A popular post from January 2008
by Annette Lyon
Some time before my publication days, I was bemoaning the fact that my latest manuscript had been rejected.
A well-meaning friend discovered a "hot" market, bought me a book in that genre, and said, "Read this. You should write a book like it. These kinds of books are selling like crazy right now."
I took the book and stared at it, trying to find a way to explain to this person that I couldn't just up and write a book for a market for no other reason than the fact that lots of people are currently successful at it.
Trying to fit myself into a mold like that would suck out any life that my writing and story might have naturally. (I know; I tried once. That pathetic manuscript will forever gather dust.)
But at the same time, writing anything my muse fancied might not be the best plan, either. I had a stack of rejections (with lots of great feedback, but rejections nonetheless) that showed something wasn't working.
It's a fine line to walk between selling out (abandoning your passion, your voice, and who you are as a writer for the sake of a market) and being market savvy (tweaking your work to make it more marketable).
It's one thing to find in yourself a passion that happens to be something agents and editors are looking for, or to adapt something you love into something that is more likely to sell.
It's quite another to decide that since books about young wizards are selling like hotcakes that you should write one too--only make it a girl . . . and give her a birthmark instead of a scar . . . and . . . you get the idea.
Even if your hot idea isn't a copy of what's already out there, there's a very good chance that the huge trend on the bookshelves right now (today, think vampires) is over and done with in the publishing houses.
Taking a book from manuscript to press can take upwards of two years, so bookstore shelves are essentially two years behind what publishers are hungry for now. If you try to write something new to ride a trend, chances are, you've already missed the boat.
The upshot: Trying to twist your writing self into a pretzel to fit a mold is selling out.
So what does a writer do when there's still that marketability factor to contend with? First and foremost, be true to yourself. Don't write a supernatural-mystery-Victorian-romance just because you heard that several agents are looking for one.
On the other hand, if mysterious Victorian-romances happen to be your cup of tea, jump all over it. You can probably work supernatural elements into the genre you already love to give it the angle the agent is looking for.
That's being market savvy, not selling out.
The manuscript I mentioned earlier saw several rejections until I learned that the heroine was a few years too young for what the market's demographic expected. I aged her about five years, tweaking a few scenes as a result, and the piece sold.
Being market-savvy is important, but never lose contact with the more important element: your muse. The trick is finding a happy marriage between the two.