Thursday, March 5, 2015

Write to the Market or Your Heart? by Michelle Griep

Sometimes there’s a fine line between writing what you love and writing what sells. Sometimes a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon.

Let’s say you spend a year constructing a story. It's somewhat of an intricate plot. The characters are flavorful and well developed. Your voice is strong. The writing is as well. You know all this because of feedback you've received from editors. All is good—except your story is more Dickens than Austen. It's a little edgier, a little darker, spending more time on the streets of London than in the ballrooms and dining halls. There is a publisher willing to pick it up—if you completely change the plot and focus on high society instead of the vulgar commoners.

Would you rewrite the book? Should you?

This dilemma is one of the most common predicaments facing writers, and in fact, one I faced in my recent release Brentwood’s Ward. Should an author write to fit the market or stay true to her inner self? This isn't a problem for those who are Austen or Amish or a zombie on the inside (or whatever the current trend is), but for the rebel at heart, this issue is a constant demon to battle.

I contend unless you write a story you're passionate about, one you really love, then your lackluster attitude is going to show through. While it’s tempting to pen something to get your foot in the door at a publishing house, jumping on the current bandwagon isn’t necessarily the best way to go. Writing about a topic you don’t have a passion for is going to show up in your voice, kind of like a white-bread country singer attempting some hoodrat rap. It’s hard to disguise. And honestly, who's got time to read a milquetoast novel? Who would even want to?

It’s tricky to find a marketable niche where you feel comfortable. How in the world does one accomplish this?

Focus on a theme and/or truth that fires you up.
If your central message falls flat, it doesn't matter what genre you've chosen to write in. It will fail. Does the act of forgiveness make your heart beat faster? Unconditional love? Conformity? The injustice of throwing away a perfectly good grilled cheese sandwich just because it’s a little burnt on one side? Enthusiasm about a message has a way of getting your creative juices flowing.

Think about traditional mainstream genres that could work with your theme.

Don’t worry. You’re only brainstorming at this stage. You're not making any vows here, but simply exercising your authorly flexibility—which is way easier than contorting your body into a forearm-stand scorpion pose. (Go ahead and Google it. You know you want to.)

Ponder some of your favorite stories.
The tales that have stuck with you throughout the years. What are the plots of the novels you love? Imagine those plots in a different genre. Same story, just different trappings.

Write down a two to three sentence story idea in one of those mainstream genres.
Such as: romance, mystery, contemporary, historical, etc.

That's all. Now set that piece of paper aside. Pick it up next week and see how you feel about it. Either that idea will have grown on you by then, or chuck it aside and repeat the process. Eventually you will land on a story that resonates with you on the inside while being something more marketable than Regency Amish Zombie Aliens. Run that story idea by an agent or editor before you commit to writing the entire manuscript. If their eyes light up, you've got a winner that just might sell and a story that's coming from your heart.

Like what you read? There’s more. WRITER OFF THE LEASH: GROWING IN THE WRITING CRAFT is a kick in the pants for anyone who wants to write but is stymied by fear, doubt, or simply doesn’t know how to take their writing to the next level.

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. Follow her adventures and find out about upcoming new releases at her blog, Writer Off the Leash, or stop by her website. You can also find her at the usual haunts of Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.