Help Selling More Books – The Write to Market Concept is Crap

So yeah, that’s a total clickbait headline. It’s also not true. But it kinda is. Like so many things, the concept of Write to Market has diverged from its original core values into a set of weird “truths” and market and career advice ideas that it has turned into a whole messianic movement.

Let’s start with a basic question – What is “Write to Market?” Chris Fox, a successful midlist genre fiction author, wrote a series of books about how to be a successful author, focusing on many of the things that I tell new and aspiring writers to focus on – writing speed, production speed, don’t get caught up in revising forever, produce the work, you’ll sell more in a popular genre than in a niche genre – all very level-headed, common sense advice. These books caught on, and some people managed to take the tips and tricks that Chris write in these books and turn them into some very successful series, almost overnight.

EDIT – So Chris came on to comment and clear up some of my inaccuracies. According to Chris, and I have no reason to doubt him, he sold enough copies of his book written with the Write to Market theory to hit the NY Times list. I believe him, and congratulate him on that success. I think it’s awesome. My guess that his non-fiction stuff outsold his fiction stuff came from five minute of looking over his ranks on one series. I apparently missed the stuff that sold the best. My bad. He says he outsells me, which puts him in good company. Rock on. I am sincerely happy whenever anyone sells books. Chris obviously sells a lot of fiction, which does lend more credence to the words that he preaches. It does not, however, change the fact that most of the people advocating write to market are not saying the same things he’s saying, and are saying that you can write crap and make money. I still think that’s a load of shit. 

Good for them. That’s awesome.

Then a lot of other people looked at it, decided that it was a great way to make a lot of money in the easy life of a writer, and it all went to shit.

Let me clarify something before I go much further. One, when I call Chris Fox a successful midlist genre fiction author, please don’t consider that any type of insult. I briefly looked at the rankings of his fiction books on Amazon, and it looks like he sells some books. Probably a decent number. Rock on. To me, that puts him in the same category as me and most of my peers who haven’t made it onto a major bestseller list.

But just like a couple years ago people were holding Hugh Howey up as the messiah of all things self-pub, nowadays Write to Market is the Hot New Thing. It’s the Guaranteed Way to Quit Your Day Job and Live the Easy Life of a Novelist! But here’s the thing – that’s a load of shit.

No, I don’t work a day job. No, I am not wearing pants write now, at 3PM. No, I didn’t have to call in to anyone all week the I felt like refried ass and didn’t want to work because I had a stomach bug.

I also don’t know how much money I’m going to make from month to month, I work as many weekends as I do weekdays, and I put in as many hours at work now as I did when I was a middle manager with a dozen people reporting to me. So I don’t have a day job, but unlike some folks, I’m not cruising around on my boat butt-nekkid waiting for my movie to come out.

Don’t visualize. There is no Visine for the mind’s eye.

Please understand – a lot of Chris Fox’s principles are things I agree with. Yes, you need to write fast. Yes, you should probably start your career working in a genre that people will actually read. Yes, you should do some market research before you launch a book. I’ve said many times, in many places, that the idea of writing a book and just letting it float out there on its own is one that should have died when Salinger did. But really, it should have died with Dickinson.

The problem is, nowadays you have a lot of people jumping in the “write to market” pool, looking to make a quick buck. So there’s a lot of folks on lots of internet sites focusing on analyzing market trends, looking for hot genres to capitalize on, talking about forgoing editing in favor of computerized proofreading tools (It’s a TRAP!), and how a good cover and solid story will make up for all the weaknesses in your craft.

Those people are full of shit and will either change their tune or will be out of this industry in a very short time.

While it’s possible to look at a popular genre without a ton of competition in it, dissect the tropes of the successful books in the genre and write a formulaic book to hit all the buttons and sell a bunch of copies, is that really any way to build a career?

Let’s say I want to make a pile of money selling books. I hear that shifter romance is hot, so I decide to write a shifter romance. I buy twenty or so of the bestselling books in that genre, read them, understand the story beats, figure out how they’re put together, and plot out a six-book shifter romance of my own. I write them as fast as I can, pay nominal attention to the editing and the craft, get a decent cover, put the books up on Amazon, and watch the money roll in.

