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When new writers ask, “How do I succeed as an author?” the advice they most often receive is, “Write to market.”

How to Write to Market and Still Write What You Love

Popularized by Chris Fox’s 2016 book, Write to Market: Deliver a Book that Sells, the strategy requires authors to pick a genre to write in, study the tropes of that genre of books that are currently selling, and then write a book in that genre that fits all the existing tropes. While many authors struggle to embrace this concept, by changing our perspective on it, we will find it empowering rather than limiting.

Why I Didn’t Want to Write to Market

When I first received this advice, like many new writers, my response was visceral and negative. I felt as though I was being told to copy work instead of create it. I assured myself that I had not begun writing to fit into an existing mold. I told myself that I was an artist, not a plagiarist; and that my ideas were so wonderfully unique they defied all market expectations.

After writing and publishing several novels that no one but my mom read, I began to change my tune.

What helped me overcome my initial revulsion to the idea of writing to market was changing my perspective on it. I recognized there were misconceptions I needed to overcome. With a shift in understanding, I was able to see why writing to market worked and why I needed to embrace it if I was going to succeed.

Think of it as Writing to Readers

The first misconception I had was about the nature of the “market.” I thought of the market as a menacing and unpredictable unseen hand that was deciding what products succeeded and what products failed.

Understanding and writing to the market felt to me like becoming a Sith Lord. To do it would mean foregoing my calling as a pure artist and embracing the dark side that proclaimed money is king.

But the market is not some menacing unseen hand. The market is readers. The market is the word we use for people that buy books.

Don’t think of it as embracing some dark and confusing force. Think of it as understanding what people enjoy and trying to create for them something they will like.

Think of it as Writing to be Enjoyed

I’m the primary cook for my family. Finding food that all five of my children will eat can be difficult. When I sit down to prepare a meal, I’m faced with a choice. I can make something they will like, or I can prepare what I want to prepare.

If I choose the latter option, I might like the meal, but dinner is going to be horrible because I’m going to spend most of it forcing the four-year-old to try it. I’ve found that dinner is best when I cook something with elements that we all enjoy.

For example, I love broccoli but my sixteen-year-old hates it. What my sixteen-year-old loves is garlic salt and parmesan cheese. It’s easiest for me to steam the broccoli and serve it, but then I’m going to have to hear him groan and complain as he chokes it down.

If I take a few extra minutes to cover it in garlic salt and parmesan cheese and then roast it in the oven, he will eat it without complaining and I can enjoy my dinner.

The decision to write to market is the same decision I make every night at the dinner table. I can ignore readers and make what I want to make, but I need to understand that getting them to try it will be painful for all of us.

Or, I can figure out what they like, invest time in understanding what I like, and then write something that meets all our expectations.

If we can find passion in writing things our readers will enjoy, we will find more success.

Think of it as Writing to the Adjacent Possible

We have a misconception about innovation. We believe that innovative things are earth-shatteringly new. We think that when something innovative happens, there’s never been anything like it before.

The truth is, the only innovation embraced is “the adjacent possible.” When something is created that is beyond what anyone has ever considered, that thing is rejected because people can’t wrap their minds around it.

Innovators need to speak the same language as the people they are innovating for. If they don’t, their innovation won’t matter because no one will be able to understand it.

Writing from a new perspective or with fresh ideas is wonderful and necessary. At the same time, if that newness has no connection to readers’ expectations, then readers won’t understand it. Understanding genre and tropes is like learning the language of your readers. It is important to innovate within their language.

Write for Readers Who Love What You Love

If you are like me, your revulsion to the phrase writing to market comes from our misconceptions about what the phrase means. If we shift our perspective, we can change our approach so that we are writing for our readers in a language our readers will understand and enjoy, while not losing our unique voice.

Do you know what your readers love? Let us know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Today, take a baby step toward writing to market. Think of a reader you know personally. Consider what that reader enjoys reading. Then, take fifteen minutes to write a story in a format and style the reader in your mind will relate to.

When you’re done, share your writing in the comments below. Tell us about the reader you pictured, too. And if you post, don’t forget to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

Jeff Elkins
Jeff Elkins
Jeff Elkins is a writer who lives Baltimore with his wife and five kids. If you enjoy his writing, he'd be honored if you would subscribe to his free monthly newsletter. All subscribers receive a free copy of Jeff's urban fantasy novella "The Window Washing Boy."
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