Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Writing to the Market

DELICIOUS  SUSPICIOUS cover It’s my pleasure to welcome Elizabeth Spann Craig to the blog today. Her new book, DELICIOUS AND SUSPICIOUS was released July 6, and it looks positively yummy. Her blog, Mystery Writing Is Murder, was named one of Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers, and she’s a Twitter goddess. Plus, she’s one of the nicest people around.


I have very little interest in transportation except as a means to an end.

But when my now-thirteen-year-old son was two, he was obsessed with trains, trucks, and airplanes.

And, wanting to keep him occupied (he was a really busy little guy), I made it a point to connect him with the objects of his affection.

We hung out at the airport (this was pre-9/11, and he’d stick his nose against the glass at the gate and watch the planes fly in and out), train stations, and even parked outside construction sites. His favorite site was the construction of the hospital’s new breezeway where he could watch the big crane working.

And the twice-a-week, don’t-miss event was the arrival of the garbage truck. He loved the garbage truck. I’d hear that thing’s engine roaring down the street and I’d grab Riley and hold him right up to the window so he could wave at the garbage men. If he was napping when they came, the sanitation workers looked disappointed and kept looking for the towheaded baby.

What did I get out of this? Well, I didn’t get any direct gratification, since I’m not a transportation nut. But my son was so excited, so delighted, so happy that it rubbed off on me.

Plus, Riley wasn’t at home trying to stick his finger in electrical outlets, drink Clorox, or climb the bookshelves. :)

To me, this is like writing to a market. I think we all have stories of our hearts—the book we’ve been thinking about or mulling over or kicking around in our heads. Some of these stories? They’re probably not that marketable.

But I think we can get just as much gratification by entertaining our readers with a good story…whatever these readers are interested in. We may not have as much of an interest in the subject as the readers do, but we can get just as excited by it because they’re excited by it.

It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing, either. No one says we can’t write the story of our hearts and try submitting it while pleasing readers (and ultimately, ourselves) by writing entertaining, marketable novels.

What are your thoughts on writing for the market? Could you get just as passionate about a story you’ve crafted for the market as a story of your heart?

ElizabethSpannCraig Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin as Riley Adams, the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink (under her own name), and, in addition to blogging daily at Mystery Writing Is Murder, she blogs on Thursdays at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen.



Unknown said...

Interesting topic and question!

I'm curious as to how other writers/authors feel about this! (Checking the little box so I get comments emailed to me...)


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Thanks for coming by, Crystal! Yes, I'm interested in the response to this post, too, because the subject is a little controversial. :)

Thanks so much for hosting me today, Alan!

Karen Walker said...

I've never tried writing for the market, so I don't know. Everything I've written has been from the heart, but of course, I write memoir and personal essay. Fiction is different. But this new piece is definitely still from the heart.

Linda Leszczuk said...

I think the view from the unpublished writer side is a bit different. The most beautiful story in my heart will be the one that gets published.

But I do understand what you mean. I satisfy the urge to write what's personally meaningful through short essays and humor pieces I only share with friends and other writers. For now, that's enough.


Anonymous said...

Elizabeth - You raise, as always, such an interesting question! It's funny...when I write, I start with the story that's inside me, whatever that is. Then as I revise, I do sometimes make changes that I think will make the book more appealing to readers. It starts, though, with what I feel the need to write. If I don't start with that, I find there's no "zip" to the story. I agree with you completely that pleasing oneself and pleasing one's readers don't have to be mutually exclusive things. But for me, telling the story comes first.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Karen--Coming from writing memoir, I can completely see your fiction being more personal and from the heart.

Linda--I believe that *can* be true...and then I think sometimes that the best way to break into the market is to write something commercially viable first, establish a name for yourself, then consider writing the edgy lit fic or whatever we're interested in.

I think your ideas for satisfying your need to write something very personal are great ones--short stories, poems, even journal entries can fill that need really well.

Margot--It all definitely comes back to the story. I think that we can take a commercially-viable idea and put our own stamp on it and make it our own. It does, though, take a little extra work than a regular creative brainstorm where we passionately write an idea we've had.

Jemi Fraser said...

Good question. I like letting ideas walk around in my head for a few weeks before I put anything down on paper. The stories change a lot in that time. So I THINK I could write for the market, by incorporating ideas at that stage. Let them walk around a bit so that they become mine. Maybe. :)

Helen Ginger said...

Good question, Elizabeth. I think to write about something I wasn't passionate about or enjoyed, I would have to find something about it that enticed me. I've written three nonfiction books on subjects I knew nothing about before I started. As I researched, though, I learned and met very interesting people. That made the difference, for me.

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

For years I wrote articles for church bulletins demonstrating the gospels with stories from todays world -- all fiction. I guess it could be called religious drabble.
It's amazing how you "get into" something once you start. Then it's no longer for the masses it is for you.

Juliette said...

I have trouble coming up with ideas, so I'm fairly attached to everything I've managed to think of. But I am currently trying to decide which idea to really focus on, and I'm fairly happy to choose the one that I think I have the best chance with, though since I'm unpublished (with only one finished novel so far, which was bad, but I have written a PhD thesis!) I'm thinking more about what will sound appealing to an agent more than the market itself - what I can convince an agent in my query letter is something I am good at, have the expertise for and can sell.

