This week, an aspiring author friend contacted me to ask whether I thought a market exists for a certain type of book. I don’t begrudge the question. I’ve been there, too. Wondering if it’s worth putting so much time and energy in a project that’s doomed in the market. It’s not an unfair or unnecessary question. But it does miss a larger issue.
It’s so easy to get sidetracked by the noise. Between the internal critic who likes to tell you you’re a hack or you’re wasting your time and the cacophony of voices shouting about the publishing industry, it’s so easy to lose your nerve. That is, unless you are always mindful of the number one rule for all writers. Ready?
You control the words.
You don’t control the market. You don’t control readers’ preferences. You don’t control the publisher or the prevailing format in which your stories will eventually be published.
You control the words.
Chasing genre trends or writing based on what you think will be popular, is a sure way to either fail or get lost in a shuffle. So I would submit to you that your goal should not be to follow trends, but to start them. And you do that by writing what turns you on. You do that by writing in your true voice. You do that by exploring the shadowy edges of your own fears.
Look, I get it. It’s scary to do those things. No one wants to prod the wounds of their psyches to entertain others without some kind of assurance or safety net. But you know what? Everything is a gamble. It’s all a huge game of chicken. That’s terrifying but also incredibly thrilling. If it was easy and safe, it wouldn’t appeal to the daredevil in every writer. The perverse voice in our minds that urges us to share our truths. To say the things in our fiction we wouldn’t dare say in polite company.
My challenge for you today is to let go of the things you can’t control and embrace those things you can. You control the words. That means you can either be a disciplinarian who forces the words to behave and line up in a neat row that will fit into someone else’s formula of what is a sale-able story. Or you can set fire to those words and let them burn up the page.
Either way you may fail. That’s truth. Not sure about you, but I’d prefer failure come on the heels of a period of passionate work than one in which I wrote something on someone else’s terms.
You control the words. Let that empower you. Don’t let the bullshit noise of the market and the doubt in your head prevent you from kicking ass on the page. Time spent worrying about a contract for a book you haven’t even written is a huge waste of time and energy. But you know what’s never a waste of time? Writing.
Go write your ass off. The rest will sort itself out.