Write This and Sell Thousands of Copies! (A Frustrated Rant)

Since I’ve been focused on the reasons for writing, the ways certain mediums differ (A romance writer is going to be different from a fantasy writer who will be different from a literary writer who will be different from a pulp writer, who will be different from a fanfic author, etc), I’ve been paying attention to a lot of people posting in my feeds and a lot of discussions on what trends are and the right way to grab hold of them and all of that.

It seems you either write to trends or you don’t. I’ve discussed before why writing to genre trends is never going to work (the market moves too fast and publishing, for the most part, is too slow to game the system and people’s tastes), but it seems like there are other discussions going on. I got into it a little bit yesterday, but in romance and erotica e-book circles there’s the thought process that if you write a crap-ton in a short time and focus on a very specific niche, you can rake it in. The thing is, for every person making good on that, there’s a ton more who aren’t.

The latest debate is word counts. I’m a little torn on this one, because it does seem like people have preferences, but I am that author that, for whatever reason, is never around the people who likes the word counts I give, and I write in every word count. Seriously. I’ve done shorts, I’ve done flash, I’ve done novella and novelette, I’ve done big fat novels. I never hit it in this clouds part, the sun shines down, and God throws money at me way that apparently happens for some people. When I’m selling to people fact to face, they always have different preferences for length, along with genre and everything else. I’ve heard so many things from different people, I’m way confused. Series are the way to go. No, standalone novels are best because people don’t feel like they have to read nine million books. Nope, it’s novellas, sell them cheap and people will grab them up! Nope, serials! Serials are the future!

Everyone hates collections, though. It’s the one fact of the writing world, apparently. Except when it’s not and people don’t.

I’m beginning to realize that while there are trends, they move so fast they’re almost impossible to harness (for me, anyway. Maybe I haven’t been touched by the right magic sunbeam or found the right lamp to rub yet). I get that some trends may really work over others, but does that mean they’re sustainable long-term? I dunno. Hell, I’d love to know, it would make my work so much easier.

It seems to be a consistent fact that while there are hot topics, preferred media, and some trends in word counts and formats, nothing is always going to be consistently certain, so you have to grit your teeth and just hang in there and try to play it smart. No genre is going to be a guaranteed money-maker, and honestly….wait, okay, let me just interrupt my current thought and say something right here. Let’s just tangent away from this post where I was going to ask people what their preferred length to read and preferred format and genre are, and let me just say something right now before I climb up a wall.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you are trying to learn to write (or do any type of artistic or creative thing) specifically to be famous or make money, that is not a valid reason. You want appreciation and validation, that is your focus, not working on art or making amazing things or getting out the ideas because they’ll gnaw your face off in your sleep if you don’t. In case you can’t tell, the latter is my preferred motivation.

Okay, yes, there are probably the rare people who are able to write specifically to make money, set out to do it, and have done it successfully. However, consider this. It’s still going to be a ton of work to crank out the amount of fiction it’s going to take to get you there, and that doesn’t mean it’s going to be what you want to write about. You are at the mercy of what people want, and that’s probably going to be some weird stuff. If you really have a passion for fringe or niche kink writing, awesome, go for it, be you and stay safe and all that. If you’re thinking you can apply those thoughts to general fiction or genre writing, no, that’s probably not a likely scenario because it is a different audience. Creative things, just like any other vocation, takes time and work to hone a craft. It also takes a hell of a lot of luck. Of all the reasons to become a writer/actor/artist/singer/whatever, money should not even be in your top twenty list.

I’m not saying don’t work hard. I’m not saying you don’t deserve to get paid for what you love and what you’re good at. However, I’m getting a little exhausted by all this talk trying to game a system that refuses to be gamed. Granted, I’m not a publisher, I don’t keep up with everything as much as I should, but I feel like the moment people “decide” what the future is, it changes. After all, print books were considered dead the moment the e-reader was invented, yet I’ve still got shelves and shelves of paper books and new ones are being produced every year.

