tend to believe these two concepts are completely incompatible. Like I said before, if you’re limiting your choices to markets you love, then you’re really not writing to market, you’re writing what you love and using the market as a decision point between ideas. Which, again, is kind of “duh.” Decisions are hard, especially when you’re deciding between things you really love. In fact, those might be the hardest decisions out there.
Writing to market as a noun (result). This is where a lot of the biggest proponents of the “you must write to market if you want the best chance of finding success” crowd lives.
It also includes the people who like to argue that anyone who finds any kind of success as a writer is writing to market whether they want to admit it or not.
Basically, the best that I can figure, the people who believe this second definition of writing to market believe that if you sell books, you’re writing to market whether you agree that you’re writing to market or not, because they’re treating “writing to market” as a thing that happens instead of a thing that’s done.
The big divide seems to me to be this verb/noun issue. If two people have different definitions of the term they’re arguing over, it’s no wonder there’s conflict.
For one, people like me don’t like being told we’re doing something when we know we’re not. On the other hand… well, I’ve got nothing. I don’t happen to think of writing to market as a noun, because “writing to” something is something you kind of have to do. ;)
I happen to believe that anyone who believes the second definition is kind of nuts. :D I’m also sure they’re probably thinking the same thing about me. ;)
Like I said: Incompatible viewpoints.