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Two approaches to writing:

  1. Writing about ideas that are currently 'hot' in the market (a bit like when the Hunger Games came out, many authors quickly released books which incorporated the same set of ideas)

  2. Writing about ideas that you would enjoy (and have enjoyed) reading about.

I don't have any statistics for this claim, but I'm fairly certain that many authors are influenced by the type of books they read, and are heavily influenced by the ideas which appear in the type of books they enjoy. I can't verify this (yet) but it's certainly true for me; I enjoy reading a specific subset of dystopian fiction (one where the protagonist suffers heavy losses), and the book which I'm planning to write features this key idea heavily.

It seems to me, that, ideas which appear in books are very similar to those that appear in the books that their authors enjoy reading.

My Question: Should I write books focusing on the market's interests, or my interests?

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    Aaron Sorkin said in his Masterclass that if you try to chase a trend, you'll never catch it. By the time your product gets to market, it will be too late. – Todd Wilcox Jun 8 '18 at 18:13
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    What's your goal in writing? Do you hope to make a living by writing; or do you just want to write because you enjoy the work that goes into that, and if it nets you a bit of money in the end then that's just all the better? – a CVn Jun 8 '18 at 18:26
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    @MichaelKjörling I'm not trying to make a living; I just want to tell my story. I'm asking this as I was wondering if (and I'm not planning on doing this) it would be more commercially viable to write a book targeted at the current market. – Adi219 Jun 8 '18 at 18:33
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    The market will always have an appetite for stories that are so compelling, their authors loved writing them. – Kevin - Reinstate Monica Jun 8 '18 at 20:39
  • I don't think there's a right or wrong approach here. But if you are concerned about financial success, keep in mind that an experienced writer who enjoys writing what the market happens to want will probably dominate sales against any writer who just doesn't belong there. On the other hand, carving your own niche will put you on equal footing with your competition. – Sigma Ori Jun 10 '18 at 9:33
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From your either-or phrasing, I understand that you're asking whether you should write something that appears "hot", but that you personally find utterly boring. How then do you propose to write such a thing? Do you see yourself sitting there, putting drivel on a page, fighting off boredom and disgust? What joy is there in such writing? What artistry? Do you respect yourself and that which you do, if what you write is of no interest to you? How can the reader find anything attractive in a work where you, the writer, find nothing? Are you treating your reader with respect, if you treat with contempt the story you give them?

The Hunger Games, and whatever was hot before the Hunger Games, and whatever will be hot after - when they emerged, they were all new, original, they were the books their writers would have wanted to read, found interesting to write, at their core were ideas the authors enjoyed mulling over and found something new to say about.
The works that came after, and seemed like copies, these too were written with love - by authors who wanted "more of the same", and failing to find it, wrote it. They were stories inspired by the first one, a response born of love.

You cannot tell a good story, unless you enjoy telling it. You've got to respect your work and your readers; if you find your story boring, you're not respecting either. Like a chef serving something he wouldn't eat himself. So write what you find interesting. If you put your truth into your story, there will be those who, like you, find it interesting.

  • Sorry, my phrasing was slightly at odds with what I mean. I didn't mean that I found 'hot' books 'utterly boring' ; I meant that, while I found them to be good reads, the ideas presented weren't very similar to those that I enjoy. For example, I love Dan Brown's books (especially the series which star Robert Langdon), but I want to write books more like those of Derek Landy's (such as the Skullduggery Pleasant series), as the ideas presented in those are those that I find much more enjoyable than those in Dan Brown's. – Adi219 Jun 8 '18 at 18:24
  • I guess I'm trying to say that, while I may enjoy well-written books, I'd rather read a book which presents ideas that I enjoy. – Adi219 Jun 8 '18 at 18:24
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    @galastel Great answer. You hit it spot on with that. – raddevus Jun 8 '18 at 18:26
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    "...found something new to say about." Or simply found a new way to say the same old things that have been said for time immemorial. ;) – jpmc26 Jun 11 '18 at 5:15
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Write what you enjoy.

Even professional authors have written first books they couldn't sell, and even when famous wouldn't sell without rewriting them from page 1. It is difficult to sell a first novel (but not impossible, it has happened more than once).

If you are not writing something you love writing, chances are you won't sell it. Like it or not, your ambivalence or disdain for the story will come across to readers, you won't care enough to put in the hour of creativity it takes for every page to avoid the clichés and tropes and formulaic plotting. Readers can feel mechanistic writing, it lacks emotion because none is felt by the author.

If you don't love your story and are only interested in the money, this is a dumb idea. First novels often get advances of $3000 to $5000, and never earn them out. They typically sell less than 1000 copies in two years. For publishers, if they put out enough new books they make money on the best sellers; it is a matter of betting $3000 on ten books expecting nine losses and one $50,000 winner (plus relationships with authors that promise better results next time).

That is very much worth doing for the publisher, covering their costs and earning them a good salary, but it is actually not that great a bet for authors: 12 months of writing for $3000, total?

Bestsellers have typically struck a nerve in a new way, and it is typically only well-established writers known to already have a following that are going to be able to cash in by striking that same nerve. Not new authors with no following writing something derivative.

For new authors, it is very important to live on the near frontier: Not so original as to be opaque and difficult to follow, but also not so pedestrian that you are competing with established authors that do a far better job than you of pedestrian fantasy, mystery, romance, horror or whatever genre you write.

In other words, you must be original but not too original. Like Sanderson, writing very accessible Fantasy but with a new take on Magic Systems.

