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Writing to market: 10 pros and cons to weigh

What does writing to market mean? And should you write to leap on trends or focus on telling the stories you’d love to tell? Read 10 pros and cons.

Writing to market, tailoring your book to a well-defined audience, has pros and cons. Read on for pros of niching down, and keep reading for the cons so you can weigh your options:

What does writing to market mean?

The phrase writing to market means writing books that are written more to market tastes or book market sales patterns than your own, market-agnostic writing interests.

Also known as writing to trend, this approach has a simple, two-fold premise:

  1. You identify what is popular or trending and sells well (in terms of genre, subject matter and other book elements).
  2. You write a book that’s designed to appeal to that exact reader base or audience segment from the start.

Writing to trend: 5 pros to consider

Thinking of hopping aboard a publishing trend (such as the rise and rise of audiobooks) or referencing topical subjects that have widespread public interest?

Pros of writing to trend are that you can:

  1. Ensure you have a defined target market.
  2. Niche down to find a focused potential audience.
  3. Avoid using time on work that might never sell.
  4. Understand how to promote your books best.
  5. Ensure your writing stays topical and relevant.

Market-driven writing: 5 cons

We explore the five pros of market-driven writing above in fuller detail below.

First, though, it’s worth mentioning cons (or hazards) of trend-focused writing:

  1. Book market changes could outpace you.
  2. Writing to cash in may become a slog.
  3. Catering to market doesn’t guarantee sales.
  4. Market saturation may reduce returns.
  5. Writing to trend may read as selling out.

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of market-focused vs market-agnostic writing:

Ensure you have a defined target market

Let’s start with the pros of letting the book market’s tastes determine to a greater extent what you write.

Making sure that you know your target (and know your genre) is important whether you’re writing to market or not. If you want to sell books, you need to know there are possible buyers for them.

When you write to market, this is a given, because you spend time researching your target audience before you even write a word of your first draft.

How can you create a target audience for fiction (or non-fiction) books?

  1. Create a reader persona: Who is your ideal reader? What are their demographic details such as age or gender? How would they describe themselves? What sort of pictures or posts would they engage with on social media? As an exercise, write a brief bio of this hypothetical reader, beginning ‘[Name] is…’
  2. Read reviews: Writing markets such as Amazon books and reviews platforms such as Goodreads (which is an Amazon subsidiary) are useful places to get the feeling for what readers of your genre want, love, hate, recommend.

For more on finding target readers, see IngramSpark’s concise guide to finding your book’s audience.

Publishers vs readers and writing to market - Kiran Desai says readers take more risks

Niche down to find a focused potential audience

In Now Novel writing coach Romy Sommer’s Introduction to Genre webinar, Romy talks about the benefits of ‘niching down’:

In writing to market, niching down means finding the subgenre or specific interest group within your genre your books will appeal to.

Romance is a vast genre, for example, with many romantic sub-categories. Finding a writing niche, be it a series with culinary elements or other interest overlap, could help you stand out in your own lane.

Avoid using time on work that might never sell

A third pro of writing to trend/market is that you may avoid using time on work that would never sell.

You will notice the work ‘using’ above, not ‘wasting’. Time you spend writing is never wasted – you’re practicing your craft, gaining skill in the process. If you want to make a career of writing, however, working smart is essential.

Putting at least some market consideration into your process is sensible if you want to give your books the strongest chance to sell.

The niche project that only you and five besties would possibly understand? This could be a side ‘passion project’ between more commercially-minded books.

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Understand how to promote your books best

When you write to market, you put effort into understanding the business of book publishing and promo, who is buying marketable stories.

Many authors write the story they have an urge to tell before they set about trying to find (or even create) appetite for it. Neither approach is necessarily better.

It depends whether your book’s commercial success is important to you or not. Is it a memoir meant to be shared only with family and friends? Or do you dream of strangers writing to you telling you how much they loved your work?

The research you do in identifying your target audience will also help you understand who you’re writing to in email marketing, on social media, in PR such as press releases for launch (if you don’t outsource this to book publicity professionals).

Joanna Penn’s blog is extremely useful for finding book marketing tips, and Kristin Kieffer at well-storied does a deep dive into Penn’s guide, How to Market a Book here.

