Should You Write for Yourself, or Write to Market?

It’s a great time to be an Indie Author, but it’s also sometimes a confusing time to be an Indie Author. Conflicting advice abounds.

I was going to write today about the merits of keeping your day job, but then I saw this post from Dean Wesley Smith making the rounds on Twitter. In it, he quotes Joe Landsdale as saying, “Write like everyone you know is dead.”

In other words, write for yourself. Forget about the market, forget about the reader, forget about what sells, and write what you love.

This is actually great advice, if you’re planning to go the traditional publishing route. Traditional publishing moves at a snail’s pace, making it impossible to predict what’s going to be hot by the time your book hits the stands. So you might as well write the book you want to write and hope for the best.

The thing is, Dean Wesley Smith is talking to indies. Is this good advice if you’re planning to self publish, where it’s entirely possible to see what’s trending and selling and get a book on the market in time to ride the wave of popularity?

I’m currently reading Write to Market by Chris Fox, a book that has helped a large number of indie authors build lucrative writing and publishing careers for themselves and make a full-time living from their writing.

In it, Fox points out that there tends to be a misapprehension about what it means to write to market. A lot of people think it means selling out and writing a formulaic book in a genre you don’t care about for the sole purpose of making money.

When in reality, all it means is simply taking time to do some research before you write to determine which genre you already want to write in has the best chance for the most book sales, and incorporating satisfying tropes that readers of the genre tend to love while putting your own spin on them.

The fact is, it’s entirely possible to both write to market and write a book you love at the same time.

It’s also a fact that both Joe Landsdale and Dean Wesley Smith are both authors who have the luxury of ignoring the marketplace and writing whatever they want. Landsdale isn’t going to have any trouble getting his next book published, and Smith has a large fan following and a huge back catalog of steadily-selling books.

And it’s also a fact that many indies have found success and financial freedom by writing to market, and there is a large camp of Fox followers out there who are very vocal with their advice to do exactly that.

So which advice do you listen to?

As usual, it depends on what your goals are. Do you simply want to write for the joy of writing, and leave your success and career up to chance, hoping that what you write will catch on?

Frankly, this is what I’ve been doing for years, and it hasn’t worked well for me so far.

Do you want to make a full-time living with your writing, and exert as much control over that outcome as you can? Then maybe Landsdale’s advice isn’t the best for you — at least not at this time.

I want to write what I want. I love that these big name authors have given me permission to write what I want. But at the same time, the reality is that these guys are in a whole different stage of their careers than I am, and writing what I want so far hasn’t served my career well.

If I need to spend a few years writing to market-writing books that are intentionally designed to sell, but are no less written with love-so that I can build the momentum that will both build my fan base and generate a living income? Then that’s what I’ll do.

And maybe, once I’m more established and have gained my readers’ trust, then I’ll have the luxury of being able to write what I want, without worrying about its marketability.

What say you? Whether you’re an established indie or are just getting started on your self-publishing path, what do you think is the better advice?

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a hybrid author with four novels to her credit, as well as a freelance writer and editor. She’s also the author of Self-Publishing for the Broke Author: How to Edit Your Manuscript, Format Your Book and Create a Killer Cover on Little to No Money. This post was originally published at on April 30, 2019.

Multi-passionate freelance writer, blogger and occasional novelist. Homesteader, daydreamer and ADD survivor.

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