Stay True to Your Reader or Sell Out?

In the writing business, we often get conflicting advice from our readers, other writers, and industry professionals like agents and editors. Agents advise us to write what’s in our hearts, but they can only sell what the editors want. The editors want more of what is already selling, limiting their risk in this fast-changing business. I’ve overheard readers in bookstores scoff at yet another new vampire novel. Other writers have told me that vampires are overdone; prophecies, tired. Yet this is exactly the opposite of the advice from New York. Vampires sell, so they want more vampires. Steampunk is popular, so they want more Steampunk.

They are the ones writing the checks.

This is the paradox. For what is in our hearts is not always what New York wants to buy. It’s not always what readers want to read.

And the bills keep coming.

Do we stay true to our readers? True to ourselves? Or do we sell out, as it were, to what the industry wants in some desperate and usually futile attempt to make a living?

First of all, being true to our readers isn’t part of this choice. Readers either relate to our written word or they don’t. The only choice for writers is either to write what’s in one’s heart, New York be damned, or to sell out and try to write something that New York might want to buy.

For those of us who are full time writers, as the bills pile up and the money remains scarce, we sometimes lose our way and try to force something, somehow merge the two. We scramble for a way to write what’s in our hearts, what our soul demands to be released, in a fashion that will also be attractive to editors, journals, magazines–anyone who can help us make ends meet.

But in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

And so on.


Do you write what you think will sell, or do you write from the heart?

2 Comments Add yours

  1. David Hoogterp says:

    Give the reader waht they want – in general terms at least – but never give them everything they want. In other words, so long as people want to read books about vampires then by all means give them vampires. The danger comes when you have a loyal group of readers who really like your vampire and want to know all there is to know about her, or really want to see her change her wicked ways when the story does not call for such a thing to happen, or even just want the story to continue past its natural end point. Think of all the great books you have read, all the great movies you have seen where the sequels just did not measure up. Think of the TV shows that were successfully carried for 5 seasons on the sexual tension between characters but fell apart once the relationship was consumated. Something, I have no doubt, these things are done out of the desire to squeeze a few more pennies out of a formerly successful product and this may well be the fault of the big firms who publish them, but I think it is just as often the fault of a well meaning author/creator who doesn’t realize the consequences of his or her actions.

  2. christinerose says:

    Thank you for your reply, David.

    Good points, however…just as you’ve pointed out…giving the audience what they want (i.e. consummating a relationship and ending 5 years of sexual tension) can end a series.

    Definitely understood in general terms, as you said, but the trick is giving them enough to satisfy them…but holding just enough back to keep them interested.

    A very fine line to walk (or, in this case, write).

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