Writing to Market

This is a perennial author concern. Will what I am writing sell? Will lots of people want it? How do I know what the market wants?

One of the fantastic things about writing Indie is that you are freed from strictly writing to Market. In theory, there are readers for everything out there. It’s just… Can you find them?  As an independent, you have the freedom to publish and look. To test the market. Traditionally published? Not so much. There you are at the mercy of what the marketing gurus hired by a massive company are telling that company. Or, from a small-press publisher, no research, just riding coat-tails. I’m unkind – there are small presses that set up niche markets. And there is Baen, who carved out a market from the ashes of science fiction after message fiction burned it down.

We here at the Mad Genius Club tend to be a bit insulated from the traditional writing world. Other than the Passive Voice and Kathryn Kristine Rusch’s business blog, I rarely look at other writing advice outlets. For good reason.

Their view of writing is, well…


The author of this article describes what the interior of a magazine written by writers, for writers, looks like. I think the readers here will find it a stark contrast to the general good humor and helpfulness of the MGC. “Whyman said, “I had a lot of questions in my mind about what would happen to fiction and how we would go on working. Does it really matter now?” Luckily we don’t have to wait to find out. Seltzer informs us that Whyman launched a new international online journal “intended to foster artistic expression in the face of political repression and fear.”

Which brings me to the other problem I have with so many writing advice outlets. Their view of writing is:


In the article I linked above, a flood of writing workshops, conferences, retreats, contests (pay to play, natch), and MFA programs are offered. Boy and girls, ladies and gentlemen, ants and squirrels… These are little more than elaborate marketing ploys (autocorrect, ploy is SO a word!). But not to help you market your work – unless of course you intend to sell your work to other writers who are desperately trying to be the next big thing – no, in this case to market TO you, the writer. And can you blame them? Their too-precious lit-fic doesn’t sell, so they have to afford their lattes and avocado toast somehow. But you do not have to buy into their world of desperation.

Here in this blog we bring you daily articles about writing, marketing, nitty-gritty how-to articles about formatting and covers and more. Rather than the magazine he references at 9.95 a year (such a bargain, darling! Oops, let me wipe up that sarcasm I dripped) we’re always free. And we answer comments, we write posts in response to specific questions… Heck, we ask you all what you want help with, we don’t assume you’re angsting over some political polemic and needing encouraging to keep writing. Real writers don’t need coddling. You can’t help writing: it oozes out from every pore. Except on the days you get blocked. We’re not perfect, we Mad Geniuses. In fact, you might say we are insanely optimistic.

I can live with that. My market doesn’t consist of the literary darlings who buy writing magazines anxious for reassurance that the Resistance will go on. Resisting against what, I’m not sure. Lack of sales? Because my market is real people who read real books. So I can afford to take an hour a week writing a free blog post helping other writers out, and more time answering comments.

Write to your market: readers. Don’t abuse them, and they will come back for more. Amuse them, delight them, make them connect with your characters and cry. Arrest their attention with your cover, hook them into opening the book with your blurb, and they will read. Further, they will tell friends and family and even strangers about your book… That’s marketing of the finest kind.


58 thoughts on “Writing to Market

  1. You have the same parasitic people giving lectures about how to succeed in “XXX” from rented Holiday Inn conference rooms – complete with expensive DVDs (Used to be cassette tapes!) for real estate, stock market investing, photography, etc,etc. Even things like raising Emus for fun and profit. How many Emu ranchers does the world really need? Writing is no different.
    My experience is people who get charged up over these motivational seminars just ENJOY them. They never actually improve their business from them, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be going to another one in six months.
    For some it’s a guiltless way to avoid work – because it can be an excused absence in their minds. These are the folks who I watched in real estate and in car sales who always complained they couldn’t sell, but they came into work late, ran out to get a haircut or pick up the dry cleaning, then took a long lunch and soon left early to pick their spouse up from work, because they couldn’t afford two cars….. I would sell the most cars in a month simply because I came to work and STAYED AT IT. But that’s an unattractive solution.

    1. After a real estate seminar recently, one landlord noted that there were two basic kinds of people in the room: those who watched the seminar like it was a play, enjoying the energy and spectacle, and those who had notebooks out and were taking notes and jotting questions for after the presentation.

