I came across an interesting discussion the other day on some forums about writing for the market vs. writing for art/what you love. This has been a conundrum for artists for as long as there has been a business for it, I believe. I typically value the advice on this forums, mostly self-publishers, though I agree with some of them and disagree with them just as much.
I don’t think it’s possible for someone to finish a project and not hope it gets big. Even if that’s not the primary goal for an author, it pokes us from the back of our minds with its fancy. It’s not so different than the current Powerball, that constant wondering of “I probably won’t get much but what if?”
Still, it’s hard to deny the success of several self-published authors who can now pay their rent and bills on nothing but writing. However, many of them, at least those I chat with, work in relatively narrow genres. Most of this is Romance or Erotica. They admit that they do enjoy writing, but will mostly write their genre fiction to pay the bills and retire much earlier than their peers.
That’s a hard offer to pass up, but I have trouble seeing myself writing Romance or Erotica. If anything, The Sky Thief is ANTI-romance. So where does that leave those of us who write and hope to make money – and maybe even write genre SFF adventures – but don’t necessarily follow every by-the-books marketing practice?
Most often, I can only guide myself as a reader first and a writer second. I have no problem making changes to my work based on editorial feedback, or trying to do certain things on social media/Amazon ads/whatever. I think anyone who hopes to be successful in an artistic endeavor should keep those things in mind and be open to criticism. Publishing is very much a team effort, despite what many authors believe, and it has a lot of steps many writers may not be experts in. Sure, we can put words on paper, but most of us probably don’t spend all day looking at graphs and charts of buying data to aid us when it’s time to sell.
At the same time, though, there were certain things I didn’t want because I knew my own reactions walking through Barnes & Noble. While my cover is not perfect, I did not want a generic airbrushed woman or background that screams “generic fantasy book.” While there are no doubt plenty of marketing people who can post about why those are important for a cover, I know that those are also things that will make me put a book back on the shelf extremely quickly when doing my own shopping.
That’s only one example of course. There are plenty of others that popped up when actually writing The Sky Thief where I asked “Will this hurt sales or should I keep it?” And, ultimately, I went with the choices that I would have wanted as a reader, even if it didn’t necessarily follow the necessary trends.
No, I didn’t want to have my lead pining over a boy the whole book, though he does provide the mystery Alexandra wishes to solve. I didn’t want Ghaoithe to be involved with another crewmate. Many of the marketing trends show that, in YA and Contemporary Fantasy, women read because of the love interest, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. If anything, I think forced romantic conflict can slow down an otherwise impressive story (looking at you, Hunger Games).
In this new age of publishing, where traditional publishers demand certain things and self-publishers seem to have little restraint, it’s important to find a balance between the two. Having spent several years in the film industry, I can safely say that those big-shop marketing teams are not always right – ESPECIALLY in an artistic trade – but the self-publishers who constantly talk about “their vision” are just as difficult.
Be open to suggestions. Understand that getting a book in front of people often takes a team, and people who go solo rogue rarely get results. But, if there’s a conflict, go with what you would enjoy reading. Have confidence in your own writing. If it’s good, it will sell eventually.
The Sky Thief is now available on Kindle and trade paperback or free through Kindle Unlimited!