Many writing experts advise that you consider the current market as you write. If a reader buys one kind of book and likes it, they will look for more of the same. This notion is why you’ll see clone books pop up whenever there’s a breakout novel that runs up the bestseller list. Those writers follow the market.
There are always a few authors, however, who defy market trends and plow their own row. At a time when publishers said young adults weren’t buying, JK Rowling blew up the bestseller list with Harry Potter. When woman-based comedy was nearly unheard of in literature, Bridget Jones’s Diary skyrocketed. And certainly no one would have predicted the staggering sales of E.L. James's 50 Shades of Grey.
If you’ve read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon (or watched the series), you may be interested to know that she wrote it for practice. Seriously. Here’s what she said about it in an interview with interviewingauthors.com:
“I was tremendously lucky in that I was writing it for practice. I was not going to show it to anyone, let alone try to get it published, and therefore, I felt totally free to be completely honest in the writing and to take what otherwise I would have considered wild risks. Nobody’s watching so it didn’t really matter what I did and so I did everything.”
What would happen if…
What if you didn’t write for the market? What if, instead, you wrote the kind of book you’ve always dreamed about reading. That one story that sticks in your mind and won’t let you sleep at night.
The truth of the matter is if you set out to write the next bestseller, you’ll likely miss the mark. If, however, you can’t stay away from your characters and you dream plot twists at night, your chances for a breakout novel are much better.
Trends and fads fade away
What’s trending now on the bestseller list can change at any moment. Consider how long it takes to write, edit, and polish a manuscript—months, years even. Then you need an agent to find you a publisher, and the publisher needs all of the stars in alignment to get your book actually in print. It might be a long while before your book hits the shelves. If your novel is chasing a fad, that ship will probably have sailed by the time you get to market.
Be in the game for the long haul
It takes an enormous amount of time, energy, and effort to write a book, and if it’s not the book you dreamed of writing, then it will suck all the joy out of the writing process. It’s better to spend your time learning your craft and practicing like Diana Gabaldon. Don't chase a dream that’s not yours.
Realize that writing is a marathon sport, not a sprint. You’re in it for the long haul. Take the time to write what makes your heart sing.
What should you do instead of chasing the market?
Here are a couple of things you should work on while you’re practicing your craft.
Find your unique voice
While it’s natural to try on the voices of others, you want to work on your own unique voice; tell the stories the way only you can spin them. How do you accomplish this?
It’s actually fairly simple: write for yourself.
What do you love to read? Are you a voracious reader of action adventures, suspenseful dramas, uplifting personal triumph books, or women’s stories about smashed glass ceilings? The books you normally consume like they’re water or air are what you want to write. It’s where your interest lies, and you’ll be happier writing, which encourages both your creativity and your productivity.
Use your passion for these types of books to experiment and find a fresh way of painting a picture. Knowing the genre well means that you can take chances and try things that have not been done before. This will lead you to your unique voice, the one that will get agents’ and publishers’ attention.
Read and write
Think of your reading time as training. Teach yourself the elements that make for a good book in your particular genre. But don't limit yourself; read books outside your genre too. Books like non-fiction or biographies can still prime the pump. Did you follow a good red herring in you thriller? See if you can figure out how to do something similar in your romance. Reading will keep your mind supple and let you make connections that haven’t been made before. This helps to feed your unique voice with “fresh” ideas.
Find the perfect reader
Just in your mind, actually. You don’t need to hunt a person down. In marketing lingo, this is called a buyer persona. You create a fictional person who will represent your favorite kind of reader. This exercise helps you think about who she/he is. Where does she hang out? What does she like? What are her habits? What is her relationship status? How educated is she? What is she afraid of? Having a clear picture of your reader in your head helps you land those emotional punches.
Don’t spend your energy focused on writing a bestselling novel. Just write for yourself. JK Rowling fell in love with her story; that’s why we have the amazing Harry Potter series.