The idea of writing to market is considered by some to be selling out and so being untrue to your creative spirit. And some people do take it to that extreme, but it doesn’t have to be.
To my mind what it means to write to market is to write your story being aware of what other stories are out there and how they are doing. As I wrote in my previous post on the importance of genre your book needs to fit within the other books out there. You need to include similar tropes and concepts or your readers will be upset. And upset readers don’t read any more of your books.
At its extreme writing to market is trend following – spotting what is now hot on Amazon and churning out similar books as quickly as you can to take advantage of the readers looking for more stories similar to those they’ve read.
But that doesn’t mean you have to give up what gives you joy about writing. The trick is to find the convergence – the point where your enthusiasm and creative energy overlap with what the readers are looking for. It is a way to choose between multiple story ideas to find the most profitable.
If what you are interested in is selling books to make a profit and have a bestseller then you need to have some idea of what the market looks like. An idea of what the best books in your chosen genre look like so you can put your own twists on what they do. Make the tropes your own.
How to write to market
The first step is to look at what you want to write and work out where it fits in Amazon. (I’m focusing on Amazon as they are the biggest book seller, but the same can apply to other retailers too. And if you have a large audience in a country other than the USA then you’ll need to consider the Amazon, and other, marketplaces for that country. Though likely it will be similar to Amazon US.) Which of the hundreds of sub-sub categories are the best for it. You can list your book in up to ten sub-categories, but there should be one that is the main focus.
Then look at the books in that category – the bestsellers, the hot new releases, the most wished for and most gifted. See which ones are comparable titles to yours. Look at their covers, blurbs, the first chapters (often available through look inside), the reviews, and the whole book for some of them. Think about what they have in common, what works and what doesn’t.
Lastly, consider how to apply that to your story. If all the books have an enemies to lovers trope how could you do that but differently. You want your story to conform and yet also be original. Which is as difficult as it sounds.
You don’t need to chase the market in order to write to it, but you do need to be aware of what readers expect from books in your genre. Write what you love, but do it in a way to maximise your sales. Make it easier to promote and find your readers by choosing a cover and writing a blurb that appeals to the fans of those other books you’ve identified. Make it easy for your ideal reader to find it and fit it in with their other books.
Writing to market is a market analysis of what books are currently doing well, and then fitting your ideas into that space. It’s not about changing your ideas to fit with the current trend. you need to find the point(s) of convergence.
Writing to market can be tricky for sure. Even though it’s been ages since it came out, and he never read them, my hubs still asks me every now and then when I’m going to write the ‘next Harry Potter’. It helps that self-publishing is now available and writers don’t have to wait years before their book works their way through the trad pub system.
As you’ve pointed out, a better option is to figure out what genre your chosen topic fits into, and research that genre well. Marketing research is also handy. There are some apps out there that show you sales based on keywords. That’s handy for finding niches within your genre that are perhaps under-served and therefore ripe for new books.