One of the things agents and editors will often say is “Don’t write to the market.” The idea is that by the time you finish the book, the market will have moved on and something else will be popular. Unfortunately, the writers who usually get the most interest in pitch appointments are those who are pitching something that is popular at the time. Those writers also often end up selling those books, because even though agents and editors may really be looking for something new and different, their marketing departments want something that’s a sure bet.
Gone Girl came out five years ago and was immediately a sensation. It “created” a new sub-genre: the domestic thriller, with a twisty-turny plot set within the intimate circumstances of a relationship/household. The phenomenon grew as the movie came out, and then Girl on the Train and several other “girl” books had huge sales.
Suddenly, the domestic thriller/psychological thriller was the hot ticket. Of course, writers had been writing books like that for years, but now editors were clamoring for them. Other unpublished writers thought “I can do that,” and started writing them, too. Some of them sold those books, probably thinking they were finally breaking out and embarking on a great writing career.
Fast forward to this year, and I can tell you, as someone who purchases popular fiction from literary journals, that there are dozens of domestic thrillers being published. Dozens. I order quite a few, because it is a popular genre. But I can’t possibly buy even a majority of them. I have to spend our budget on other types of books for other readers. There are just so many domestic thrillers to choose from. And the longer the trend goes on, the pickier I have to be.
I think about those writers who wrote those books that are coming toward “the end of the wave,” and I feel bad for them. Because their books are probably going to tank. No matter how good they are, their books are going to get lost in the staggering pile of similar books. And suddenly, those writers’ new careers, which seemed so promising, will be over. Some of them will reinvent themselves and write something else, and find another genre where they will be successful. Others, who are really prolific and determined and energetic, will go the indie author route and keep writing the same kind of book and building their fan base and also be successful. Some of them will flounder around for years trying to find “the next big thing” so they can get another shot. Some of them will, probably, at least for a while, quit writing.
What can a writer in the early stages of their career learn from all this? There are lots of things to think about: Are you the kind of writer who can write to the market? Do you have lots of different types of stories in your head? Or are there really only one or two genres that truly call to you? Can you write fast? Are you a natural marketer, someone who knows how to promote themselves and is comfortable doing so? Are you comfortable “writing to live” (i.e., making money writing is your main goal)? Or do you “live to write” (i.e., writing feeds your soul and you need the satisfaction of creative expression to be happy)? Is your main goal to be published and get that validation? Or do you really want a long writing career?
These are things to think about before you go down the path of writing to the market. It’s a tricky, sometimes treacherous route. There can be huge rewards at the end. Or there can be desolation and despair. In this era, when there is so much information on writing, so many tools and resources, it just makes sense to think about the hard realities. I wish it wasn’t like that. I wish we could all go back to being starry-eyed, creative dreamers, hoping for our lucky break. But you can indulge those things. You just have to put all that emotion and passion and heedless longing into the creative process. Which is something that will never break your heart or let you down.