I hear a lot of confusion about writing to market and writing to trend. In this post, I'm going to explain MY personal view and my experience with both writing to market and writing to trend: how they're different, how they're related, and help you figure out what's right for YOU.
Chris Fox coined the term "write to market" and talks about it in his book called ... (wait for it) ... Write to Market. In the Introduction, Fox states that the book will teach you "how to analyze the market, and to use that information to write a book that readers want." (Check out the book HERE.)
Often, writers start out by writing that story that's in their head. They have that one idea that they just can't shake, or the story they HAVE to tell. That's writing for love and it's author-centric.
Writing to market shifts the focus from the author to the reader. What does the READER want?
I mean, we all WANT them to want that story that's been on our heart to write, but that isn't always the case. (There are, of course, happy accidents where this happens, sometimes in a big way.) We learn what the readers want when we study the trends of what's selling on Amazon.
Indie authors can do this better, because we don't need two years to publish a book once it's done. I've decided to write a book to market and had it published in six weeks. It's a little harder if you're hoping to secure an agent, because if you study what's hot NOW, realize that in a few years when your book has been through the whole process, it won't be hot anymore.
So, we clear on the idea of writing to market? Study what readers are buying. Find a space that's selling and that you also love. Write that.
I want to be CLEAR about this before we continue. Writing to market is not selling out. Most people who write to market find a market selling well that they LIKE. But even if not, even if you're an author who needs to write in a market they don't LOVE because you have a mortgage to pay, THAT'S OKAY.
Some people write for the love. Some for money. And some for both.
I'm okay with all three of those choices. As long as you're okay with YOUR choices, then go on with your bad self.
But I want to be VERY clear that if you think "writing to market" is a dirty term, this probably isn't the space for you. Or, maybe you should reframe the conversation. Remember that writers are writing for themselves, but also for readers. Writing to market is serving readers what they want to read.
If that's wrong, maybe I don't want to be right.
Writing to trend is something that I hear people talking around a lot, but it's not always called the same thing by different people. To me, writing to trend is taking the principles of writing to market, but applying them to a particular niche, genre, or trend that is HOT now ... and may or may not stay hot for long periods of time.
As I'm writing this, there is a hot trend for bully romance. Essentially, that's just what it sounds like. A guy (or group of guys) bullies a girl and she falls in love with him/them anyway. Not my fave trend (kind of an extreme example of the enemies to lovers trope) but one that went WILD this year and has made some authors serious bank.
Will this be around next year? Gosh, I hope not. But who knows. Another trend in romance (reverse harem-- one main girl with a bunch of male lovers) was thought to be a hot trend and is still going strong years later. There is a big tie between reverse harem and bully romance.
You don't always know how long a trend will last or when it will fizzle out. But trends tend to show up more suddenly, become THE thing, and might gain ground or lose steam. For a little while, at least, their star burns brighter and hotter than the others.
And they can make a LOT of money if you can hop on while they're hot.
When I launched my Emma St. Clair pen name, my goal was to write to market. I made some mistakes (notably in covers and some tropes early on) but quickly figured out that romance needs a happy ending (ha!) and that adult clean romance readers like faces on covers, while photos without faces tend to be either more women's fiction or YA fiction.
My first few books eventually had the right covers, the right tropes, and met expectations in a market that was selling well. They did fine. I went from making $30 a month to $300 a month to over $1000 a month.
While marketing and doing all this research, I kept seeing billionaire books. They were everywhere. I tend to NOT be a trendy person, so it made me eye-roll-y. I'm also not super swayed by dudes with lots of money.
Despite my annoyance, one day I had an idea for a billionaire book. I wrote it fast. And when I launched it (COMPLETELY to market and according to the billionaire trend), in under a month, it outsold what my first two books made COMBINED over the previous three months total.
THAT is the power of writing to trend vs writing to market. Writing to market may have hungry readers, but writing to trend is hitting on a hot button trope, idea, theme, niche, or genre that has VERY voracious readers gobbling up that particular kind of book on a likely more limited time frame.
Like Veruca Salt, they want it and they want it NOW. If you can serve up that golden goose, you've written to trend and may find some solid success.
Finding hot trends is not hard, but can be time consuming. It means spending a lot of time on Amazon, looking at categories you like (again, the goal is writing something you like that also sells) to see what readers are buying.
Narrow it down to a few categories you're interested in writing in, then spend some time watching what's selling in the top 20 of those categories.
You'll want to look at:
And that's just a start. What are the top twenty books in a category doing? What is the rank of the first book in the top twenty? What's the rank of the LAST book in the top twenty?
I already linked to it above, but you can check out my post Niche It Down a Notch to see my slideshow presentation I did on studying categories. You can also check out K-Lytics (affiliate link!), which has paid and free resources based on Amazon data, broken down by specific niches and categories. I first started writing clean romance after studying keywords in a program called Publisher Rocket (affiliate link!), which showed me how many people were searching for Christmas Romances.
You're trying to find a sweet spot: a market or trend that sells well, but not so well you can't break in.
Any category where the top twenty is all traditionally published books (or super well-established indies) or all in the top 5000 will be a challenge. Any category where the number one book is 5000 or above is not going to make you a lot of money.
If you're hanging out in other author groups by genre, you'll also see what kinds of books authors are talking about and promoting. Sometimes I'll spot the trends there first.
The thing about writing to market is that the demand for bigger niches is more long-lasting. I believe that clean romance overall will be around for a while. Billionaire books? They're still selling, but my sales have started to flag. Sometimes they get too crowded and readers get tired. Sometimes new trends come along and get so hot they push the others out.
I'm currently writing paranormal academy books right now under the pen name Sullivan Gray. (Think boarding schools for magical creatures.) This is a hot trend right now. But are people ever really tired of vampire books? No. They trend hot, then die down, but they never really go away. (JUST LIKE ACTUAL VAMPIRES.) Indie author Bella Forrest may have started near the Twilight hot trend, but she's still making a killing with a 70-book vampire series. And the next time vampires trend HOT, those books can burn bright again too.
All this to say: if you're chasing a hot trend, the books will have more longevity if they fit a broader market as well and can still SERVE those readers when the trend isn't hot. If there is ever a backlash against billionaire (in small groups, there totally is), I could rebrand and retitle my books and they would STILL fit well in the broader clean romance market with other tropes and conventions. There are more CLASSIC elements to the trendy books.
If you want to write to market or go further and write to a hot trend, hang out on Amazon. Talk to other authors. Study. Be a little nerdy. READ books.
Then see if you can find a sweet spot for books you love to write and books readers love to read. Make sure the elements of your books match the ones in the market AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. Cover especially. Readers should glance at your book and KNOW where it fits or if they want to read it.