Alan Orloff said...

Great, thought-provoking post, Elizabeth! It's always so much fun when you come to visit.

I think that when you're unpublished, without deadlines or contracts or editors, you can write more from the heart. However, once people start paying you, you need to be more willing to compromise. It takes an awful lot of people, working hard, to put a book on the bookstore shelf, and everyone along the way has some opinions that should be taken into account. Luckily for me (so far), I've been able to write both to the market and from my heart. May it always be the case (he says, rubbing his rabbit's foot)!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Jemi--There's definitely a "getting acquainted" period with the characters, isn't there? :)

Helen--When I read the interview with Jean that you'd done, I thought about that. I think it's great that you've gotten interested in your subjects and the books you've written because of the people you met who helped provide you with information.

Mary--Good point! If we've written something well, then the characters come to life for us and we really get pulled into the story and the world we're creating!

Juliette---I think that's a good way of looking at it. And agents *should* have a finger on the industry pulse, too, so they can sell your manuscript and get it into reader hands.

Alan--I think you're absolutely right. And then, if the story of our heart *is* being published, we have to be willing to let it be edited or allow any necessary global changes.

Dorte H said...

It certainly depends on what the market demands. I can accomodate if a publisher wants more show, don´t tell, if they want another kind of setting or something like that, but if they want my characters to swear, want more sex or graphic violence, it is just not me. Of course this is also one of the reasons why I am trying my hand at a cozy mystery right now - in some ways this subgenre suits the person I am.

The Daring Novelist said...

Yeah, if you don't take the audience into consideration, why write at all? Or just write it in a journal?

The whole point of writing is to take an audience on a journey. The question is only which audience you choose.

I myself don't tend to like the kinds of books that end up bestsellers - so I don't try to go after that audience. I don't think I could please some of those people. At the same time, if I think the audience for a particular story will be more sensitive to off-color language than most, I will be more conservative in my word choice.

I think that every writer should think "who will really LOVE this story" and try not to ruin the story for those people. Yes you have have to stay true to the story and to your vision, but a little compromise may be worth it. (Or at lest worth thinking about.)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think I will have to write to the market now. My first book was a passion (and lucky it has a market) but as I'm writing the sequel, I thinking more about what the readers will want.

Tara McClendon said...

I love the analogy, and I never realized until just now that we both have boys with the same name, though different spellings.

I personally think you have to take the market into consideration if you want a career in publishing. If you want to be the next Stephenie Meyer, you can perhaps toss the market out the window. But for the average Jo, it's worth considering.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Dorte--I know what you mean. I think it's great that you're writing cozies! I think we should definitely stick with a genre we're comfortable writing...and then take a look at what readers of that genre are reading, market wise. :)

The Daring Novelist--Well put, Camille! If publication is the goal, then we do need to keep the reader in mind as we're writing.

And, so true... each genre does have parameters for what's acceptable. I keep a close eye on profanity, too, and censor other things if I think it'll turn off the readers I'm working hard to attract.

It's really all about the *reader* and not the writer--even if we're writing something we're very passionate about, we should think about our audience...or else we may not keep one!

Alex--I think you lucked out! And I did, too.

Tara--Cool! The world definitely needs more boy Rileys. :) I'm always glad to hear of another one--actually, the only Rileys I know (outside of family) are boys.

Average Jo! I love it. :)

dolorah said...

I wrote my first novel - the first series actually - from my heart. The way I wanted it. I won't change it - much - for the market.

But I could get as passionate over a novel someone else wanted written. I could easily write for the market. Someday there may be an audience, a market for the one (or more possibly) I wrote because of a burning need to tell the story.

So what if it sits and waits a bit. If I sell a few popular novels and get a following, they may beg to read the shelved novels.

Hey, anything could happen. Writing is point, getting sold is the ultimate goal. Gotta have flexibility is any profession.


Alan Orloff said...

Thanks for guest blogging today, Elizabeth. You sparked quite a good discussion! And thanks to all the blog readers for sharing your observations and opinions!

Charmaine Clancy said...

I think you can have it both ways, you can write to specific market as well as weaving in your own identity, humour or experiences.

I want to produce stories kids will love reading, so if I was advised to change a manuscript by a publisher or writer with more experience, I'd happily work the book to suit the market.

I have a friend in journalism who writes the articles she's appointed, but she still puts herself into them.

Wow, this post has prompted some interesting responses :-)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Donna--Exactly! So you could hold onto that manuscript in a safe place and build up a name for yourself in a more commercially-viable market, then sell the first manuscript.

That's what happened with one of John Grisham's books. "Painted House" was very personal for him and became a success because of his other, market-driven books. :)

Alan--Thanks again for having me!

Charmaine--I do believe it's possible to have both.

I think you've hit the nail on the head--the market is dictated by reader demand. If children are currently really excited by a particular subgenre, we should consider writing what they're excited about--because they're our readers!

I have a background in journalism, so maybe that's colored my perception a little. I hadn't thought of that! :)

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

AHA! So that's where your pen name comes from!

As for the topic, my answer is a definite yes. My vampire books are aimed at the market, yet I'm getting a very big (and unexpected) bang out of writing them.