When the "write to market" advice goes south
The market doesn't know what it wants... but your readers know what they love
Direct marketing legend Gary Halbert once asked the audience at a seminar:
"If you were starting a restaurant right now, what kind of competitive advantage would you need to succeed?"
The crowd listed off a range of predictable answers. Location. Staff. The best burgers.
Halbert listened carefully and then nixed them all.
"I'll give you all of those things, everything you want. And I'll still beat you if you give me just one thing."
The one thing that he needed to make a killer restaurant?
A starving crowd.
He's not wrong. Desire for what you're selling is a key ingredient for any business.
The more intense, urgent, and burning the desire, the better your chances.
If you're selling books, you're in business... and you best be writing what readers want to read.
Halbert said this back in the 90s or late 80s even. What's old is new all over again. Up here in the age of indie self-publishing -- "NewPub" as the younger set calls it -- some of the more savvy book marketers and self-promoters have rediscovered the power of tapping into market desires.
Now it's called "writing to the market".
The kernel of the idea is undeniable. If you write like a good MFA graduate, you'll please all your peers, get published in all the right journals, and maybe win a coveted award or three.
If you're aiming to sell books, you'd best appeal to the tastes of a larger, hungrier readership.
What's the problem, then? Give 'em what they want and you'll win.
So you thought it was that easy? C'mon.
If you give the market more of what they're already buying, that's a good way to sell books.
For the short term.
But there's a downside.
You're always chasing trends and hoping that you time it just right to catch the wave.
What happens when you think about the long-term goals?
What do you want to achieve as an author?
You want to sell books, clearly, if you want to pay the bills as a full-time author.
So how do you do that? What goal are you aiming for?
There's a saying in the marketing world: "Different is better than better."
What if, instead of looking over your shoulder at what people bought last month...
What if you showed your readers a new way of looking at the kind of story you tell?
What if you gave them new possible worlds to play in?
What if you gave them an iPod instead of a better CD player?
When you see that phrase "write to the market", it's not wrong.
But it's split between these two meanings.
You can give them more of what they're already buying...
You can fascinate your readers with a unique experience that they can't resist.
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