Writing for market is not selling out (how to write books that sell)

Writing for market is not selling out (how to write books that sell)

For the past year, authors have been skeptical of the way I’m writing and marketing my books.

They are skeptical of giving away my books for free, which I’ve done, and also trying to write and publish books quickly that satisfy a particular market. There are reasons for their skepticism, but they are mostly based on the romantic ideology that Great Work must be created in a long, slow, passion-fueled furnace cut off from the real world of readers, markets and trends.

My response continues to be:

Your book has no value if readers don’t enjoy it.

In other words, unless you are writing a book that readers enjoy, review well and share, it doesn’t matter why you wrote it or how you wrote it.

It only matters how it’s received. You may argue that deciding what is True Art shouldn’t be left up to the uneducated masses; and that’s fine, if you want to write for pleasure and inspiration and don’t actually want to make a living. Or you may argue that you only enjoy it if you do it your way.

Most authors write the books they want to write, and then try to market them, and spend far more than they make. (By “most” I mean over 90% – so it’s likely this will be you, unless you very deliberately try to do better… but all authors are trying to do better.)

In my recent book, Guerrilla Publishing, I talk a lot about how pursuing the money is the easiest way to write books that readers want and enjoy. Money does not come from following the art or the passion. Money comes from satisfying a lot of readers. I definitely disagree with the idea that writers shouldn’t think about the money (who is going to buy their book when they finish it). 

For me,

1. writing for money
2. satisfying readers
3. writing the best book I possibly can

Is all the same thing. It’s not a choice between them.



Unfortunately, many authors awesome books written quickly or written to market must be terrible.

I’ve gotten comments like, I don’t respect or value my readership because I’m not focused on creating high quality books; or that my sell-through rates must be terrible if I’m producing books to market quickly (which must be shit, right?). But I’m now earning a living with my fiction and have over 500 reviews, and an email list of about 25K fans… I think it’s a mistake to assume it’s all because of marketing, or that my books aren’t objectively, quantifiable ‘good’ just because my production method goes against the grain of romantic ideologies.

The main thing is, I don’t think this is just a difference of opinion and authors can freely do what’s most comfortable to them. This exact difference opinion is the reason many authors cannot make money from their books (the people who are happily making an income and enjoying their writing career don’t need to shift their mindset). If it’s working for you and you’re happy, great – but if you’d like to be doing better, especially if you believe you’re doing everything right but it’s just not working (ie the game is rigged against you) this is almost always the issue behind it.

I can teach book marketing, but it won’t help unless authors are willing to go into it with the most beneficial mindset.

People get angry at me sometimes for threatening their beliefs about creativity, but I don’t accept that all beliefs are equally valid or true. I think beliefs are more or less functional. They work well enough, until they don’t, then you need to find a new one. I used to believe in the romantic ideology of creative production as well – and I spent 10 years as a starving artist.

Now I make a living doing what I love, and it’s amazing. But it wasn’t accidental.






  • Becky Doughty Posted

    Brilliant. This is exactly spot on. Preach.

  • Jane Ann McLachlan Posted

    Right on, Derek. Who are we to think we get to tell others what they “should” read? Better to give them our very best of what they want to read. Shakespeare first entertained. He wrote genre fiction – Historical Fiction, Romance, Comedy, Suspense, Ghost stories, and Fantasy – NOT morality plays or traditional “literature”. He wrote what people wanted to read. Then he wrote them so brilliantly even the snobs were quoting him. So write entertainment that people want to read, and write it so brilliantly you ‘accidentally’ elevate your readers.

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