Market Forces Make Me A Better Writer

This is a blog post which has been troubling me for a few months. In it, I’m going to talk about money, audience, and mass market entertainment. These are controversial topics and have led me into more than one debate.

There is a problem from the beginning: if I say “writers should know their market” then I get leapt upon by people who tell me that’s a sell-out position. Hold on one moment. I have not made myself clear – WHICH writers? My lack of clarity has caused fights.

If you write, you’re a writer. Okay. You can all write what the hell you please, and that’s fantastic. Go right ahead.

I forget sometimes that there are a lot of people who write for pleasure, for self-improvement, to share their experiences, for many reasons. All the reasons are good and valid. Keep writing.

But when I talk of writing, I am coming from a business perspective. I would like to pay the mortgage, and if I can pay the mortgage by doing something I love, then YES I will do that. This means I enter the marketplace, as a businessperson, selling something.

This is where a lot of writers get uncomfortable. There are myriad reasons why writers get itchy when someone speaks of selling their work: some are jealous, some are resentful, some are scared, some are bitter, some are unsure, some are confused. Writing is seen as an art, and arts are supposed to be above cashflow; we have this idea that they are spoiled by monetary considerations. Less pure. Sordid. Suddenly, I am painted into becoming a greedy fat cat who will steal all your cash, your soul and probably your kittens.

If I were to go on to explain to these writers – who are already frothing at the mouth – exactly what I do, and how, blood would be spilt. Why? Well, I write many things. I write for monthly magazines, both non-fiction and fiction. But I also self-publish erotica, and erotic romance, and this is where people get angry. Not necessarily for the content, but because of my approach. I research the top-selling genres and kinks; I study their style; I assess their covers and their blurbs. And then I write a similar, but different, story.

Oh. My. God. I am no better than a cheat and a thief, right? Are you sharpening your knives for me yet?

STOP. Am I doing this for the money? In part. But if I was only about the cash, I’d be writing short, terrible, auto-generated content with no quality control. I don’t. I study the market and the audience because… wait for it… I RESPECT THE READER.

There you go. That’s it. RESPECT. Not money-grabbing motives. If I am asking someone to part with their hard-earned cash, I feel a moral duty to ensure that I am giving them exactly what they want, what they expect, and what they are paying for.

I’m under no illusions about the short erotic romances. They are read once, twice if I’m lucky, and won’t change the world. But does that matter? I want to give the reader a short moment of peace in their life. A brief dream. A break from the norm. I want them to identify with the main character, find out that she has issues just like theirs – which she overcomes – and then she hopefully has some really good sex. It’s about pleasure and what is wrong with that?

Now, if you go into a fast food chain and pay for a burger, and you’re given a salad because that’s better for you, it isn’t fair. Likewise, people buy these romances because they know what they want. They might be reading Descartes on the train to work; who knows. Right now, they want a quick blast of passion. I ensure I know what they want, and strive to deliver that.

Writing these short books has improved my writing skills, too. I have learned so much about character, and plotting, and creating emotional tension. Again, it’s about respecting the reader and ensuring that I give them a quality experience. Some may sneer at my talk of “quality” but remember – this is business, too. And I have respect for myself, as a writer. I won’t churn out tosh, in whatever genre it is. I wouldn’t enjoy that.

Enjoy? Yes. This returns me to the main point: I do this because I love it. I love writing a variety of things. I love writing, full stop. I also love the business side of things – the analysis, the research, the exploration. Knowing my market means I respond to changes in the market, and that keeps my writing fresh. Even in the high-turnover arena of erotic romance, you cannot just write the same old thing. Society changes, people change, and you must change with it, constantly. I love that. You cannot get stale – you mustn’t.

Finally, I’ve been using everything I’ve learned to write a traditional historical romance, which will be finished very soon. It will be out under my own name, and I’m very excited. I have been loving every minute of writing this – who says you have to bleed your agony out onto the page?

If it’s half as much fun to read as it was to write, the reader will definitely be getting their money’s worth.

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  1. #1 by Phil on April 21, 2013 - 4:12 pm

    There’s nothing wrong with writing exactly what you want – as long as you understand that the chances are you will be your only reader. I went to an event for prospective writers a couple of years ago and was heartened by the number of people who didn’t get this and were therefore reducing the competition for those of us who really do want to get into print.

  2. #3 by Nimue Brown on April 20, 2013 - 9:01 am

    Knowing your readers, who they are, or might be, is so productive. That doesn’t have to be about the money, either, it may be knowing which sites to share your stuff with. It may be there are only four academic specialists in the world who will ever understand you… so long as you know, any of it can work. For me, market research means talking to people – parents, children, pagans, steampunks… market reseach does not have to mean ‘see what’s already out there and copy it’ it can mean find some people who want some stuff and make it for them… Most writers want to be read. Perhaps retitling market research as ‘find someone who will read it’ would cause the proces to make sense to people who currently resent it.

    • #4 by autumnbarlow on April 22, 2013 - 10:32 am

      Totally. Though I don’t think we need to call market research by any other name – some writers I’ve met have a knee-jerk reaction to anything that smacks of business language and throw the baby out with the bath water. If they are serious about getting their work out to readers they need to reassess their reactions…

      I’ve got a lot more cynical since starting to work in publishing though. Perhaps it’s the sheer quality of some submissions I have to read. I mean, Top Hat Books is clearly marked as historical fiction, so why is someone asking me to produce a cd/card combo? Why do they submit three times even after I’ve explained why we don’t? Why do people ignore their spell checker? Why do people send me first drafts?

      When I get a well-thought-out submission, my heart sings with joy. Sadly… this is more rare than you’d think.

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