What does it mean to write for yourself? It means that the story, the characters and the style are what you would want to read. And what you enjoy writing.
Writing for the market means creating a book based on current market trends, and what research says readers want to read. It’s a calculated approach that focuses on getting published and selling books.
Certainly as writers, getting published and selling books is a big part of many of our dreams. However, steering away from the calculated approach will bring infinitely more to your career.
Remember: Fads Are Fickle
In the last decade the market has changed a lot. Vampires were the hippest thing, after the release of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight in 2005. Then came the popularity of paranormal in general with novels such as Cassandra Clare's City of Bones.
Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games sparked a love of dystopia, and now more realistic novels sit at the top with John Green's Fault in Our Stars and Stephen Chbosky's The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. And all that's just the YA shelf.
Market trends are of high interest to publishers, editors and agents. But while it's useful for a writer to be conscious of the market, planning to reap success from a genre fad is impractical.
A creative artist should pay no—and I mean zero—attention to what is currently popular, what the market appears to want, and what’s being endlessly repeated in the deafening echo chamber of the internet."—Dario Ciriello
From a publisher accepting a manuscript to the book sitting on the shelf is, on average, about two years. Add a few months to a few years to actually write the manuscript, and by the time your book is on the shelf, you’ve probably missed the fad. Worse, readers will be disinterested in the type book they've overdosed on during the last few years.
Surviving The Long Road
Finishing a novel takes time and dedication. Would you really want to spend that energy writing a book you didn't enjoy, a story your weren't interested in, a style that didn't come naturally?
By learning how to write for yourself, you can enjoy the process of writing as much as the outcome.
Remember to write for yourself, not for a market and give yourself time to develop your own style, your own voice. It takes a lifetime. Enjoy it!”—Michael Morpurgo
Writers choose their career because they are passionate, not to get rich. Let's be realistic about our expectations, about why we do what we do and what we hope to gain. Writing for the sake of money neglects the passion that lead you to the career in the first place.
Of course, you can have it both ways: fulfilling your dream while getting paid. And keeping a tight hold of your passion is more likely to lead to a successful and financially viable career.
Develop Your 'Fresh' Voice
You’ve probably heard editors, agents and publishers say that they’re looking for a “fresh voice”. What exactly this means is hard to define, and many writers keep asking how to achieve this elusive style.
But the first step is actually quite simple: write for yourself.
The editor wants nothing more than to read something so fresh and powerful and polished there is no question it must be in the journal.”—Lynne Barrett
Take The First Leap
Especially for a debut author, you need to have something new you can add to the realm of literature. Once you’re established, and have a nice published book on your resume, you have a little more flexibility.
But until then, you want to give your best, most unique into the pile of hundreds of other first-time writers sitting on an agent’s or editor’s desk. And what’s more unique than you?
Write What You Read
Another common piece of advice is to be very familiar with the genre and style that you write, by reading.
Genres are full of rules and conventions that should be followed, can be broken, morph across time and sub-genres, and can only be learnt through reading the genre. A lot.
Read everything you can lay hands on. I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from Bunyan to Byatt.”—Michael Moorcock
What's your favourite type of book to read? What section do you gravitate towards in a book store?
This is your strength. This is what you should write. Even without even realising, you've trained your mind to recognise what makes a good book of that style. You are your own ideal reader.
The Best From Both Worlds
While writing for yourself can help produce a fantastic piece of work, the market can’t be ignored altogether. It’s important to keep an eye on the general flow of the industry, whatever publication path you choose.
Be sure to know which publishers are publishing books similar to yours. This helps narrow your focus when it comes to submitting. It’s best to keep this research to new releases; Publisher A may have released a lot of adult fantasy novels five years ago, but now they work with more YA dystopia stories.
Define Your Target Audience
When looking at yourself and the market, there's a third party: your reader. Some authors can achieve great success without giving their target audience a second thought.
But if you find that your writing is jumbled, clumsy or illogical, considering your reader can help refocus you.
But my experience has been that very few people can truly view themselves objectively as a target reader, as a segment of an audience.”— Brian A. Klems
It’s important to have a readership in mind, and to consider your audience: who they are, what they read and why they read it. But you don't want to focus on an audience in general — you want to focus on your audience. Your readers. The ones who would read what you honestly love. And love what you honestly write.
Unexpected Success: The Book Thief
In 2005 Australian author Markus Zusak published his fifth book, The Book Thief. It has sold over 8 million copies, been translated into 40 languages, was adapted into a film and even now regularly sits among top-sellers. And he never saw it coming.
In an interview, Zusak shares that he honestly thought no one would read the book. No one would recommend it to their friends. So he wrote it exactly how he wanted to, free of concerns about the market.
I think half of writing a book is just forgetting that there’s even a world that exists beyond the book.”—Markus Zusak
580 pages, narrated by death and full of quirks and interruptions by the narrator, The Book Thief is a truly unique book. It's even marketed as YA in some countries, and adult in others. But despite being so unique that it's difficult to categorise and market, the author's passion touched the hearts of the publishing team and innumerable readers.
While knowledge of the publishing market has it's place, writing for yourself has benefits in every step of the process. Your inner passion for writing will get you started, and allowing yourself to be your own best selling point will keep you going.