A few months ago, I heard Sandra Huertes, a memoirist, speak. She said this:
Don’t give yourself over to the fickleness of the publishing industry. Be in love with the writing, not the approval of the writing.
Write what you know. The market’s saturated. You can’t write that in that genre/age group. We hear it all. Yet, the books that stand out are the ones that tend to break the mold. So, why are we so set on writing to the demands of the industry?
Did you see the 2011 Smurfs movie? There’s a scene with the tough boss, Odile, where she tells her exasperated employee, “Don’t give me what I ask for, give me what I want.” This is so many times true in publishing. They say no more dystopians, then you’ll see many released in a year. They don’t know what they want until they read it. And that is why you should write what you want to write. Well, it’s one of the reasons. Here are some others:
1. The industry changes faster than you can write.
I’ve seen people try to write what’s “hot.” The problem with that is, even if you have a polished novel today, if you don’t have an agent, that will take months. If you do have an agent, it will still take months to sub it out to editors to get it picked up by a publishing house. Even if you’re super lucky and both of those things happen abnormally fast, chances are, the book won’t actually be printed and available for sale for about a year. In most cases, the whole process takes more like 2-3 years. And by that time, the market has long since changed and now your “hot” book is feeling over-familiar.
2. A flooded market is that way for a reason.
Remember when everyone loved vampires and everyone was writing vampires? Then when everyone loved dystopians and everyone was writing dystopians? Some agents and/or publishers will say the market is flooded. There’s too much of [insert popular genre here] out there. There may be a lot of it, but it’s that way for a reason. There are a lot of vampire stories because readers like vampire stories and have for a long, long time. Dracula came out in 1897. That means people have been reading about vampires for almost 120 years! I doubt they’ll stop anytime soon. And according to Wikipedia, the first book considered dystopian was Gulliver’s Travels. 1726 that one came out. Trends happen for a reason. And if people get sick of something for a while, they’ll get over it at some point, and/or the new wave of fans just getting into whichever genre will be eager for all of it.
3. Opinions differ within agencies and publishers.
In the midst of all the “dystopian in your query letter is a death sentence” talk, California came out. So, there. There’s at least one agent and one publisher who’s opinions differed. Who didn’t think there was too much out there already. And that book wasn’t very different than lots of other post-apocalyptic dystopian books. So, it’s not like the author had to reinvent dystopia to get it out there. It got published in the midst of a “flooded market.” Clearly, it’s possible to find an agent or publisher with a view that goes against the rest.
4. If you don’t love it, you won’t want to write it.
I have tried to write a book I didn’t love. It did not go well. I didn’t care about the book, which meant I didn’t care about making good. I wrote it just to write it. And if you write a book just because you think that’s what popular and that’s what will sell, and if you don’t happen to also love that genre or subject matter, it’s going to be tough going. If, by some miracle, you do write it and get it published, you might end up regretting that book since you were never fond of it to begin with. Write something you love, that you’re excited about.
5. If you don’t love it, you might not want to write at all.
The real danger, of course, is that you’ll hate what you’re writing so much that you won’t want to write anything. At all. This also happened to me. In the midst of trudging along, just trying to hit page counts get the book done, I came to dread writing in general because the act of writing became laborious and painful. I never want to get there again. If you stick with what you want to write, you can avoid hating not only your work in progress, but your writing in general, and probably by extension, your life.
6. You owe it to yourself, your writing, and your fans.
Have you ever read something that felt like a sell out? You know the books. The ones that go beyond structure and cross into straight-up formula. Plug in character, plug in plot element, then plot element two, add a dash of romance here, add plot twist on page 153, and bam. You’ve got one completely unoriginal book, written with the intent only to make money. You owe more to your readers and to your own art and to yourself. Be true to you as a writer and don’t settle for what you think people want.
If you stay honest in your writing, as far as writing what you enjoy, it will show. Eventually, no matter what an agent or publisher tell you, you will find a home for your work. You can self publish and find your readers without going through the industry at all. It is a business. Don’t forget that. We all need to make money at this. But when you put making money ahead of making art and making your writing the best it can be, the integrity of the work falters. Be true and be honest. Most importantly, write what you want.