I can probably make a decent chunk of change over the next six months doing that. Then the winds change, the genre cools, and I have to chase the next trend. Again and again and again. How often can you stand to do that? At what point are you no longer doing the thing that made it fun to write in the first place – creating? How long can you stand to follow that mechanical process before it becomes as mind-numbing as the day job you were dying to leave in the first place?

That’s kinda my point, and why I say that despite the fact that Chris’s original principles are things that I think people can apply to successful career creation, the bandwagon-jumpers who are looking to make a quick buck are missing the whole point of writing to market – writing.

You can go online and find a lot of people telling you that editing doesn’t matter, that a good story is all that matters. They’ll point you to a dozen big-selling indie authors whose books are really mediocre as far as the craft, and those folks are moving huge numbers.

Today.

Come back to me in ten years and let me know how those folks are doing. Because I’m seven years into this journey, and I’ve figured a few things out. One of them is that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and most of the “overnight successes” that I’ve known haven’t been that overnight at all. So if I’d rather listen to advice from folks like Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch and Kevin J. Anderson and Faith Hunter and Chuck Gannon and Ed Schubert, who have been in the business for decades by now, then maybe I’ll just stick with those folks.

The thing is – you can jump on a bandwagon and make a pile of money. But you won’t make millions. You won’t make the kind of money that lets you jump on a boat and sail naked around the world (unless you catch lightning in a bottle). You can make enough money to make a living by dissecting a trend and writing to a trend, then jumping to the next trend and doing it all over again, ad nauseum.

But you can also make a living by writing the books you want to write, as well as you can possibly write them, about whatever the hell you want to write about. I wrote a book about Sasquatch’s dick. Robert Bevan has a whole series about poop jokes and killing horses. Rick Gualtieri, Drew Hayes, and I have ALL written very different books about nerdy vampires. Joe Brassey has a book coming out about sky pirates. These are all successful authors. These are all people writing whatever the fuck they want to write, working hard on their craft, putting out the best product they know how to produce, and putting food on the table while they do it. And I would lay a lot more money on these guy being around in five years than on any of the latest get rich quick schemers that want to write shifter porn just because it’s the hot thing right now.

So to close – Chris Fox had some good ideas, and did a great job of branding himself as an expert on selling books. So much so that his books on how to sell books outsell all of his fiction, so good job. But then a bunch of people who want to shortcut the learning of craft have taken his ideas and turned them into bullet points and now are waving flags for WRITE TO MARKET IS THE ONLY WAY TO MAKE TEH MONEYZ OMG U CAN MAKE TEH MILLIONZ 2MORROW!. So read Chris’s books. There are some good ideas there. You probably do need to write faster, and you probably do need to focus your efforts on a more popular genre rather than writing that antebellum retelling of the Mahabharata set in a far-future Venutian colony.

But you don’t need to cut out your editing. You don’t need to not learn the craft. And you sure as balls don’t need to turn your dream of being a writer into another soulless day job where all you do is dissect someone else’s creativity and regurgitate it for money. That kind of assembly-line shit will get old real fast.

And if you’re looking for advice on how to sell books – make sure the person giving the advice sells more books of fiction than books on HOW TO SELL fiction. Because the folks that have walked the walk, can talk the talk.

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6 thoughts on “Help Selling More Books – The Write to Market Concept is Crap

  1. Hey there, John! I’m Chris Fox, and I came to clear up some of your inaccuracies. You threw a lot of rocks in my direction, but you did precisely zero fact checking. As you can imagine, I’m less than thrilled.

    First, you said that I sell more non-fiction that fiction. That is patently false, as you can see with a simple glance at my Amazon author page. I make my money in fiction. Because I deal with authors like you on a fairly regular basis, I took the time to record an income video showing proof of this. Here it is:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Evfuyy4XU78

    My last fiction release sailed up to #200 in the entire store, and sold 2,000 copies the first week. My last non-fiction reached #2,000 and has sold less than 2,000 copies total. I make my money selling novels, just like you.

