Welcome wonderful readers to another Path2pub debate! Topic: Should we writers pursuing traditional publication write books that we love, or what agents/editors are looking for on their wishlists? Should we write the books that excite us, or what is trending in the market?
This topic came about after a few followers on Path2pub Twitter told us that they felt the industry isn’t about writing what you love but what agents/gatekeepers want to see. It also ties in with Alex’s last post Something Inside! We hope you enjoy it!
Don’t behead me, but I’ll say writers who want to get traditionally published should consider being flexible. I know our hackles usually rise at the idea of writing to please agents or editors. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned so far from this journey, it’s that compromise is key. I wrote my fantasy book because it’s what my heart wanted. At the time, I knew nada about the publishing world or trends. I turned out lucky though that what I wrote was commercial and in trend. I wrote my regency, however, because my published friend after reading my fantasy novel, believed I had a solid regency voice. And that since my fantasy book was taking a while to find a home, she thought I should write regency since it was getting more attention due to the success of Bridgerton. Now, if I had zero experience with regency, I most likely wouldn’t have taken the advice. But it’s a genre I love to read, and while I’d had no plans of being a regency author at the time, I eventually decided to give it a chance if that would help me get my foot through the door. So far, I have no regrets from writing with a trend. I love D&F and I’m proud of it. So my first take on this debate, is that writers should consider (just consider) being flexible when on this publication journey!
I’m firmly in the camp of writing what you love, because I don’t think it’s realistic to trendspot in publishing, unless you are terribly lucky! So why should you follow your heart? Because that’s when you produce your best work. I’ve burned through enough half-written MSes to know that it’s so so hard to finish a book that you don’t feel 110% about. You need to love your plot, your characters, your world, in order to see through the MS from start to end – and for it to be GOOD. Half-hearted writing shows, and I don’t think that’s what will catch the attention of agents and editors.
When it comes to trendspotting, I honestly don’t know how it’s possible unless you have a crystal ball to help see into the future. Publishing timelines are SLOW AF (unless you’re a unicorn). If you look at book deal announcements, you’ll realise that most of them have publication dates 2-3 years from signing. How the heck would anyone know what’s going to be trending in a few years’ time? Even if you are lucky enough to hop onto the bandwagon and you have a story that publishers want now, there’s no guarantee your book will sell well when it’s Finally released years later!
I’m also a believer on writing what you love with an authentic voice and from within your heart. I think that’s the main purpose of being a writer. However, in the traditionally published world, we also need to be aware of the market and agent/editor wishlists if we want to succeed. I’m not saying that we should write to fit a list, because if it’s something that’s not dear to our hearts that shows on the pages, like Amber said. I’m saying that we need to make our homework and find the right agent/editor for our stories, and in case the timing is not right, then we might need to wait until it is. We can always write the stories we want, the ones that have a special meaning for us, but it might happen that it’s not the right time in the market for them, and that’s something we need to be aware of and accept. What if the market is saturated with stories like ours? What if an agent we would love to work with already has clients with similar books? Then we need to find other options that might be a good fit for us or try to see how we can make our story different so that it can stand out and work out now.
When I first started querying my book Santiago’s Dinosaurios, I got rejections saying the story wasn’t original enough, that there were many books already about kids going to new schools in new countries. However, I really believed in my story and how it would help kids that might be going through something similar as my MC. Still, I listened to the feedback. I realized it was true, if I wanted to make my book work I needed to make it stand out. So I took the time to improve it, I added the dinosaurs and I was able to create something different that was still true to the essence I wanted to share in my original story. My book got better because I wrote from my heart but also paid attention to the market.
Seems like it’s me against the team – send help hehe. Loved Mariana’s example with Santiago’s Dinosaurios! I agree that there are times when writing for trend is just 👎🏼. There are certain trends in the industry right now that really are against my values etc. etc. Those are compromises I’ll never make, even if it means not becoming a traditionally published author. It also sucks that plenty writers these days are following these trends for their books when they’ve admitted they don’t want to – but because it’s what agents are hungry for and would squeal once they see it in a query letter. The issue here, is lower quality. It’s just like with my personal experience with my books. If I’d pursued writing D&F only for trend without loving regency or having dabbled in writing it in the past, I wouldn’t have been very enthusiastic/excited writing it. I presume the quality would’ve been low and that would be a substandard book going into the market for the wrong reasons. So while compromising is fair, know to what extent you’re compromising. Still make sure you’re staying true to YOU.
Lucia, I totally agree with you that authors must know which compromises they are willing and not willing to make in their quest for being traditionally published. That’s a line that needs to be drawn very clearly by each writer. Crossing it would depend on what’s more important for each individual, and I think that’s something to respect in every case. I personally wouldn’t go against my values and beliefs, because that would mean betraying myself and my writing, and as I’ve said, that shows on the paper. However, I understand not everyone thinks in the same way. In the end, it’s a decision every writer needs to do for themselves. I’m team “Stay true to YOU!”
Lucia and Mariana’s advice are spot on! I’m sure everyone would love to be able to stay true to themselves and write what they love, but I also understand what writerly despair feels like when it seems hardly any agents/editors are looking for what you’ve written. If that’s what you’re going through, then my best advice would be to temporarily shelve that book. Yes, I’m saying shelve it. Temporarily! Write the next book, and who knows, when you do get an agent, you can always revive that first MS when it IS in trend! And trust me, trends cycle, so you can bet whatever you wrote will trend soon enough.
I’ll round up with this. I’m a massive fan of the podcast 88 Cups Of Tea, and one of the episodes I listen to on repeat is E. Lockhart’s. During her episode, she talked about how early in her writing career, her published books hadn’t been doing well. How her editors had lost faith in her. She had been broke and flailing, losing footing in the publishing industry. And so she asked her agent to find her some way to make money through writing. A way that would keep her in and help brush up her skills. Even if it was ghostwriting, or a Nancy drew, or anything. Her agent soon linked her up to an editor who’d asked if E could write a book similar to Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants—a book that had been trending at the time. E had read the book, liked it and put her back into taking that opportunity. Writing something the editor wanted to see. Clearly, it worked out splendidly for her. Eventually, she went on to start writing books she wanted to write, things she was more passionate about, and in formats that excited her. So, I originally came into this debate rooting completely for “write only what YOU want and never FOR the industry”, but these experiences just kept coming to mind. And it made me want to support the point that it’s OKAY to also write for trends IF you are wholeheartedly open to it!
That’s a really interesting story Lucia! Yes, I agree it’s okay to write for trends if you’re open to it! Ultimately, you’re the one who knows what will work for you. Publishing is a long game, so just keep in mind that it’s not about that one book. It’s about all your future books, and where you see yourself going as a writer. If you do decide to write something because it is in trend, then ask yourself if it’s a piece of work that you can be proud of when you look back on it many years later. And bear in mind that even then, that’s no guarantee of “success” because the industry is so subjective and trends shift constantly! I’ll close off to say – do what is best for you, and hopefully you’ll find that sweet spot where what you love to write about is also what the industry loves to see 🙂
I really like the way Amber is closing up her participation “do what is best for you, and hopefully you’ll find that sweet spot where what you love to write about is also what the industry loves to see.” I think that’s so spot on, and definitely what all writers would love to do. Still, to find that balance you need to be aware of the market. So I’ll close by saying as a writer you need to stay true to you, to write from within your heart while at the same time paying attention to what’s out there in the industry so you make sure you come up with something fresh that can stand out among the competition.