But Few Will Listen…
The advice: Never let anyone tell you to not write something because it won’t sell. Never decide to not write something because it has been done to death before.
Why I say no one will listen is because so many indie writers are wrapped up in writing to market, writing what they think will sell, or what some unknown person on the internet thinks will sell. And every indie writer thinks they have to be original with ideas and plotting when nothing is every original in either one.
Tonight I read a story by an author. A really old idea, one I had seen a hundred times and rejected almost a hundred times. But the difference?
I had not seen this story, this idea done by this author before.
Understand that simple statement?
I had seen the plot, a very old plot, and the setting, a very old setting, hundreds of times. Cliche didn’t begin to describe it, and normally I would have stopped reading when it became clear it was going to be the same as all the others because the writer was imitating and rewriting. But this writer allowed personality and voice, both author and character, to come through the story from the first moment. And what was old to me became new and wonderful.
Each of us is what makes a story unique.
It is the writer that creates a story that will sell. Not some genre or some sort of plot or some sort of secret marketing handshake. Nope, it is the writer, if the writer allows himself to be in the story with the character.
That’s why my advice to writers is always just write what you want. If you write what you want, you will be in your stories and even if the idea is old and worn, you will make it unique if you just write it from your heart and leave it alone, don’t rewrite it, let the parts that are you stay in the story.
So write what you want. And keep it fun.
You just never know when you will make something old new again because you are a unique person and you made it yours.
This is my biggest Critical Voice problem! “This isn’t popular. NO ONE will read this. You’re WASTING your time. You’re writing for NOTHING!”
Great post, Dean. Exactly my biggest problem. Here is the massive irony to all this: many of us were so psyched when indie happened because it meant the end of gatekeepers and total freedom to write AND publish ANYTHING. And yet… most indies are the biggest voices telling you what NOT to write. At times it seems they have more phony rules than Traditional Publishing.
Thank you for this post, Dean. This is something I really need to hear, especially when I feel like I’m writing derivative crap that has been done to death a million times already.
Now, time to dive back into the politcial scheming, Space Opera adventure novel I’m currently writing.
This is a relief, actually. I’ve been a little bummed lately because I don’t come up with wildly new and different story ideas. Add to that the only time I don’t temper my words is if I’m just having fun with a story and damn the consequences. This has, in fact, been bothering me so much that it’s affecting my writing. I know you’re always telling us that we are the worst judges of our own work and I remind myself of that often, but this made me realize that I’ve been an idiot. I generally don’t care what others think about me as a person, but apparently I’ve been caring what others think about my stories. Damn it. Keep reminding us, Dean. It seems that I for one need it.
Great advice, Dean, per usual. BTW, Patrice Caldwell of ENMU asked me to say hello to you and Kris for her. She recalled the two of you being on campus several years ago.
She is wonderful, tell her we said “Hi” back.
I just finished a course on LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com) on Competitive Strategy. It talked about deep customer alignment with your product and made me think about who my customer is. Answer: Me. I’m the first customer, because if I don’t like it, how can anyone else? Doesn’t mean it’s perfect, doesn’t mean it’s a break out best seller, it just means that I am satisfied I’ve done my best possible work (this time) and I’m more likely to buy (write) another one.
This is so true, and I’m glad I started listening to Dean & Kris in Jan 2019.
Back when I was begging agents for validation (a mere couple of years ago), I got zero requests for a manuscript. Prior to it, I’d had numerous near-misses, so had I lost it? Was the book that bad? I showed the opening to an agent at a conference, and he said my writing was great but he doubted anyone had read my pages… because dragons were an auto-reject. He gave me his card and asked me to submit my next (dragonless) work to him.
Well, I independantly published that book in June. In less than 4 months, it’s sold 1,000 copies at full price and I’ve recieved some adoring fan mail. I’ve kept the royalites off every sale… and will do so for the life of the copyright… and then my kids get to enjoy those royalites when I’m gone.
Your readers are out there, readers who want to know what YOUR dragons are like, how YOUR vampires behave, the struggles in YOUR regency romance. You can’t tell how good a book is or is not, and absolutely don’t pay for a ‘professional’ to discourage you. Publish it, let it find its people, and then be so happy writing the next story that you barely notice.
I’m relieved that I’ve been able to ditch this one ( my critical voice is still strong in other areas). But it applies to most other art forms as well. Will you not paint a landscape of autumnal trees because it’s been done before? And think of music. I like Simon and Garfunkel as much as the next person. But Disturbed’s version of The Sounds of Silence (live version on Conan) is so kick-ass it leaves me breathless. It’s quite obviously the same song. But with metal overtones? It’s amazing.
Your presentation of any old idea always has the potential of becoming ‘the best’ version as you’ve never told that particular story before. And the readers out there have never seen your version either. Give yourself a chance.
I will simply say, thank you for this. It is timely for me.
The biggest problem with the entire “writing to market” meme (whether to do it or not) is that it presumes knowing the market. And in turn, that presumes being able to accurately define “the market” in the first place.
It’s one thing to have a market for books in “first year general chemistry” and “introductory multivariate calculus” and “intermediate macroeconomics.” Those are reasonably well-defined markets, although they all have variations that support multiple entrants (by my count, there were seventeen general chemistry texts in 2010 that could expect sales of more than 2,500 copies for that academic year, and none of them had more than a 20% market share). But once one starts moving into fiction, one discovers that very, very few books fit one and only one marketing category or other definition of “market.” Consider, for example, The Tale of the Genji. Is it “romance”? “Japanese fiction”? Something else? And is it part of the same market as, say, Shogun?
The whole “write to market” thing comes down to “find what’s currently selling a lot and write books just like that, always keeping up with what is hot and changing to suit”, otherwise known as writing to trend. It’s [i]a[/i] market, it’s not [i]the[./] market. The market is huge, the billions of people who read books. It’s not a monolithic, only buys one thing, group. If it was, there would only be one kind of anything you can think of, like laundry detergent, type of vegetables, brand of clothes and so on.
Are some things harder to sell than others? Sure. It’s like that with everything. Poetry isn’t easy, nor or memoirs, indies are still working hard to sell well in children’s books. As long as that’s understood, do what you want, with the expectation that you likely won’t be earning a living from it (not that most writers do, or ever did).
Open eyes, open mind, knowledge and the drive to tell stories.