What does it mean to write to market?
The traditional storyteller has a tale inside of them that they want to share with others. Novelists might have a character, a story, a setting, or just a concept they’re interested in exploring as a book. Nonfiction writers might have a personal experience or a problem they’ve faced and overcame, and they write a book to help people like them through the same problem.
These examples are writers writing purely for their own enjoyment. They’re creating the book they want to exist or writing the story they’d like to tell. But what happens when a writer writes for the reader?
What is write-to-market?
Writing to market is also known as writing to trend. In writing to market, a writer will look at the market, analyze current trends, use these trends to make an educated guess about what readers are looking for, then write THAT book.
Indie authors are the most equipped to utilize the write-to-market strategy because they can publish books quickly themselves without waiting for traditional publishing’s long process to push their book through.
With the quick turnaround through self-publishing, a writer can potentially surf the waves of the market and land the trends for higher sales. This is nearly impossible for an author to do with traditional publishing, where books often take years to publish from the day they’re sold to a publisher and the day they hit shelves. By that time, the trend the book was written for may have already died out.
Write-to-market is simply a publishing strategy to sell more books by giving readers exactly what they want to read right now.
Is write-to-market selling out?
There are people who think making a profit off of any art is “selling out.” But writing is a job! If you want to be a full-time writer, you’ve gotta make an income off of it, and write-to-market is one way to make sure you’re getting a steady income. If you’re consistently writing for a demand, you’re set up to sell to readers looking for that book.
You can still write good stories that you enjoy and that you’re passionate about while writing to market. Maybe this just means altering an existing story to fit current trends, boosting sales. Or maybe you’re writing something way out of your field of interest, but you can do it quickly–it’s fine to be in it for the money. That’s why everyone else does their jobs, isn’t it? Plus, plenty of authors like dabbling in different subgenres, and write-to-market authorship is a great way to sample new tropes and subgenres.
If writing to market grosses you out, think of it this way: publishing is a business. In order to succeed, you need to sell your product and make money. You’re providing customers with a product, so it makes sense that product should be something your customers want. That’s all there is to it!
How to write to market
Find out what topics, tropes, and genres are selling right now. Look within certain genres to see what’s trending within them, too. It could be something broad (like when dystopian YA was hopping a few years back) or something incredibly niche (like the bed-sharing romance trope).
Choose a genre you already like to write in, then find keywords and tropes within that genre that are selling really well right now. That way you’re not reaching entirely out of your comfort zone and you’ll be interested in writing them, instead of trudging through a genre you don’t love. If you’re still lost, try to get specific and make sure to read up on the latest books in your preferred genre. Maybe you start with romance, and eventually you narrow that down to Tudor-era historical romance. This will give you a much easier vantage point to do your research.
Look at the top sellers in the categories you’re interested in. What consistencies do you see in titles, cover matter, themes, and niches? Take notes of the ones that come up most frequently!
You can also get involved in the communities around your genre. Follow writers and readers in that niche on social media, check hashtags, and stay involved with how trends are changing. Being right at the root of the trend can help you have quicker response time than waiting for it to reflect in book sales.
When you’re writing to market, time is of the essence. While we do see some trends dominate a certain aspect of the industry for years, like paranormal romance taking over post-Twilight, it’s much more common for subtler trends to come and go over the course of a few months. This makes it important to stay tuned to the latest writing fashions so you know what readers are after. Get ideas turned over quickly and out for sale while it’s still trendy.
I know some writers who write whatever genre or theme they’re in the mood for, prepare the book for publishing, then sit on it until that particular content is popular! Trends are cyclical, so this isn’t a bad idea if you have lots of inspiration and some time on your hands.
Make sure to specify
through your cover, title, and description that your book contains the trending topic, theme, or element. Play the trendy element up as much as you can while you’re marketing. There’s no reason to bury the lede when you’re writing to market–let the readers know what you’re offering, and let them know loudly. You can go through all the trouble of researching, planning, and writing to market for it all to go to waste if you don’t let readers know that your book is in on the trend.
