Saturday, October 26, 2013

Write What You Love and Publication will Follow

Back in the 80s a book was published called "Do what you Love and the Money Will follow." I never got around to reading that book, but I always was intrigued by the title. Sometimes I thought it was genius. Other times ... well I don't use that type of language. But the older I got, I began to see the true meaning of that comment.

We too often get our careers backwards. We start with what has the highest salaries instead of what
will provide the most personal satisfaction. The problem with that approach is that we are generally unenthusiastic about those jobs chosen for the income potential alone, which means we don't do well on the job interviews and, if we get the job, we won't perform well.

The same holds true of writing. I've had writing students come into class with the first question being, "So, what is selling now?" It is as if they are saying, "I am not a unique person with a unique vision to share. I am simply a merchant looking for the right product to sell."

Certainly, one needs to be aware of publishing trends. Selling cozy mysteries, like I write is a bit harder than selling the more hard boiled PI or police procedural. That means I have to find my audience and be creative in reaching them. It also means, I'll have better luck with indie publishing or small publishers than with the Big Six who tend to play it safe with the trends.

What it does NOT mean is that I should not write cozy mysteries. There is a market for them. I just have to find them. But more important than that, I am likely to be more enthusiastic in my writing of a cozy, than a police procedural. That means I will do a better job, which in turn means, more people will recommend my books to their friends which will lead to more sales.

I know, some of you are saying, that's all well and good if you are an indie and control what does and does not get published yourself. But what about traditional authors? Well, this is where the indie publishing revolution can help traditional authors. Go ahead and write your passion. If your publisher or agent doesn't like it and you do, tell them you will just go indie with it. You might frame it as "test marketing." But you are no longer held hostage to a survey showing a decrease in sales of cozies nation wide. You can prove an interest in solid sales.

However, even if you do not go that route, your writing will be better if you write what you love. That means you will get a better reading from an editor or agent than if you just turned out something to fit into a trend.

Yes, if you write what you love, publication will follow, but more importantly you will also love what you write.


  1. It was only in the last ten years that I discovered that most people DON'T work at a job they love. That was when I started taking jobs to keep a roof over my head rather than because they sounded like something I really wanted to do. I had been fortunate to find a career I loved (programming) and finding entrepreneurial companies--or at least departments--that were more like family than jobs. That's not to say I didn't put in long hours and work hard. I did. But when I started complaining about my last two jobs and had people chorus "It's a paycheck," I realized how fortunate I had been in the past.

    That's why, now that my job is writing, it's important to me that I have fun with it. What's the point of following your passion if you treat it the same way as I treated my day job for a decade? I also write cozy, or, as I prefer to call them, traditional mysteries. I avoid the "cozy" label because I won't put recipes in the back or fill them with quirky characters like the trad publishers expect. I will admit to looking with longing at the sales figures of romance writers, of toying with the idea of trying to write a few romances as a way of increasing my meager writing income. But time is so valuable to me I don't want to spend it writing something I don't love.

    All of this is basically to say, "YES! Write what you love!" in response to your post.

    1. I have been fortunate in my life to work at several jobs that I really enjoyed. I spent the last thirty years teaching college. And I love to teach. No wonder I offer writing courses :-)

      Now, I have "retired" to write. And, I have to admit that very recently I have taken on a lot of jobs just for the money. And I got myself in trouble doing that. So, I'm changing my plan. I am going to focus my attention back on my passions.

      Although, I don't see the term cozy as mixed in with recipes. I guess, a lot of cozy writers do include recipes in their books. A lot of them focus on crafting to. But, I see the cozy mystery is being like Ms. Marple or brother Cadfael.

      However, a lot of the labels are getting a little fuzzy. I'm not sure that's a bad thing. That usually happens when people are trying to redefine a field.

      No, I couldn't do romance novels. I usually include a little bit of romance in my other novels, but in an entire novel about the development of romance is just beyond by ken.

  2. Thank you for this post, Terri. I feel the same way. If you don't write what you love, your life will be pure drudgery.

    Now, I have a question. I've been with a couple of smaller presses like White Rose Publishing. But at conference I tried for an agent. The agent asked to see my manuscript because a publisher at ACFW was interested. Since, it's been denied by both agent and publisher.

    The publisher just said, "It doesn't fit our needs at this time," and they were "scaling back." The agent told me I had great story ideas and a strong work ethic, but my writing wasn't "strong enough to make a big splash in the trad book industry. But, "keep honing it and I'm sure you will get there. Then she added, "If so-and-so publisher decides to take it, contact me again and I will take another look at it. I'm not infallible."

