Tackling One of Your Questions

Mark Paxson

At the beginning of the year, Audrey posted an invitation for you to suggest issues or questions for us to address. A lot of what that produced will be covered in future video chats, but I wanted to take a stab at one of them.

Anonymole ask the following questions:

• What’s your thoughts on writers writing only what they feel compelled to write, ignoring the market or even the concepts of demand? In other words, how much do you think writers should pay attention to their niche, if they even have one?

My answer to each of these questions will begin with the same thing. It depends. Unfortunately, that’s kind of a reality for me and it goes back to something we’ve covered a number of times in our video chats.

It depends on what your objective is.

Personally, I write stories I want to write, without regard to what the market is doing, or what readers are screaming for. At the same time, I write stories that I hope can find an audience. I have no interest in wallowing in my own internal craziness, producing something that would only mean something to me. So, I write stories I want to write with the hope readers will want to read them. 😉

But … if you’re writing because you want to get a publishing contract and get your name on the best-seller lists, then just writing what you want likely isn’t going to get there. You have to bend your art to what the market is looking for. And in the world of writing and publishing, that means what the gatekeepers (publishers and agents) think the market is looking for.

Who am I kidding? I want those things too — the contract and the best-seller. Unfortunately for those goals, I want even more to write the stories I want to write. Sometimes that means a story that might fit in with what the market is looking for, but if it does, it’s wholly incidental.

The story I’m working on, which will likely end up being about 40,000 words — too short to call a novel — could fit into the market. Although I may be a little late to this particular genre. Do you remember Gone Girl, how successful it was, and how it was followed by a number of other books with “girl” in the title? Well, my WIP is what I refer to as a domestic thriller that could very easily be titled … The Girl in the Basement. But, I want to resist that as much as I possibly can. We’ll see.

• Create a “known universe” (including an inviolate canon) or create a series — preference?

Again, it depends on your objective and the type of stories you want to write. The vast majority of what I write occurs in the known universe that we live in. Normal people dealing with situations of our modern existence. Occasionally, I dip into story types that allow for more creativity in what the universe is. I have a series of dystopian or post-apocalyptic stories that have been percolating for a few years.

But, I think the thing I don’t do is build worlds or develop new canons to occupy these stories. Instead, the stories are driven by the characters, who are all ultimately very human and like you and me, and what they’re going through to get through their lives. The world around them and its canons are not the story, they only provide the context in which the story occurs and I don’t do much with the world or its canons.

• Mundane world vs improbable world vs impossible world? Where do your stories take place? What do you think sells better or is more appealing as a burgeoning author? (i.e. The Notebook vs Hunger Games vs Harry Potter).

I think the examples in the parenthetical answer the question. Any and all of those can be successful. My stories all occur in the mundane world. I’ve struggled with efforts to write improbably or impossible fiction. Others who write on this blog have written stories that fit in those categories, however.

But … what sells? Who the hell knows. The gatekeepers decide that and what they look for are books that look like other books, with an occasional new idea popping up. Like Potter, which spawned hundreds or thousands of copycats. Like the Hunger Games, which spawned hundreds or thousands of copycats. But, have those two types of stories kind of run their course? Now, we’re on to something else aren’t we?

I think that’s the key, if your objective is to get published and grab an audience, it’s important to find the wave before it crests and ride it with your own take on what is popular. Or, best of all worlds, be the writer who writes something new that begins the wave — but it is much harder to sell that book to the gatekeepers.


  1. Anonymole says:

    Thanks for your answers.
    These questions were posted without a need for a specific answer, just hypotheticals for discussion. I believe you detected that and answered in spirit. Thanks.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. kingmidget says:

      The whole group will be addressing your questions in a future video chat. These issues are always worth a good conversation.

      Liked by 2 people

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