“Don’t Write to the Market.” So says writer turned agent Jill Corcoran during her break out session entitled, “Choosing Clients, Agenting their Work and the Evolving Market“.
Actually so said just about every editor, agent, writer, and illustrator asked about this subject during the conference. Usually it followed with this next statement: “But be aware of the market”.
There is a very important difference.
To be aware of the market, you should be aware of what type of books are currently being published (interpret this as another reason to READ, READ, READ!!!!) if for no other reason, so you’ll know which houses have acquired an abundance of vampire dystopian love stories and not make the mistake of sending your vampire dystopian love story to the house that already has ten on the best sellers’ lists. Give them something they haven’t seen.
Because they’ve been flooded with too many manuscripts trying to catch the trends that have already ended. It’s not that they didn’t love these stories, they just probably bought all of the vampire/dystopian manuscripts they wanted years ago. Yes, I did say years ago.
That leads into why you should not write a manuscript slanted toward a certain genre or storyline just to cash in on a current trend you see that’s selling like mad. Agent Linda Pratt of the Wernick & Pratt Literary Agency explained during the Agent Panel that it takes the average book 14 months to come out AFTER you’ve delivered the FINAL finished product to your editor. That’s over a year! And that’s not after you’ve signed your publishing contract, oh, no! that’s after all of your work on the manuscript is completely done. Talk about a heavy dose of reality. My good friend Barbra Lowell was sitting next to me and whispered to me, as I sat there stunned, that for picture books it’s more like two years.
So one can see that during the months – nay, years sometimes – that it takes you to write your initial first draft, revise it and revise it again, submit your completed polished manuscript to prospective agents or editors, receive that initial publishing agreement, work on the multiple edits for your editor, then finally reach that glorious release day you’ve always dream of, any trend you’ve tried to capture will be long gone.
Write what you love. Write what you are passionate about; write your own story. You have to spend so much time creating it, shouldn’t that time be spent on something you care about? Editor Neal Porter, who works at Roaring Brook Press, discussed in the Editor Panel that every time he’s published a book based on market potential versus really loving a project, “It’s been a disaster”. He suggests to writers that they please themselves and NOT write to the trends.
So what if your own story, the one that you’re truly passionate about, IS a vampire dystopian love story? I might suggest you put it in a drawer and work on something else for awhile. If you just can’t bring yourself to stop working on it, or if when you come back to it, you still feel that passionate about it, then find a way to make it original. You can start by knowing the market and knowing what’s already out there and for heaven’s sake, do your research. Find that one agent who really, really wants a vampire dystopian love story; don’t send it out to anyone who isn’t asking for it. They’ll reject it so fast it’ll make your head spin and your heart ache.
Author/illustrator Antoinette Portis gave a good example of how to take inspiration from the market and create something new when discussing the market in the Picture Book Panel. She said to, “Be aware of new openings”. She said that when Mo Willems talked directly to the reader in Don’t Let the Pigeon Ride the Bus, “It was really abstract. He created a new opening – a new style. It’s great to develop yourself that way”. You cannot copy this, but you can find inspiration from it an adapt it to your own style.
What do you think about writing to the market? Are there any redeeming qualities that the editors and agents overlooked? Are you an avid reader in the genre you are writing?
To help you find some of your own inspiration to write that classic children’s novel, the next post will be about enduring stories and what makes a book timeless. Until then, keep writing!