Marketing Series: Writing to Market

I hear a lot of talk amongst my indie writer friends about writing to market.  

What exactly is that?  It’s when you figure out the trends of what’s popular so that you can write a book that fits into those tropes and ride the popularity wave to a nice profit. I have seen cases where a writer has hit the market at the right time, perhaps even by accident, and was able to build a nice-sized audience based on the incidental popularity of their first book.  From there, the writer has been able to sustain a career, and many presume it’s because they write to market.  

While it’s true that their career catapulted thanks to the popularity of the genre of their first book, after a while, the author is not sustaining their career by writing for the market.  They are writing for their audience. Their first book gave them fans and to keep those fans, they have consistently delivered what their fans like. They aren’t writing for trends, they are writing for their audience.

If you’re considering writing for the market, you probably want to make writing your career — how you pay your mortgage and your grocery bill.  This means you want a “platform” (an audience of fans) who will buy your books, now and in the future. So your real aim is to have longevity and sustainability in sales.  You want to sell books long-term and make a living doing so. Writing to market, therefore, is a short-term solution, because it relies on trends, something you have no control over. 

The pace at which you’d have to write would be exhausting and untenable.  Trends change at the drop of a hat. They are capricious beasts. A trope that is popular now may not be popular in a month or two.  You may see 10 books being released with a brother and sister team soaring on the bestseller lists this month, and plucky hero/heroines beating everything out the next.  By the time that you identify a trend, that trend may be on its down cycle, meaning the popularity of the trend is waning. Chasing trends would then feel like trying to reach the horizon.  It’s always there, but you never quite touch it.

Let’s say that you correctly identify a trend at the beginning of its lifecycle and somehow manage to write, edit, format, and publish the book before the trend reaches its peak and begins to decline.  When your book has been released, the market may be saturated with other writers doing the same thing. Your book, your ticket to paying for your mortgage, will get hidden amongst the herd.

If you are writing to the market, you will be chained to the market.  You will have to write at a fast pace. You may feel like you are always missing the mark.  You may get caught up in the anxiety of missing an opportunity to pay for your daughter’s asthma medicine.  You will tie yourself to the unstable tastes of the market and not being able to say or write anything outside of what the mercurial taskmaster — the market — dictates.   If that happens, writing could become something you dread doing, instead of a passion you enjoy. You don’t have to write to market to make a living from your creativity. You can do it, but it won’t happen all at once.  

  1. Think of yourself as an entrepreneur, building a business.  Writing a single book will not give you the income to live off of.  You will need to think of yourself as an entrepreneur with multiple products and perhaps even services. This will get you in the right mindset for balancing what you can market and what are vanity projects.  Yes, you have to be concerned about the marketability of your writing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean what happens to be trending now. Genres are stable pockets of markets. Genres exist because the tropes associated with them have remained well liked over a long period of time.  However, the popularity of tropes within genres or even genres themselves will wax and wane. So writing within a genre that you like is good, even if it doesn’t get you on a bestseller list today. You are building your product catalogue.
  2. Think long-term.  If you are a business owner and are thinking long-term, you will want to be consistent in what you deliver.  Invest in your products, your books. Collaborate with professionals to develop your product. Hire editors, book designers, and formatters.  
  3. Above all, create a business plan for yourself.  If you’re going to depend on this to pay your mortgage, have a plan.  If you work for a company, that company has a plan. The management of that plan is what keeps you employed.  It doesn’t happen magically.

Bottom line.  If you want to make a living working for yourself, you need to think and act like a business person, even if the product you are selling is a creative endeavour.  

Do you want to move towards being a creative entrepreneur? Contact me. We can work together to find the right path for you.

Edited and Updated February 3, 2021

Proofread by Cassidy Reyne.

©2020, 2021 Michelle Raab, PhD. All rights reserved.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: You may copy up to 50 words without permission, provided that you give attribution, link back to the original post, and do not change the meaning or message.

8 thoughts on “Marketing Series: Writing to Market

  1. This is a topic I have a hard time wrapping my head around. I’ve done a pretty good job building a blogging platform by writing introspective first person essays, many of which are about running.

    I have 2 books. One is an introspective memoir and the other is about running. These get virtually no play. The memoir has a gaggle of solid reviews, the running book got one good and one bad. I spend time and blog real estate reminding people that they are out there. Do any indie writers actually sell their books? I’m sure some must…

    1. Some indie writers do sell their books. The average sales for the “life” of an indie book is about 250 units. This includes those who do really well and those who sell to family and friends. Some genres have a bigger audience than others. Fantasy and romance have more people who like reading those kinds of books than other genres. They are the two biggies in the indie world.

      Two of my friends who I help with their marketing have sold from between 100 to 350 units in less than a year since release. The more niche book (smaller potential audience), has done better than the one in the bigger market. Some research says niche is better. Some say not because it’s harder to find those niche people.

      There are three key components to sales. The first, are there people who are into the kind of book you’re writing? Not only genre but subject matter and how the subject matter fits within the genre. (I may need more coffee to further explain that last bit). Two, getting word of mouth is the biggest path to sales. This has been relatively consistent in the research. Getting word of mouth started begins with social media influencers, which in a writers case is a bookblogger and podcaster. So getting a review of a bookblogger whose audience is into what you write and how can get the word of mouth ball rolling. Three, quality of the book, which is related to the second point. If a book is poorly written or somehow misses the mark in terms of tropes or tone for the subject matter and genre, then the word of mouth would be to skip it and then the sales of your book will stall. If the book is well and appropriately written, then the word of mouth will carry you for a while.

      Does this help?

      1. Yes, that does help. I’ve saved it to my google drive. I suppose you’ve written a blog post on this exact topic. It’s definitely a question I’ve heard posed many times. If you have a post, please share a link. I share it on my writers’group facebook page.

      2. I have many blog posts on this topic — lol. In my menu, there should be a link to “marketing series” which has all of the lists compiled. And I’ll be talking about this (with an emphasis on “branding”) in the upcoming webinar I’m doing. And I’ll also be doing other webinars and writing more posts. I love rabbit hole diving into google scholar. 🙈 so many of my posts come from that. Let me also find the link to the marketing series page.

    2. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who finds marketing a complete mystery. I would love to know how you get on with the advice Michelle has given and what your writing group members think. I write romantic suspense and if I could afford to pay someone to do all my marketing and promotions I would do it in a heartbeat. As it is, I will make note of Michelle’s advice and I’ve also followed her marketing series with great interest. I’ve been told her webinar is great so that might be the next thing.
      Good luck!

      1. Well I wasn’t going to try employ her advice until my next book which is at least a year away. I may take the webinar series too. I still need a price.

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