Writing To The Market

There’s nothing about writing that isn’t related to personal development, even if it’s only by the smallest degree.  Case in point: this whole question of writing to the market.

Every serious novelist hears this when they first seek expert advice on how to get published.  Find your genre, lump your story in, and write to that audience.  That’s the conventional wisdom.

Still, this whole “writing to the market” nugget goes well beyond fiction, and addresses bigger questions: who am I? Who do I want to be?

I recently wrote a sample of promotional copy for my freelance portfolio.  I posted it on a public forum, and got some good reviews.  One piece of feedback, though, said that it was too long.  As a novelist, I’m a marathon runner: it’s hard to switch back to sprinting, so I’m quite used to the “shorten it down” feedback by now.

But that got me thinking: why is “short” the new conventional wisdom?   Attention span, of course.  You can measure the attention span of the average web surfer in seconds, not minutes.  It’s certainly not  an  endorsement of the ever-shortening focus of the North American reader as it about accepting this fact about your user base.

Or is it?  The more I thought about it, the more I realized: this is just another way of writing to the market.  Slash a 1,000-word short article on a subject you care about by half, and you’re literally selling yourself short to appease attention deficits in your audience.

Social media experts offer similar advice about online image. Media gurus such as Gary Vaynerchuk say “be what you’re about”.  Search hash tags on topics you actually care about, create real dialogue, and build authentic relationships from there. Revenue to follow.

Many other sources, however, tell you to self-censor on social media, to block users and avoid updates that may meet with disapproval. This, of course, compromises authenticity to a fairly large degree, because now other users are left to take in only the most sanitized version of yourself.

Still, disapproval is completely out of your hands.  A picture of you at a party may deter a potential banker from hiring you, but a picture of you in a suit  may make you seem too boring to the campus event planning group looking for new talent.  Something as innocent as an opinion on a TV show may be enough to annoy your users and you’ll never, ever know it.  It’s almost never the flaw that you predict ahead of time.

Image management in social media is just another incarnation of that same question: do I honor my authenticity first, or do I cater to the market?

Who am I? Who do I want to be?

Enter personal development, and the obligatory tip of the hat to Apple co-founder and icon Steve Jobs (for which I’ve been guilty of not doing since his death. Apologies for being late to the party).

By most accounts,  Steve Jobs was mercurial, emotional, sometimes harsh.  One major part of Jobs’ legacy is his own authenticity: the man simply did not give a crap about how he looked, no matter how low the lows got, as long as his creations lived up to his perfect vision.

Do you really think someone as clear on vision as Steve Jobs feels the need to self-censor, the way that so many rising artistic geniuses do? Of course not.  The man knew himself and knew who he wanted to be and do, to the point he was able to sway thousands of others to see what he saw, and make it happen.

Decide what you’re about first.  Really, do nothing else until you figure it out. That puts 95% of this whole question to rest. If you care, you censor. If you don’t, you let the chips fall where they may. That simple.

Similarly, if you’re a novelist, write for yourself, then edit for the market, but only if you need to. Write what’s in your heart, improve your technical skills, learn how to query well, and you’ll find a way to publication, no matter what the “rules” say.

That being said, learn the market anyway, without serving it. Seth Godin writes in Linchpin that expertise in your own field remains essential, because those who find greatest success in their art are the ones who understand the status quo better than anyone.

It’s never about being the next Steve Jobs, and all about being the first you. 

Before all of that, though, you need to assess and decide:  who am I? Who do I want to be?  Only when you get clear on those will you have the choice and the power to defy the market.

That’s the truth according to Jody Aberdeen, for what it’s worth.


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