Ensure your writing is topical and relevant

A fifth pro of writing to market is that with a little luck, your book will be topical and relevant when it comes out (if you pick an enduringly popular category and subject matter).

This is where it may help to look at historical publishing data, so that you understand not only trends today in publishing, but how book sales have trended over time.

Many authors want to write the next A Song of Ice and Fire, Bridgerton or The Hunger Games, but it is important to remember that what is topical or the talk of the town now might not be so in six months’ time.

Writing to market - infographic with 10 pros and cons

This brings us to cons of focusing on market appeal in your writing:

Book market changes could outpace you

Publishing does not move as fast as industries such as technology (where there are new models every year, and things such as built-in obsolescence).

Publishing trends do move, though, and may move on in the time it takes you to cash in on the latest book craze. Remember when vampires were the rage, spurred on by the unexpected success of the Twilight franchise?

If you are thinking of cashing in on hot topics in current events, particularly the news cycle, remember that writing, rewriting, editing, cover design and formatting are all parts of process that are vital and may delay when your book comes out.

If you’re fixed on writing to a trend:

  • Ensure the core foundations of good stories, e.g. goal, motivation and conflict, are there
  • Use contemporary references in a deeper way – if you use references as grist for topical relevance (rather than with deeper engagement), this can particularly make your writing read more dated in time

Writing to cash in may become a slog

Another con of writing to sate markets is that it may become tedious for you.

Writing a story that fires up your motivation because you’re passionate about your story’s subject matter, themes, scenario or characters may prove easier than a project built on commercial interests.

The choice is yours – whether you pursue passion and what interests you, or consider the moods of the market.

A balance of both aspects – passion and (some) pandering – may be best, since if your story lacks the authenticity of your own genuine interest, there may be a hollowness that readers hear, too.

Stephenie Meyer on writing just for yourself

Catering to market doesn’t guarantee sales

It is important to remember that whichever way you slice it, writing is work. Writing a book or creating a series is only ever going to be as commercially successful as your:

  • Perseverance
  • Ability to accept feedback
  • Craft
  • Promotional efforts

If a writer were to think, ‘I only need to write in X genre and because the reader base is so big, readers will come’, they would be wrong.

Factor book promotion into your writing business plan to ensure you’ve done everything you can to raise your sales potential.

Market saturation may reduce returns

A fourth potential con of jumping onto a publishing trend is that you may be one of many, many authors doing the same thing, at the same time.

If your new lane gets very crowded overnight, you can imagine there may be lots of competition.

Being in a highly competitive publishing space would then in turn reduce your share of visibility (unless you had chosen keyword, built an online presence, and taken other measures to be the standout in your niche).

This is why niching down into a smaller (yet still well read) subcategory or topic can be more lucrative than jumping on the largest available bandwagon.

Writing to trend may read as selling out

People in public relations often talk about the ‘optics’ of choices, acts and words. How a certain choice looks and shapes public perception is a big part of what publicists deal with (for example, ways to minimize clients’ more unfortunate choices).

Writing to trend or market can mean that you are viewed as ‘selling out’ within the writing community or among readers.

Fortunately, there is now less stigma attached to popular genres such as erotic romance or pulpy crime. There is place for everything on the shelves. Yet if you are read as cynically trying to ‘cash in’ on a trend in an inauthentic-seeming way, this perception could follow your writing career.

It is thus wise to weigh up the pros and cons of writing to market carefully, before you decide your approach for your next book. All writing involves risks.

As USA Today bestselling author JT Lawrence says in our publishing course, ‘if the ship sinks you can always build a new ship’. Each book is a chance to learn from any prior errors and build back better.

Developing a book towards publication or starting out? Experienced writing coaches and a constructive writing community will help each step of the way.

By Jordan

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

2 replies on “Writing to market: 10 pros and cons to weigh”

Hi Todd, I love that. Many of my favorite authors have marched to their own drum 100% and found their audience in time (although some posthumously, due to writing/painting/making music outside of the fashions of the time). One can always do both, too, keeping some projects under a pen name or pseudonym. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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