As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, there’s a never-ending list of contradictory messages writers receive. The one I want to talk about today applies both to writing and to life. It’s the constant tension between following your own heart and vision… and trying to fit into the trends.
In life, this applies to the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the music we listen to, the books we read… and countless other things. Some of us feel more comfortable with what’s popular, while others feel better marching to their own drummer. I suspect it’s a continuum, and most of us are somewhere in the middle.
In writing, we’re told to write from the heart. “Just write the story you want to tell!” But we’re also told to pay attention to what’s selling and what genres are popular and what word counts are viable… basically, follow the market if we want to get published. So what to do?
I think the answer is, for most people, some version of “both.” It’s important to be yourself in your writing, find your unique voice, do your own thing. That’s where every groundbreaking new bestseller comes from. But if you want to be published, a certain degree of paying attention to the marketplace may be helpful.
Some people believe it’s not appropriate at all to pay attention to the market. As an artist, or a purveyor of a message, the only thing that matters is being true to yourself and your vision. I believe if that’s the way you feel, you should go that way. For some people, it’s the only way they’re comfortable operating, and I respect that. If a person is talented enough, and persistent enough, and working hard enough, that philosophy may lead to publishing success. But even if it doesn’t, for this person, remaining true to a vision is more important than “selling out” to the publishing industry, and it’s a perfectly legitimate choice.
But I think your best chance for getting published is to write from your heart while also understanding the market for which you’re writing. If you’re writing a non-fiction book, you need to be aware of all the competing books already out there and don’t write something exactly the same as something else. You also need to be aware of platform and credential requirements for your topic.
If you’re writing a novel, it helps to be aware of genres that are cycling down and others that are trending up. It’s also good to know the conventions of different genres (for example, what differentiates a YA novel from an adult novel) and the word-count expectations.
Follow your heart or follow trends? Use your discernment to figure out what to do… and if you just keep working, I think you’ll figure it out along the way.