I’m also not saying don’t work smart. I try to at least figure out which of my ideas will help me at this given time the most, though I usually throw that out in favor of writing whatever I want to, anyway (contracts and deadlines aside).

What I am saying, though, is that I am tired of people asking me/bringing up in panels/discussing ad nauseum anywhere what we “should” be doing because that’s what’s going to work. If any of us actually knew what was going to work, it would have worked by now and I’d be typing this from my bed in the Escher room of my exact replica of Jareth’s castle conveniently nestled in my exact replica of the labyrinth, complete with puppeteers to make the goblins work, all on my own private island.

Hey, we all have our dreams. Don’t judge me.

However, as much as I want my private Labyrinth island, I just don’t know that I have it in me to be the type to only write post-apocalyptic robot zombie dinosaur serial novellas on papyrus scrolls because surely, surely, that’s going to break any day now and will be the only thing everyone wants to read.

Although, now that I’ve said it, of course that’ll be the case…

So what trends and predictions have you heard? What do you make of them? Words to live by? Take them with a grain of salt? Do you write to trends or do what your ideas want you to, since they are cruel little task masters?

4 thoughts on “Write This and Sell Thousands of Copies! (A Frustrated Rant)

  1. Since I figure I’m not going to make the money Mr. King does, I have always written what I needed to. My words to live by in writing are: just write. My voice is quirky enough that not alot of people get it. And thats ok. I write first for myself, and secondly for others, so at least my first audience enjoys it.

  2. I don’t bother wondering what the trends are. Most writers dream of being able to live off the earnings from writing so they can quit the dreaded day job and do what they love. If the only way you can do that is by writing something you don’t really want to write, what’s the point? Unless I make it big like Game of Thrones, my day job is always going to pay more than writing, and I kind of like it anyway, so I write strictly what I want to write, which is what I want to read, and there are other people reading what I read so surely there’s an audience for it…

    When it comes to what to write or how much…. This is market positioning. I do not believe you can be all things for all people. Pick what you want to write, recognise it probably has an audience, but maybe it’s not as big as, say, the romance audience. I write adult epic fantasy in a time when YA paranormal romance is STILL hot, and I’m a woman writer in a time when most big epics are still penned by men. I have an audience, albeit not a big one, and the length of the book seems less important than the quality of my writing (even while they are saying they wish my short fiction was longer, they are still reading it). I have found that audience that wants a book geared at an adult, that is squarely epic fantasy, and that is well-written – and it’s not as big as the audience for Twilight, and I just have to accept it probably never will be. But those are the people I want to write for. I haven’t sold many books, but I’m proud of the reviews I have, and I love the time I spend writing.

    As for post-apocalyptic robot zombie dinosaur serial novellas on papyrus scrolls – I reckon if you make it erotica you might be on a winner 😉

  3. “Writing to the Market” is the worst advice I’ve ever heard from a so-called professional. The dirty little follow-up secret those schmucks don’t want to tell you is this: what works for one…only works for that one. Every person is different for every single reason possible.

    Even between you and me – we’ve been attached to each other for…sweet Hell, almost fifteen years now… and while our writing styles are similar enough to confuse the unsuspecting, our personal situations are vastly different and thus reflect in our marketing tactics, personal outlooks on life, and functional ability to appear “professional” in public (let’s face it… neither of us is ACTUALLY professional about anything except annoying the other one. We just play professionals on TV.)

    My point is, every person has to follow his or her own path to greatness, and worrying about what the market is doing or how successful the rest of the world is will only get in the way. God knows I’m guilty of both, but that’s also part of the experience. Insecurity is probably our greatest ally because as long as we remember there’s still more to learn and room to improve, we’ll only continue to get better.

  4. Looking at my face in the mirror, I’m guessing that the words gnawing off my face school is the one I have chosen. Melding words and illustrations into explanations of social mysteries for kids means if I help one kid deal with bullying or avoid a predator, I’m successful, at least in my own skewed perspective. Money would be fun but hey smiles and hugs are better. Although I would be way skinnier if I was living on my books’ income.

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