Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Write What You Want

I'm going to say it again: WRITE WHAT YOU WANT

There. That feels better.

Writing to Trends
For a long time, the mantra in publishing was "you can't write to trends." This was based on the reality that by the time you heard of a trend, wrote something, and got it through the 2 year publishing pipeline, the trend would likely be over. Certainly publishers wouldn't be buying it anymore, in anticipation of it being over. So this was sound advice.

No longer true.

With indie publishing, you absolutely can write to trends. Whatever readers are scooping up at the moment, you can capitalize on that and give the readers more of what they're craving. You're limited only by how fast you can write, pull together a cover, and get it out.

This has spawned some advice floating out there on the interwebs that this is something you must do (if you want to be successful, i.e. make money from your writing), rather than being one of the options now available to you, thanks to indie publishing.

There is nothing wrong with writing to trends. It doesn't make you a "sell out" or any such nonsense. If you don't normally write in a trendy genre and want to try stretching your wings a little, you may find you have a hidden genius for writing that kind of story. Which is very cool (not to mention profitable).

Not Writing to Trends
However, it's equally possible that you'll find you despise writing that kind of story or that you're simply horrifically bad at it. That it sucks the joy out of writing that you used to have. That the stories that call to your heart are sitting on your hard-drive, neglected. In which case, I would heartily recommend writing a heart-story next. Or exclusively. Or combine it, writing some stories to pay the bills and some to feed your heart.

Again: WRITE WHAT YOU WANT

This new ability to "write what's popular" seems to be a giant demotivational force for many writers (i.e. the ones not currently writing in the popular-genre-of-the-moment). And I can understand that. If you're writing what you love, putting tons of work into your stories, and someone else is making serious bank writing something else (say, dino erotica or sexy New Adult), it's natural to question what you're doing. To feel like you're writing the "wrong" stories or at the very least that you're doomed to never making a living with your works.

What I Believe
I believe that you do your best work when you're writing from the heart - the "vein of gold" stories that speak to you. I also believe you can write things that are not "from the heart" but "for the money" and still have a soul. And, if you're lucky, those stories will come from your heart as well.

What I don't believe: that you can't make a living with the stories you want to write.

I'm not saying "write it and they will come" - I'm saying be smart about finding the audience for your books. Be realistic about the size of the market for what you're writing. Realize that you may not hit the NY Times Bestseller list writing the stories you love. But you don't have to make the NY Times List to make a living (a number that varies widely for different people, BTW). Focus on improving your craft and writing stories that resonate with someone... and go from there (i.e. start small and build). Building a writing career doesn't require being an overnight sensation (thank the Amazonian gods).

You do not have to write in a popular genre to make a living with your works.

You may make more money writing in a popular genre (or you may not, if you're not very good at it).

You are not a "sell out" if you write what's popular.

You are not a "fool" if you don't write what's popular.

WRITE WHAT YOU WANT

In this new world of indie publishing, you can intentionally craft the kind of career you want to have. Do not be depressed by people cashing in on the popular genre of the moment. If they're lucky, they're doing what they love. If they're not, then they're just paying the bills. There are lots of ways to pay the bills, and as long as they're not illegal or immoral, I don't judge how you do that.

For me, personally, I write the stories that I want to write. If they sell well, outstanding. If they do not (and they won't all sell equally, that much I know for certain), then fine. I will write more stories. If I just want to pay the bills, there are plenty of other jobs out there where I can make a solid paycheck for putting in the kind of hours I put into writing.

But I wouldn't love it half as much.

27 comments:

  1. HA! If you hadn't mentioned dino-porn, I was totally going there! I like this analysis. I also love that the serial option means I can write what I like--a long twisty tale with lots of character development...1000 age story? Not a problem!

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    1. I'm amazed that dino porn is even a thing. Just... whoa. And serials are my love too, so I'm totally there with you. :)

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  2. I'm probably guilty of the trend thing, but the problem with trends is everyone's writing it and it's hard to be noticed. You have to find a twist to get noticed. And that twist needs to be evident in the blurb; otherwise, it's going to sound like every other book in the trend.

    I still don't know what dino erotica is, but I'm afraid to ask. Something tells me I don't want to know.

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    1. You’re better off not knowing! LOL And I agree – it’s not an automatic cash machine writing to trends either.

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    2. You're right. If you don't write what you love, I think readers are going to notice that and any success would be short lived. As for dino porn -- well, at least we now know they were warm blooded. Before I had ever heard of dino porn, I wrote a scene where my hero has sex with the spirit of an extinct Eocene mammal during a vision. It wasn't pornographic though. Does that count?

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    3. Ha! One never knows what there's a market for...

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  3. I'm thinking more and more a lot of the old publishing adages are being shifted to the back burner because of the constantly changing dynamics of "what's hot." Afterall, I would have NEVER thought the idea of dino-porn would be popular. But it's something those authors wanted to write about, did it and are achieving their own success.

