What is Writing to Market?
If you were to read any entrepreneurial book or blog today, nearly all will recommend the following when deciding on your business produce or service; learn what people want or need, then provide it. That is the essence of writing to market. It’s learning what readers want and creating a story that fulfills the essence of what they’re looking for.
There are some who think this type of writing involves selling out or providing something formulaic or lacking in substance, which to my mind is insulting to readers. They don’t want formulas or shallow stories. I think the backlash comes from the fact that most writers don’t have an entrepreneurial mindset, at least not when they start out. Switching from indulging their creativity to fulfilling a market need is seen as being different as if one can’t be creative if they’re writing to market. But any author who wants to sell books, whether they write to market or not, needs to find readers so either way, they need to provide something readers want.
Another concern is that writing to market means copying other writers, which is incorrect. Certainly, you want to study the books that are resonating with readers, but you don’t want to copy them. When you’re writing to market, you’re trying to tap into similar emotional triggers of successful books in your genre. It’s that adage of writing something similar but different.
Why would you want to write to market?
Any writer who has the goal of publishing and selling books MUST get to know their ideal reader. Traditionally, a writer would have a book and then go out to find their readers. In writing to market, you learn about the readers first by studying what’s selling. You determine what the readers like and expect in themes, tones, style, and even cover design. Then you write a book that will appeal to that group. The advantage is that, in theory, you’re going to be able to ride the wave of popularity and sell books. Especially in traditional publishing, publishers often milk popular trends.
Finally, writing to market can potentially make you a better writer by encouraging you to write in areas you might not have considered before. I have ghostwriting clients who have me write to market and it’s challenged and pushed me to write things I’d have never written on my own which I think has made me a better writer.
Why would you not want to write to market?
So if writing to market increases your chance of success, shouldn’t you do it?
Not necessarily. There are several reasons not to write to market.
First, it’s possible that the market is reading books that you don’t like or feel comfortable writing. For example, maybe dark romances are all the rage, but you prefer something lighter. Maybe slow burn is popular, but you like to get your couple together earlier in the book. Perhaps you don’t want to write about a billionaire, or you’d rather have the billionaire be the woman.
You can force yourself to write something that you think will better fit the market, and it’s possible that doing so will expand your writing chops and make you a better writer. On the other hand, forcing your writing can potentially make you inauthentic, something that readers will notice and not like.
Second, there is no guarantee that your to-market book will sell. Just because you write to the market, doesn’t mean the market will find your book. And in fact, in some ways, being like everyone else means you don’t stand out.
Third, while market trends last for a while, some are fleeting. You have to write fast to get your book published during the heyday.
The good news is that in romance, the market is voracious and varied. Chances are good that there is a market that your stories can fit into.
How to write to market:
- Since most romances books sell on Amazon, visit the top 100 romances on Amazon. (If you plan to make most of your income from ebooks, which most indie authors do, search the Kindle store).
- Click on a subcategory (or trope) listed on the left-hand side of the page that interests you such as billionaire, military, LBGTQ, regency, etc.
- Study the books in the top 100 that fit your publishing goal (indie vs. traditional). Make note of things like:
- the cover
- the title
- the blurb
- Amazon ranking – if it ranks high for the category, check how it ranks in Amazon overall (or Amazon Kindle for self-pubbed books). A book could be #60 in a category, but if it’s 100,000 in Amazon, it’s not necessarily selling well and not one you’d want to judge the market on.
- Read 2 or 3 books representative of the market. At the very least, read the excerpts that Amazon provides when you click on “Look Inside.” Usually, you can read a chapter or two and get a sense of the tone, voice, and style.
- When plotting and writing your story, you want to capture the same essence of the books that are doing well. By essence, I mean the feeling, not the actual plot. Remember, you want to make readers have a similar emotional experience but through a different story.
- Focus on your cover vibe. The cover is the first thing readers are going to see that tells them whether or not the book is in their wheelhouse. Have you noticed that most romcoms have the same cover style? When those readers are looking for romantic comedies, they skip right to the romcom-type cover. Spicy romances tend to have a sexy man on the cover. Dark covers often indicate a dark story such as mafia, paranormal, or suspense. Pastels or a happy, fully-dressed couple on the cover generally suggest a sweet romance. Of course, you want to be careful about judging a book by its cover. These “rules” aren’t set in stone. With that said, covers are the first impression readers have of your book and from it decide whether or not to read the blurb and buy. If you’re writing to market, your cover should attract the market. Note that these trends can change, so it’s important to study them if your goal is to appeal to a specific reader.
- Next, make sure your blurb has a similar style and tone as those books that are selling. Like the cover, this is also where readers make the determination if this book would be interesting to them. Study the blurbs in your market. Are they in first person? How provocative are they? Is the blurb written in paragraphs or many statements with spacing in between? Does it end with a question?
Remember, writing to market isn’t a guarantee of success. Yes, you have the potential to achieve success IF the market can find you. To do that, you need to market your book.