    Since you took the time to stalk my books, I did the same to yours. I won’t out your ranks, or number of reviews, but suffice it to say that I’m selling more copies. Not just in the written to market series, mind you. I have some of those. I also have a post-apocalyptic, archeological series quite unlike anything out there that sells pretty well too.

    But, since you’re holding me up as the Write To Market guy, let’s talk about that. If you’d read the book you’d understand that to do this successfully you need to:

    #1- Pick a genre that you absolutely love
    #2- Determine that the genre has enough readership to earn you a living
    #3- Write great books in that genre, which requires you to have excellent craft.

    Never have I advocated bad craft. Never have I suggested you don’t need to be growing or learning. I’ve never once suggested that you can skate by with bad books. Quite the opposite. What I’ve taught is, write a great book in a hot market to help you learn your craft. Eventually, you’ll have a large enough readership to support whatever you want to write.

    I’m fine with you being anti-write to market. I completely agree that all the people jumping on the bandwagon are in for a rude awakening when their genre crumbles. But if you’re going to drag my name through the mud, at least take the time to get your facts straight.

  2. I’m not necessarily anti write-to-market. I just don’t think it’s the be-all end-all of career building. And while I might not have been flattering, I don’t think I dragged your name too far through the mud. I did tell folks to buy the book, and that I liked a fair chunk of your theories. I apologize for my inaccuracies, I looked up one series that apparently is either by another Chris Fox or is not representative of your overall success. Congrats on your sales.

  3. You referenced my name several times in an article decrying authors who skip editing, and turn out crappy books. That kind of association is, in my mind, dragging my name through the mud. That’s why I felt the need to speak out. You clearly don’t know me, or much about me.

  4. So, as a disinterested party, after reading this article I would say that there are times in which John specifically separates Chris (as the originator of the Write to Market book) from the people who have taken his ideas and run with them (cut editing, write crap to make money). But there also seem to be a few places where the two are implied to be the same (or at least not specifically differentiated), or else it is implied that Chris at least enabled the write-crap-make-money heralds. But, overall, the article does not leave me with the impression that Chris is a bad author, gives bad advice, or really anything negative except that John doesn’t like what other people have done with Chris’s advice.

    Now, that’s just my takeaway, but, Chris: I find this article making me more, not less, impressed with your work, John actually compliments you multiple times and points out your successes; and John: while I COMPLETELY feel your pain with the write-crap-make-money crowd (OMG those shifter porn books make me so frustrated. Don’t even get me started on 50 shades), if you really meant to only rag on the write-crap-make-money crowd, only mentioning Chris Fox as the originator of a book that might have been taken too far, you probably should have gone further to hold Chris up as a model of a successful indie author and made a more clear distinction between his original advice, and what other people have done with it. I really appreciate you writing an article pointing out successful authors who wrote what they wanted, whether it was to market or not (though of course it would have to be to some extent, because tons of people bought their books, which meant there was a market for it). That gives me hope, since I’m not too good at the whole write to market thing. Chris and John, keep rockin’ on. I had some good takeaways from this little tete-a-tete, hopefully others will too.

  5. John and Chris are both friends of mine, so I’m glad this has stayed friendly and civil. FWIW, I think they agree more than disagree, but neither of them realizes that. We have a problem in the indie world today when it comes to certain definitions and terms being ill-defined; this lends itself to confusion like what’s happened here.

    I wrote something really, really long as a response, and then thought it made no sense to dump several pages of text onto each other their response threads, so I posted it to my site instead. Consider it my addition to this ongoing discussion, and an attempt to clarify some terms and meanings – most crucially, the difference between writing to trend and writing to market.

    https://www.kevinomclaughlin.com/blog/2017/6/30/will-the-real-write-to-market-please-stand-up-or-why-youre-probably-doing-it-wrong

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