      He continued, with amusement and chagrin, that he’d come to that seminar twice before. The first time, he was just getting started, and used the between-sessions hallway conversations & coffeeklatch to find mentors and opportunities – literally, in several cases, struck up friendships with people who’d then turn around and say “Hey, this opportunity came up, but it’s such a small project that even with the good ROI it’s not worth my time. But you’re just getting started… you want it?”

      The third time he was there, years later, he was mostly there to see friends and talk with his mentors and protogees about advice for new things, learning and sharing what he knew. But, he noted that most of the audience that he recognized from the first seminar still hadn’t made a deal yet. They really liked the idea of being able to do it… but not the actual doing, or the sheer persistence and hard work required to get better.

      (You can learn the most amazing things by chatting with the other people while waiting to get your oil changed!)

      1. I have known people who have treated writing conferences in the same way–as a social event and weekend off to talk about their hobby with other people. Those folks seem to be getting their money’s worth, just like people who attend a Sci Fi convention. They aren’t expecting the secrets to getting rich overnight, they just want to hang out with like minded folks and geek out about e e cummings’ use of metaphor.

  2. I have a Relative that’s trying to break into the Mystery market. Relative’s work is good. Relative has won several of these writer’s awards. Relative has been doing the agent-and-publisher route for four (4) years now. Zip, zero, nada.

    This is a person who is -extremely- accomplished and Good At Life. If that person can’t break in, the poor old busted Phantom ain’t getting in.

    But, thanks to the Mad Geniuses, my work WILL soon be seeing the light of day and not filed in the bottom of my hard drive forever. I’m taking the last (I swear!) proof-reading pass on Unfair Advantage right now, cover creation will proceed shortly, and the whole thing should be posted before the end of the summer. Barring Life(tm) and if the creek don’t rise.

    So, all you Mad Geniuses, (and Larry Correia), y’all did that. Thanks! ~:D

      1. Won’t be today, but it will be here eventually.

        Now, if only there were a Sad Puppies List I could debut my stuff on as well… [running away giggling] ~:D

        1. Don’t know about a Sad Puppies List. But if you ping me at cedarlila at gmail dot com I’ll make sure I read and review on my personal blog. I’ve been putting a lot of thought into some sort of page/website devoted to ‘good books, recommended reading’ since my lists and reviews are received so well. (Note: I am a very small Voice. But I like books, and have the heart of a librarian. That’s my only basis for this musing.)

          1. That is a lovely offer. When I’m done taking out the obvious mistakes, I’ll ship it off to you. If nothing else, it’ll be a fun read for you. I hope. 🙂

    1. Mystery seems hard, There seem to be only two publications still in existence, and one seems to be an authors’ showcase magazine. That means novels or nothing, and perhaps indie or nothing.

      1. Mystery is a HUGE genre. Far larger than SFF. And while there are few short-publication markets, they sell like hotcakes as ebooks. I actually read just as much new Mystery as I do SFF (outside a circle of people-I-know).

      2. Relative has been spinning the wheels for quite some time now in pursuit of TradPub. I keep telling them e-book, but Relative wants to be a Real Author.

        I do too, but I’m too mean-tempered to bother with people who won’t answer an email. That describes every publishing house and agent so far.

        1. If Relative wants validation from an outside source, tell Relative to look into small press outlets. There are quite a few out there with decent contracts and some reach, and they often serve things other than The Flavor of the Month (aka the bestsellers and only them.)

      3. I’ve noticed something about the mystery market (especially for cozies): There are thematic links to real-world affinity groups. For example, there are dog show mysteries, cooking school mysteries, and unless I misunderstand them, Sarah Hoyt publishes furniture-refinishing mysteries. One of our friends, an older woman living alone, reads a cozy mystery *every day*. I’ve seen dog show romances (my wife shows Bichons) and my guess is that the same dynamic applies there as well. Tradpub is still making reasonable money in non-SF genres, but I’m still lead-pipe certain that indie will dominate all genres within five years, ten on the outside.