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  4. This is inspiring. I decided to self-publish my first novel after repeatedly being told when querying that the trend is over. It's freeing: Maybe I won't find as many readers as five years ago when it was fresh, but I wrote it before I even knew it was a trend, because it came from that "vein of gold."

    And I'm OK with having a small readership on my first book. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

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    1. You are thinking all the right thoughts here! Keep it up! And good luck!!

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  5. I couldn't have said this better. Very wise words, Susan. With how fast everything is moving in publishing these days, it's hard not to watch other people zooming ahead and think "Maybe I should do what they're doing". Bottom line is that even though everyone wants to make money, most of us also want to find emotional fulfillment in our writing. For many of us, that means writing those stories that really excited us - even if they aren't the biggest trend on the block right now.

    And it's totally possible to make a good living writing for smaller markets. Even niche markets have potential for breakout success, but you're right. You don't have to hit NYT to make a really good living doing writing what you love.

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    1. You've inspired me on more than one occasion, Sarra, being an early true believer in all of this! And I'm so grateful that you continue to be that example, even with all the success you've had!

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  6. I feel like you're reading my mind and soothing all my neurotic fears. I owe you for that, I really do. How should I compensate you for helping me to maintain my sanity? Beer? Chocolate? Coffee? Praying to the Amazon gods on your behalf?

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    1. :) Your note is all the compensation I need. Seriously. That connection, knowing my words touched someone - that's what all writers want, right? Write on, my friend!

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  7. You say it so well. I recently mentioned just this in a post. No one knows what the next 'big' thing will be. It's better to write what you're comfortable with.

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  8. Love this! Actually, this is one of the ideas I love most about going indie. I no longer fret that my stories won't find an audience. If I like them, there's got to be a handful of people out there that will also like them :)

    LOVING the Indie Survival Guide. I just finished the social media quicksand section.

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  9. I totally second Julie's comment! It's great to focus on your audience. And writing what we want often goes hand in hand with writing from the heart.

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  10. you brilliant thing you. Well said! I mean, written~ ;o) <3

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  11. The current trend of Fifty Shades wannabes makes me cringe. It just isn't my cuppa tea. I haven't tried much of anything out of my genre, fantasy and all its minions. I'm not comfortable with teenage angst, adult marriages, and military scenes.
    Unless of course there's zombies. That's different. And spaceships with time travel or wizards. Yeah, that's the ticket.

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  12. This is great, Susan. I was completely stuck all summer long, and the cause? I was trying to be a WORKING WRITER instead of an ARTIST. I was trying to cater to the trends and as a result I wasn't producing anything and I just got buried more and more under guilt, stress, whatever.

    But then a friend helped me put things into perspective ~ pretty much like you have here.

    I realized that some of my stories were trendy and that was okay, and others weren't and that was okay too. But I had to be an ARTIST first and foremost because following my heart is what makes writing a joy to me--and what makes me successful.

    So hopefully now I've found that happy balance you spoke of. Time will tell!

    I'm so glad you wrote this down because I think it's fabulous advice that is much needed. :)

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  13. This. Is. Fantastic! Thank you! I am that writer who is discouraged by the daunting task of "writing to trends". I'm working on abandoning the pressure and celebrating the power in WRITIG WHAT I WANT!

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  14. Money is just money. Your words are part of you.

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  15. Thanks for this awesome post. It's a good reminder that I think we all need from time to time. I know I need to be reminded.

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  16. Thank you, Susan. THANK YOU. As someone who's heard so many editors say, "this is great but you should make it more paranormal/technothriller/romantic/insert-whatever-trend-you-think-will-sell-next-year" I am deeply grateful for this post. I am going to write what I want. And I am going to publish.

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  17. I meditated your words over night and if you allow me, I want to rephrase the "write what you want" into "be true to your story." I find that my best stories come out when they are spontaneous. Writing because something is trendy will result in something that you don't feel and if you don't feel it your characters will sound artificial and awkward. So there. No matter what you do. "Be true to your story." I think that just inspired a new blog post. :-)

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    1. EE - While I personally write things that are "true to my story" (and please link your blog post when you do write it!), I don't want people to think they are somehow losing their souls if they write to trends or write for money. Truly. People have been doing that for a looong time, and anytime someone writes to spec or writes for hire, they're doing that. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with it, or that you can't possibly write well in something that isn't your own spontaneous creation. Of course, it's possible to be very bad at this kind of writing... but it's also possible to be good at it. :)

      This is why I say "write what you want" - because I'm not making value judgments about which kind of writing is better or worse for people to engage in. We do far too much of that in the writerly world IMHO and it only results in writers feeling guilty for paying the bills with their work or writing from their heart (even when it doesn't pay the bills).

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