It’s no secret that there isn’t some mystical formula to success in any field. Despite every bit of advice out there, the fact is we’re all trying to figure out our own paths. An important part of every author’s journey is deciding where they fall on the matter of art versus business.
On the one side, you have the argument that books are art, and a true artist only limits themselves by worrying about marketability. You see this reaction in those new to the editing process, when edit requests are questioned or rejected out of hand. And on the other, you have the drive to churn out formulaic, mass-market stuff designed to appeal to as many people as possible.
Scientists at Stony Brook University announced they’d developed an algorithm that could predict, from text alone, whether or not a book would be commercially successful with 84% accuracy. There is a lot of thought and effort going into figuring out how to write the perfect book.
It’s impossible to have a successful book that conforms precisely to market trends. The market shifts so much, that by the time you’ll have spotted something popular to write about, and written the book, it’s likely to either have fizzled out or have resulted in a glut in the market. Ask any submissions editor how many teen vampire romances they got after Twilight hit the big time and they’ll tell you. Check out any list of writing pitfalls, and I bet you’ll see “Writing to suit the market” listed on there.
But it can’t be denied that approaching your work with a business-minded outlook is important if your goal is to write professionally. A solid plan is essential when starting your own business, and once you decide to write for publication, you’ve started a business. Study how successful businesses operate and apply this knowledge to your own work.
The key element, of course, is the book itself. As I’ve said before, all the planning and work in the world won’t matter if the product isn’t up to scratch. And books are a product, make no mistake. Every author needs to find their own balance between telling the story they want to tell, and telling a story that will sell. Very few authors are good enough, or popular enough, to have a book be successful regardless of market trends or reader preference. Even JK Rowling had to contend with a severely negative reaction to her first adult book following the end of the Harry Potter series, so when setting out to write a book, always consider who it is you’re writing for, and what you want to achieve.
Literary agent Rachelle Gardner has some interesting closing points, and a list of suggested reading material. I wholeheartedly recommend taking a look.
(c) Paul Anthony Shortt