        1. There are cozies on every imaginable theme! The Cat Who series may have started it, years ago, with the crime-solving Siamese cats, but I’m not sure that was the first, just the best known.

  3. You can tell that these dahlings are (as our dear leader Sarah would put it) dilettante authors rather than professional writers. A professional writer would need to write something to put beans on the table and not be able to indulge in a 6 month fit of the vapors

    1. Pretty much! I am currently Not a Real Writer because I’m focused on building a career in science, but I’m still writing. In spite of boiling acid geysers.

      1. I had a test tube explode and spray acid all over my arm. Really made me appreciate the shower in the corner of the lab.

  4. Early in my career, I became a real cynic about writing to market. I found a pro-paying market that was asking for exactly the sort of work I like best. That was their theme, in fact. And in a sudden burst of inspiration, I came up with a brand new story, directly on theme and within their word count limits. I sent it straight to them.

    And they rejected it. Paraphrased: “This was good, but we’ve printed too many stories like this. We’ve decided we need to branch out more.”

    Now I write what I write, and I worry about the market after.

  5. Read that Federalist article earlier this morning (forget where I saw it). Yeah, seen way too much stuff like that and personally I wish them all the best. They are going to be needing a lot of help I think. Now if there was only some way to deal with my three foot writer’s block…..

      1. Heh, my issues are more of the stress and dealing with said writer’s block. He’s been having screaming fits off and on all week and that tends to shut down my cognitive processes. :p

        1. I did very little writing – and all of it short stories – until my kids were old enough for school. Which isn’t terribly helpful, I know, but realistically you have to worry more about them, than imaginary worlds, at this age. He will grow out of it, and you will be able to write again. That much, I can promise you.

  6. Y’know, I wonder sometimes if some of the more academic research stuff were more accessible by the general public (I was tempted to put in hoi poloi, given how the academe view the general public) by way of sales, if they’d … make more money. I mean, we writers love to research stuff that we think may or may not be germane to our work. Even things that may seem esoteric *eyes the book on my shelf titled The Compendium of Hexes, which I will need to translate from Japanese somehow* we’d love to get our hands on, to build our stories and worlds with.

    1. InterLibraryLoan is a wonderful, wonderful thing IF you have a large pool of libraries to draw from and they have lots and lots of material that they are willing to send out. I needed an $800 book on international water law. For $3 I could borrow it through my public library. Ditto $$$ books on prehistoric fauna of Australia, German military publications between the World Wars, a collection of research papers on religion and trade in along the North Sea in the Middle Ages… But I can’t pay $$$ for the books themselves, and I know I’m amazingly lucky that Texas has so many university libraries to draw from. (Although, the Houston Public Library system has some really Odd monographs in its collection, let me tell you. Trade routes and economics in Central and South Asia from 1500 – 500 BC/BCE? You really wonder who bought it for the general collection, or who decided to accept the donation.)

        1. One of best perks of working for a university is access to the Mobius system that lets me request books from other universities, including St. Louis University that has a huge theology collection.

            1. The library system is of the things I really enjoy about living in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. The main branch downtown is massive and they’re usually pretty good about retaining at least one copy of older/less read books there even if they discard them from the local branches. Now if only smelly, rude street people and drug addicts (in so much as those two differ) didn’t hang out at the main branch and use the bathrooms for their daily ablutions. [sigh] So if I know exactly what I want, I make a request at the local branch and it shows up there 1-3 days later.

    2. Since the going rate for an *article* not even a whole journal, tends to be upwards of $20, I think they are being more than just faintly ridiculous. There are open-source journals, like PLoS, but they are tarred with the ‘insufficiently rigorous’ brush.

  7. I may be the first person to ever positively reference a Gore Vidal work in Mad Genius Club. In “Myra Breckinridge” Vidal created the Buck Loner Academy for Aspiring Young Actors and Actresses.

    At the Academy everyone is a star. Students write, produce, and direct productions that are aired on the closed-circuit television system and then reviewed by students and the reviews are aired as well. It’s a hermetic world where the only audience is internal. As long as the checks keep coming students aren’t exposed to any negative critiques–everything they do is wonderful!