Like JK Rowling, writing a book accessible to children but with an adult-level mystery embedded in it.

Like Dan Brown, writing a typical puzzle mystery with a very original Setting (Church and Vatican lore), with Biblical figures as the topic of the mystery.

Like M. Night Shyamalan in The Sixth Sense, taking a pretty much traditional Medium that can see and talk to dead people, but imagining their early childhood, and settling on a young boy that doesn't understand his ability and is terrified by it. (The twist he found was awesome, but to me it was more important to wonder "What is a Medium's life like at nine years old?".)

Your best chance of commercial success is being original.

Your best chance of being original is writing what you enjoy.

  • Ad In other words, you must be original but not too original.: Can you give an example of an author who is too original? – Franz Drollig Jun 10 '18 at 5:29
  • @FranzDrollig No, they don't get published, because it is bad writing! "Too original" is too many new or strange elements. When the story becomes too strange to follow for most readers. Commercial success demands tens of thousands of people relate to the characters and their problem. Over-complexified plots, too many made up words and weird names and details and rules to remember,. If a reader feels like they are in a classroom and should start taking notes to understand what is going on: that is overly imaginative. Most readers want entertaining newness, not hard-to-follow-textbook newness. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jun 10 '18 at 10:14
  • @Amadeus That makes sense! – Adi219 Jun 10 '18 at 13:15
  • I wouldn't call it “bad writing”, @Amadeus. It is bad marketing if they expect something to have wider appeal than it actually will, but that is entirely a different thing from the quality of the writing. Of course, I take exception because one of my projects has most of those things which you mention. I am aware of the difficulty most readers would have with the names, but I'm not compromising the world or the vocabulary simply to sell more of a substandard work. – can-ned_food Jun 11 '18 at 3:24
  • @can-ned_food First, your definition of pedestrian is utterly false. Second, I definitely consider "too original" as I described it to be bad writing, so do publishers, so do readers. Commercial Fiction exists to entertain. It can educate, philosophize, advocate, indict: But none of that supersedes the necessity of entertaining. Clarity helps it, Opacity impedes it. If the reader puts the book down because it is too difficult to follow, nothing gets communicated and the reader feels ripped off. To me, that is bad writing, readers expect the fiction they buy to be readable. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jun 11 '18 at 10:05
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Writing a novel means:

Planning, drafting, editing, submitting, finding agent representation, editing again, submitting again, finding a publisher, editing again, approving cover designs, typesetting, final proofing, pre-release advertising & reviews, and waiting for the publisher's release slot (which can be a year in itself).

If you try to write what the market is interested in, they'll have often moved on to the next big thing by the time your book hits the shelves. It's a REALLY lengthy process.

So no. Writing for the market is usually a mistake. It's like trying to catch the tail of a sprinting cheetah!

As @Galastel says, write what you find interesting, write from your heart and love every moment. It's a hard enough task as it is.

Enjoy and good luck!

7

What is hot today will likely not be hot when you're done writing/revising/securing an agent/editing and then get published. Writing a book and polishing it (for experienced writers) takes about a year in the average-best-case. Securing an agent takes months to years. Once you've got an agent, securing a publisher can take months/years. Once you get published, you're in a queue that can take months/years. All in all, it's probably going to be 5 years between you writing anything and hitting the market. What was popular 5 years ago? Is it popular now? Will it be popular in the future? No one can answer the questions for the future, but its easy to see that markets shift quite a bit. Depending on who you talk to post-apocalyptic is either dead or it isn't; which isn't a great sign for the next few years for that genre.

It's advisable write what you enjoy writing, that you suspect can have mass appeal; but you likely don't want to chase the market as you will be behind on it, it will move, or it will be over-saturated with others trying to chase it.

Should is such a strong word; it makes it seem like there's a correct answer, but there isn't. Do what makes you happy and what you think will lead to success. Most of all do it well because people appreciate masters of their crafts no matter whether the subject matter is "in" or not. Do it well enough and you can make a new "in".

  • Indeed, many of those seemingly derivative works are actually old manuscripts that sit around, waiting to be published. They are rarely written to rapidly exploit a market except by authors who specialize in that sort of rapid–release writing. – can-ned_food Jun 11 '18 at 3:31
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Write focusing on your interests. In that way, what you write has more chance of being interesting.

Your point about copycats is based on a false perception of the situation. What is happening is that publishers are constantly receiving manuscripts of all kinds. When they see that such-and-such a type of novel is selling, they select, out of the manuscripts they have already received, similar novels and, after due editing, quickly release them to market.

Therefore, it is useless for you to chase a trend - you will already be too late. Write what you enjoy in the hope that your work will be the next hot thing.

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    A good thought, but there are definitely writers that do pile on and write something original to cash in on a fad. The fads (e.g teen vampires that fall in love) are generally hot for a few years. So a well-known author with an existing fan base, agent and publisher can write a clever plot within the fad in six or nine months, pitch and sell a synopsis, then type their ass off for six months and ship it. But that route is not for first time authors, it is for authors that agents and publishers already know and trust will produce quality, on time, and sell many thousands of copies. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jun 10 '18 at 10:33
  • @Amadeus True that. – robertcday Jun 10 '18 at 10:52
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If you plan to self-publish, no-one will read you unless you stand out. If you plan to contact a publisher, or have a literary agent do it for you, they'll discern according to the same criterion. Anything written to follow the leader will fail.

Now, you can build on what people are already reading. Did you know Fifty Shades of Grey began life as a Twilight fanfic? They're pretty different, aren't they!

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