A newsletter is a strong tool for writers, particularly in something like writing to market. If you’re dropping a publication once a month (typical for write-to-market authors), then your readers will want to know about it! Building a mailing list gives you a direct line of contact with your readership, whether you’re writing to market or not. Use your newsletters to alert your readers to your new projects and upcoming works, so they can get excited about what you’re cooking up next and stay hooked longer.
Many writers build their reading list by offering a free short story or novel for signing up. If the freebie is in your genre/subgenre, collecting readers who will stay interested in your writing will be easier.
Pros and cons of write-to-market
Are there any drawbacks to writing to market? Maybe so! Are there tons more benefits? Probably! Let’s look at the pros and cons of writing for the market so you can decide what’s important to you, and see if writing to market might be the best move to advance your career. For more pros and cons than the ones we’ve listed here, check out the article on The Write Life, which covers writing to market from an author’s perspective and a freelancer’s.
The benefits of writing to market
Let’s be real–the biggest benefit is definitely the money. Writers who learn how to write for trends correctly make absolute bank, and there’s no reason you can’t be one of them. We often hear about romance authors making huge sums, and one of the key ways they do that is by putting out a lot of content in specific genres where they know their audience and know what that audience wants. That model can be replicated in other genres, too, to similarly lucrative effects.
Grow your readership quicker
If you’re churning out quick, topical reads, you’ll draw a crowd quicker than longer term projects that aren’t as trendy. If you can draw people in with a trending topic, then keep them with a compellingly written story, they might keep an eye out for future projects. This will also guarantee that you’re building a readership in your specific genre, which will go a long way in ensuring that they stick around for future projects, even if your work starts to vary as the trends change.
If you write with content that isn’t super popular right now, it might pay off, but it’ll be a little slower. If you know what people are looking for, why wait to give it to them? Drop a fresh take on a hot topic to get a check NOW.
Learn the trade faster
When you’re publishing a book every month or two, you’re giving yourself a crash course on writing, publishing, and marketing. Each new book is a learning opportunity to see what works for you and your readers.
The drawbacks of writing to market
How long will it last
The success of that book might be lightning fast and short-lived. While that’s a possible negative, if you’re producing books regularly and hitting marketing trends, then the longevity of your book doesn’t matter so much as the quantity of books you produce. Your books may not sell as well over time, which can be perceived as a con, but since you’ll be on to the next one in no time, this might not be a big drawback. PLUS, you’re ideally making a spike of higher income with your book release that could even out to what a longer-selling book might make over its lifetime.
The appearance of “selling out”
Write-to-market publications might seem a little skeevy and cheap to some people. We already discussed how that isn’t true, but if you’re worried, you’ve got options! Most write-to-market books are in the romance genre, and the majority of romance authors write under a pseudonym. Even if you write more traditionally in a different genre, you can write under a penname for publications you don’t necessarily want attached to your main author platform.
Will you enjoy it, and can you do it successfully?
Writing to market can definitely soul-suck if you do it wrong. But like I said earlier, choose a genre you’re already interested in! It shouldn’t be pulling teeth.
Worried about burnout? If you depend on writing lots of books and keeping on top of current trends, you could run the real risk of getting exhausted with the huge word counts, quick turnarounds, and tendencies towards formulas. For some writers, all this means is making sure to take ample breaks to read and explore other creative outlets, but for others, this can be a dealbreaker–it all depends on you, and what works best with your creative and work needs!
Worried you can’t write quick enough? What if your turnaround isn’t quick enough for the trend and you miss it, sinking time and money into a project that won’t grab much return? This is a risk you run, BUT that same risk is there for any book you write. You’ll probably sink a few misses, but there’s a learning curve in any new endeavor.
All things considered, the benefits of writing to market far outweigh the negatives, if you’re willing to invest the time and research to learn how to do it right. There’s a big paycheck and devoted reader following in it for those who do it well!
Should you write-to-market?
Writing for trends isn’t for every writer. If you’re someone who edits each sentence meticulously, poring over one novel revision for months and months, it might not be your speed. But if you’re a writer who is:
- willing to research and experiment,
- able to write a book in 4-8 weeks,
- prepared to bounce back from a flop,
- and ready to make some wild money when you hit the right niche,
then writing to market might be the route you take!