    What did she mean by my writing not being "strong enough?" I'm clueless and don't know what I'm supposed to do to make it stronger.

    Thank you for your answer.

  3. Response Part 1:

    What that agent was telling you was that you still need seasoning. Most likely he is speaking about sentence structure, language choice, dialogue, etc.

    I am fairly good and most those areas, however, I am probably not quite at A-List level. I am getting close.

    However, that doesn't mean I can't write a salable novel, have it sell, and get it into the hands of thousands of people. The fact that I am not yet ready to sell to Random House or HarperCollins does not mean that I should it be publishing at all.

    Small presses give you that opportunity. So does indie publishing. One of the big advantages of indie publishing, is that you can set your price low enough that people who don't know you and don't know your writing will be willing to take a chance on you. In the last year I have had approximately 5000 downloads of my books. Now, that includes my writing books, Bible studies, nonfiction, three novels, two novellas, and a collection of short stories. However, that means I have gotten my books into the hands of probably around 3000 people because there were obviously some people who bought more than one of my books. Now, what I have sold that many books if I had been charging three dollars or five dollars, I don't think so. The reason I say this, is that when my book was set at five dollars I sold fifty copies in two years.

    So, I am not going to go to a agent or a publisher until I can tell them that I have had 10,000 copies of my books downloaded. At that point, good story line, strong writing, etc. is going to be important, but not as important as the fact that I can deliver 7000 potential buyers as soon as the book is published.

  4. But, I would run very fast away from that agent. She just wants to pick up clients who are already published in smaller presses, provide a little representation during negotiations of the contract, but basically collect her fifteen percent for doing nothing.

    Just because someone claims to be an agent, has a business card and everything, doesn't mean they actually have access to the top tier of publishers. And, that's about the only place where you're going to do any better in terms of sales, then through self-publishing. Self-publishing is more work. However, you have greater control, and you get to keep all of the royalties not just a part of them. And, the profit margin with e-books is very high. And they are so simple to format. In fact, if you set the settings correctly on Microsoft Word when you start writing your book, you don't have to do hardly any formatting.

    Print is harder and offers a very low profit margin. And, sales are pretty poor. That's why a lot of your big publishers are "scaling back". They're still treating e-book says the poor stepchild of publishing and more of them are being sold every year than paperbacks.

    Anyway back to the question at hand. Writing technique itself at the sentence and paragraph level is most likely what your friend was referring to.

    You might consider taking some writing courses at a local community college or online where you get a critique from an instructor.

    Also read writers that you admire. But read them analytically. How do they construct a sentence? What do they do to pull you in from one chapter to the next? Count the number of LY words on a page of their work and compare to a page of your own. Do the same with passive construction, state of being verbs, etc.

    I'm not one that believes it every usage is, are, was, were, etc. should be eliminated. Sometimes the best structure uses one of those words.. However, you should check each set things out to make sure that that is the best construction.

    Finally, just because you are not ready to make a big splash in the book industry, doesn't mean you can't build up a good solid fan base, and make some money doing this.

    It's just like any other profession. You usually have to work your way up. That involves two things. First, honing your craft. Random House is not White Rose press. They receive thousands upon thousands of proposals every year. They publish less than one percent of them. You can't just be good, you have to be exceptional.

    Second, and this is probably more important than even honing your craft, you need to have a significant marketing platform. You have to prove to them that you can personally connect with a sizable number of people who are likely to buy your book. I know, we think that is going to be the publishing company was going to sell our book. And in the best of all possible worlds, that would be the case. However, we do not live in the best of all possible worlds. And in this world, especially at the top tier, I have to bring a publisher something more than just a really good book that's well-written. I have to bring a fan base with me.

    So work on your writing. Publish at the level that you are at right now. Whether that be was small publishers or by self-publishing. Build up a fan base, a social media platform, etc. Then carefully research agents who actually sell to the top two tiers of publishers. Meaning those that you can't reach without an agent. Then bring them not only a good novel, but also a good marketing plan. Because, they are in the business of making money. That sounds terrible, but if they don't make the money they can't publish the books. So you have to show them not only that you've written a good novel, but that you can also get sales.

  5. I agree to a certain extent, Terry. If you write what you love, you'll enjoy it more & be open to improving it to get out your stories. Thought provoking topic.