    His description of the school and its operations tends to come to mind when I read ads for for literary magazines that also have writer’s conferences and contests where the winners are published in special collections–a whole interconnected world of “critiques” and “mentoring” where the students are never exposed to the big scary market outside the walls.

    (Vidal was either quite prophetic, or maybe things haven’t changed so much since 1968.)

      1. Magazines are dying not just because they are old-school, but they cannot be nimble. Articles are solicited, written, and put into print over the spread of months, if not a year. That cannot compete with an online-only publication.

  8. And as indies we are in a really good position to see when a trend is starting to wane. If all the YA books I see are about angst and illness, or are all paranormal romances w/vampires, then I know the surge is peaking and it might be time to 1) tweak the formula if I have something in progress or 2) shelve that idea for a while until the fad fades and the old becomes new again.

    Or, if something about western romance suddenly hits the charts hard, and I’ve got an idea ready to go, I can hit the market. No 18 month lead/lag.

    1. Which is why I am trying to create as much variety as possible at the moment. (have far too many WIP’s). When the budget allows and I get stuff done I can get things out when I am ready.

    2. I’m just going to write* the stuff I want to read. I mean, if I want to read it, presumably someone else does, right?

      *Said “writing” is fairly theoretical at this point. I have a toddler, and he is very attached right now.

    3. Even better, you can have everything already out there, available for sale – and when a trend hits that matches something you’ve already done, you can change your cover, tweak your blurb, adjust your keywords to fit with new trend, and then market it right away with the new hotness!

      It neither has to sit on a shelf waiting approval for print on trend, not languish in backlist, unreprinted and unloved.

  9. Good post, and agreed on most of the conferences/writer’s “seminars” that charge… I’ve learned more from here, LibertyCon and LTUE panels than I did anywhere else.

  10. I think politics plays a part in the uselessness of the kinds of publications (and writers that write for them) the list of YOU MUSTS almost always include a couple of blatantly political MUSTS that are more often than not ignored by many best selling writers. Basically, the audience doesn’t care much, the writers who sell don’t care much, the only ones who seem to care are the people who write for those kinds of magazines and the publishers who, for some godawful reason, listen to those kinds of magazines.

    (As an aside: Why? Seriously, why? A magazine that is losing money by being ideologically ‘pure’, tells a publisher that the publisher should do what they say because… why? Obviously those publications don’t know how to sell their piddle, and you as publisher are technically about profit and selling, right? But you listen to those who demonstrably don’t know something so as to… why? This is one of those prestige things I just don’t get, isn’t it?)

    The other part for me is the self-hatred I’d have to have to read publications that in their submission forms make it clear I, and those like me of the pale and outie genitalia equipped, am unwelcome to submit. Generally speaking if the desire for the other is stated as a way to get to the front of the line towards publication then the most important thing to that publication is not the content but the feels they get from publishing the content creator. Great. Bad enough when it’s fiction but in a technical/how-to magazine? Good lord. Imagine if they did that with carpentry magazines? How would you trust the information is accurate if the writer of said information was hired for something other than the accuracy of their information?

    Maybe this is just me but wouldn’t you always be looking up at that ceiling and wondering if you just heard a wayward creak?


    1. There are a number of professional engineering societies. Some of them publish magazines with the subscription paid out of membership fees. You might be happier not reading those magazines.

    2. It’s because of the bubble. They don’t think their ideology is the reason for declining sales because that’s not an issue in the bubble. It’s so bad Hollywood is blaming this year’s big flops in comedy on Trump. I kiddest thee not. They don’t ask if what they’re putting out is garbage.

  11. Read about half the Federalist article. Yep, this is how they really think. I’m seriously considering withdrawing from the online RP group i just joined because of the amount of spoonfed-to-them-by-CNN-and-MSNBC leftist bullshit i hear getting spouted as fact every day in the group. Its like they have a ‘daily recital of talking points at 6 pm’ or something.

  12. Yes, we are all privileged to have the Mad Geniuses to help us with their writing and marketing advice, and to have the same American view of freedom and can-do individuality bound together in a supportive tribe.

    This is just a cheering, thank-you to all and everyone for being here day after day, week after week.

Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: