Where Your Passion Meets the Market
Recently, I wrote a post about building a long-term writing career (Are You in this for the Long Haul?). In my list of
things writers can do to develop a long-haul career, I said:
Pay attention to where your passion intersects with the market.
I want to expand on that because it’s so crucial. Most writers start out writing what interests them (obviously) which is the way it should be. But things change once you transition from writing for fun to writing for fun & profit. The profit part requires you think about what you can sell.
I often hear writers debating whether it’s best to write what you love, or try to write to the market. I think this is a false dichotomy. You need both.
As a writer, you’re probably interested in a variety of topics and genres. So if you want to sell books, it’s a good idea to identify which of your favorites are doing well in the market, and go in that direction.
Sometimes you don’t need to think about this until you reach a point where whatever you’re doing isn’t working. When you’re just starting out and putting your first books or queries out there, you should start with whatever you’ve got. But if you’re not having the success you want, maybe it’s time to look at what you’re writing and how well it fits with where the market is. Is there another topic or genre that you enjoy just as much, and is selling better?
I’ve had this conversation with several of my clients who have books published, but the market is changing and they need to reconsider their direction. One client was writing in the parenting category, but parenting doesn’t sell much anymore, so we brainstormed to find out what else she is interested in writing about, that would still capitalize on her brand, but would sell better. I’ve had a couple of other clients who wrote a specific genre of fiction, and when the market became glutted with that genre, made a slight transition into a related genre that would be more likely to sell, and that they enjoyed just as much.
The concept applies across all walks of life: you can follow your passion as long as you’re not expecting to get paid for it. But when you’re going into business, other considerations besides passion are necessary—like what you can sell.
Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams had an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal in which he goes so far as to say, “forget about passion.” He points out that a successful venture actually increases your passion for it, but if you’re working on something that’s failing, your passion will fade. He advocates more of a work-horse mentality: create a business that works, and when you start to see success, you’ll be passionate about it.
For most people, it’s easy to be passionate about things that are working out, and that distorts our impression of the importance of passion. I’ve been involved in several dozen business ventures over the course of my life, and each one made me excited at the start. You might even call it passion. The ones that didn’t work out—and that would be most of them—slowly drained my passion as they failed. The few that worked became more exciting as they succeeded. ~Scott Adams
Whether or not you agree with Adams, the point is still the same:
If you want to create a lasting writing career, continually pay attention to where your passion overlaps with what is selling.
Don’t get caught asking pointless questions, like, “Should I follow my passion or follow the market?” Do both!