Thursday, March 24, 2011

Writing to Market (Not?)

When I started off writing, I would often see articles and emails floating around saying how important it was to write to your market. Although I could understand the sense of this, in another way I could not see the point. I came to writing late, overwhelmed by an urge to develop my ideas and turn them into story. Frankly, if I could not develop my ideas my way, then I could not see the point of all of the pain to begin with. I had other ways to make money - and good money at that.

So I guess I did my own thing, the result of which is various manuscripts that were not judged commercial, or did not fit into the neat marketing categories. The most notorious of which is Warriors of the Blessed Realms, which is a hybrid SF/Urban Fantasy/Heroic Fantasy that straddles various worlds from contemporary Earth to the Vaults of Sheol and the Blessed Realms themselves.

Years ago (2003), an editor rang me to say they liked WBR, but perhaps could I take out the SF? Well, the SF was so integral to the story I could only answer - No. As a result, I missed a great opportunity for a potential sale. Basically removing the SF would have resulted in a novel that had very little in common (at least on a conceptual level) with the original concept. (I think I was actually in shock at the question, which probably dulled my wits a little.)

What I have realised since then is I should have said - YES!! - then proceeded to write a completely new novel with the same title and characters:) I am still kicking myself after all this time.

While I don't think I would ever really 'chase' a market, I have learned since then that I can generate ideas out of just about any context imaginable, so if someone gives me a solid reason to do it (i.e. they will publish it) then I can make use of any material to weave a story.

Right - now I have blurted out my biggest publishing blunder. . .

I have known quite a few writers who have deliberately set out to capitalize on trends. I'm not sure this has really worked out all that well for them. The reason is that by the time something is recognised as 'in' the trend is really quite well established. Writing a good novel takes time. If you add the fact that the new movement/innovation/setting has probably really been around for at least a decade by the time LOCUS does a special on it, then add the five years it takes to really produce a masterpiece - that's 15 years. Time enough for the next new thing to come along.

I've seen a lot of writers run foul of this timeline. Their novels get shunted aside in the tide of copycats that flood onto the editor's desk.

Now - anticipating a trend is something different. Can anyone actually do it? I'm not sure. But some people have sure as Hell got lucky!

I think this is one of the reasons that great writers are often not recognised in their lifetime. Perhaps they are ahead of there time, perhaps they are writing something that is seen as having had its day. Maybe it takes fifty years before the cycle comes around again and someone actually picks their novel up and assesses it on its merits and realises its brilliance.

So do you try to anticipate or follow current trends? Or do you just follow your crazy ideas wherever they lead?


C Kelsey said...

I write what the muse tells me to write. Sometimes it's following a trend (Angel and the Demon was straight Urban Fantasy), most times it's whatever crazy thing pops into my head. Current WiP is a fantasy travelogue. :-/

MataPam said...

I've tried just about everything, just for the challenge. For me, the "work" comes in polishing the story up to the point of being of ready for submission.

So when, as now, my agent says "YA Fantasies, send them to me!" I can grab one and start polishing.

I agree with you about taking a major element out of a story. It's easier to write a whole new story with plenty of similarities than pull stuff out of it. My agent suggested I turn a fantasy novel into a YA fantasy. The main characters would have to regress in age, the sex disappear . . . but the whole world premise is not really suitable . . . no. It just isn't going to happen.

But I've got another one that really is a YA Fantasy. Bring out the polish!

Anonymous said...

Trends? I barely have time enough to read the headlines, let alone knowing what the trends are...

Maybe sometime in the future I'll be so composed, but not likely.

As for what I'm writing, well, like 'Pam says, it's all over the map, I'm just playing at it really. But if there were ever a publisher on the scene, there's lots of material I can choose from, edit and polish fastidiously (me? fastidious? nah!> and hand it over.

For now, I'll just keep annoying the voices in my head... although that Warriors of the blessed Realms sounds just about right up my alley. Is it out in any format? or just on a HD somewhere waiting attention?

Anonymous said...

I'm sort of chasing a trend with steampunk, because although there are a few wild successes - Scott Westerfeld, Cherie Priest, Richard Harland - I don't think it's reached its heights yet (especially since all of those are actually dieselpunk). And it's no great leap from my usual genre of fantasy (particularly since my steampunk has magic in it) - in fact I've been sliding more and more into steampunk territory on my blog, and they're always my most popular entries (which is why I've just instituted Steampunk Sundays). In general chasing a trend is a very risky move, but I think the end result will be a good book, and it will sell. Most importantly, it's unlike any other steampunk around - I've checked :)

Louise Curtis

PS Copycats of Tolkien and Lewis are still selling today - I am SO SICK of dwarves and elves!

PPS My biggest career mistake was having a YA character age, marry and have a baby. It took me a long time (and two extremely near-misses at big publishers, arg!) to cut it. . . because it meant throwing away books 2 and 3 of the trilogy! But I do think the book is better as a result.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Chris. A fantasy travelogue - sounds interesting. Perhaps you could franchise into a TV mini-series:)

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Matapam. I think that's the way to go. To have enough of a broad enough spectrum of your own projects so you can respond to whatever is happening outside the door.

Good luck with the polishing!

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Daniel. I guess the most important thing is to keep writing.

WBR is on hard drives at the moment. At least its on my hard drive and my agents:) But it's not really being marketed at the moment. Maybe soon. . .

Kate Paulk said...

Trends? Following trends? Nuh uh.

Not only am I chronically incapable of doing this (as soon as I try, it twists), but the things that insist I write them usually don't belong to any kind of definable trend.

Unless "quirky" counts. Um. Quirky and bloodthirsty?

Oh, well.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Louise. Ow! That re-write of the YA book must have really hurt. Do these nasty editors have any idea what they do to us - ? Well yes, I think they do:)

Good luck with the Steampunk book. That genre certainly does seem to have some legs.

Yes - definitely over the elves and dwarves - a long time ago!

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Kate. If I had to pick someone less likely to follow a trend - it would be you:)

Maybe you will be the lucky one to happen onto the Next Big Thing?

MataPam said...

When I was reading slush, there were a couple of years where every other submission was an elf, a dwarf, a human fighter and a thief (either halfling or female) encounter each other in a tavern. They don't like each other. A brawl ensues. The authorities arrive. The E, D, HF & T end up fighting and fleeing together. Often with the assistance of a magician of some sort. :: sigh ::

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, matapm. Role playing games have a lot to answer for. . .

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

To me, writing to market means don't go so far down in your own obsessions that you write stuff other people wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. For ME that's quite likely because I have a bunch of blue-stocking manias, from Shakespeare to some Portuguese Modern poets. BUT beyond that... do what you wish. And for the record, Chris, your genre-bender novels might be perfectly marketable for a small company as ebooks. There will be nowhere they need to be shelved, after all. :)

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Sarah. Thank God I have no blue stockings:)

I'd love to get WBR out there - on any shelf!