Episode 87 – Pen Names, Dark Matter, and Writing to Market

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Question of the Week: Do you write for passion or do you write to market? Why have you made that decision?

Jim and Bryan marveled at having lasted 87 episodes as they took on the latest news in self-publishing. After giving props to their latest patron, S.J. Pajonas and her book Removed (available at http://bit.ly/sjremoved ), they tackled tips on pseudonyms, Draft2Digitlal’s email service, and long-term blogging. News stories included thoughts on the sharing economy, how Netflix and self-publishing relate, what trad pubs fail to understand about ebooks, where you’ll see a self-pubbed book mentioned for the first time ever, and whether or not you should write to market. This week’s Question of the Week: Do you write for passion or do you write to market? Why have you made that decision?
What You’ll Learn:
  • Why you should consider using a pen name
  • What Draft2Digital is doing to bridge the email marketing gap
  • Tips on blogging from the godfather of blogging
  • Why publishing may not fit with the sharing economy
  • What Netflix and self-publishing have in common
  • How trad pub is ignoring the “dark matter” of self-publishing
  • What it means that a self-published book made a major year-end list
  • The pros and cons of writing to market
Links: 
Question of the Week: Do you write for passion or do you write to market? Why have you made that decision?

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  • Nakeesha Seneb

    I’m passionate about paranormal and multicultural romance. And that’s what I write. I pay attention to trends but I can’t often write to them. Why are so many people crushing on their step brothers? And where are all these hot, ab-ridden billionaires coming from?

    • Bryan

      Haha, I know. Where are those sexy billionaires hiding? 🙂

    • Linda Fausnet

      Could not agree more! I really don’t get the alpha male romances, either. I get the strong, handsome hero thing, but the whole “the guy owns me and tells me what to do” stuff? Fifty Shades of NO….

  • Chris Syme

    The question is interesting. I guess I am one of the few that gets to answer “both” to that question. I write nonfiction and my passion is to answer people’s questions and ease their pain. That means I get to do both because I am writing to the current problems authors have–that is my passion–and the content is also dictated by the current market.

    • Bryan

      Both is good. I’ve done both too.

  • Chris Shumate

    Started writing for passion so that my son would have something from me as I help to raise him in the current world in which we live. Now, I’m moving more towards market because I do want to make money from my writing. My passion writing isn’t in the most marketable niche. My kids and inspirational writing will stay under my real name because I want it to be associated with my personal brand. Other things I’m planning to write will be under a pen name. And no, I’m not writing the Monster stuff, nor any type of other smut (not that I’m against others writing it).

    • Bryan

      Good stuff, Chris. Thanks for sharing.

  • Daniel Martone

    I create stories for passion and write them down for market… if that makes sense…. I’ve never written a story down that I didn’t want to tell.

    • Daniel Martone

      And that I didn’t think was marketable.

    • Bryan

      Totally makes sense. That’s my next fiction project in a nutshell.

  • Thomas Diehl

    Sometimes for passion (fiction), often to get a message across (non-fiction). I did once write to market when I knew there was going to be a major movie I could do a tie-in to (Jurassic World) and it turned out to be my quickest-selling book ever. But I wouldn’t have done the latter hadn’t it also happened to be on a topic I’m passionate about.
    I do believe it is impossible to really write to market, at least at my writing pace, because when I’m done writing the market has shifted away from what I wrote. Imho it’s only worth it in the rare instance when I can see an upcoming event or change far enough ahead. I probably will do something like this again, but not on a regular basis, because I have enough passion projects to get done.

    • Bryan

      Ah yes. Speed is key in writing to market.

  • It was great to be the featured patron today! (I hope you enjoy REMOVED, Jim!) Also, I’m glad I remembered to come here and answer the question of the week. Is it possible to write for both the passion and the business? I purposely chose the Joseph Campbell story model to write the first book of my series but then drew on my passion for mysteries and Japan to write the rest of it.

    My current WIP is a cozy mysteries series, a new genre I’ve never written in before. I chose it because it appears to be a hot (and forgiving) market, but I kept my passion for Japan and romance alive in the books. I think true artists can combine their love of art with business if they can learn a little bit about how the market works. You don’t have to do one or the other!

    • Bryan

      Thanks so much, S.J. :).

      Yes! Definitely possible to combine passion and market.

  • Jeff Elkins

    I’m trying to find a happy balance by directing my passion toward more things that can apply across markets. For example, I love developing strong characters and telling emotionally charged stories. It helps to keep my passion general, then I can enter markets where I think I will succeed.

    • Bryan

      Very smart, Jeff. Thanks for sharing.

  • for the ‘writing to the market’ as a reader (since I haven’t written they) and a commercial artist, I don’t see how you can write a good book from the heart? why? because someone who loves the subject that you’re writing with the same level of writing skill will always be better then you. How I see is how it was mentioned that you put out bits and pieces of what you like, study the feedback you get and then find a balance and intersection of what you like and what might currently be popular. Also take some small chances in parts of the book (not a full book/series).

    I agree, the most important part is accepting that you do have to be willing to adapt based on what feedback you get and put in the work (the business side of it). I love making art as passion but I rarely get passed the sketching stage of an illustration if I don’t think I can sell a number of prints/ products. As I move into writing, I can see my self just writing pitches and outlines and then only get past that stage if I feel its even marketable.

    Time is short, Ideas are plenty, I don’t see why you can’t just pick the work that you’re passionate about that also have income potential.

    • Bryan

      Seems like you’re a pretty smart artist, Cetriya :). Thanks for dropping by!

  • Bryan, I am one of those lurkers you shamed into leaving a comment so here it goes. BTW, I am not the gatekeeper for lurkers so Jim and I are cool. Jim got fired up in this episode, love it!

    My passion is paying my mortgage and I want my writing to help do that so I guess I’ll go with both.

    One of my resolutions going into 2016 is to leave more comments on the SMBS so I look forward to sharing my thoughts in the future. I’ve already left a rating on iTunes and love this show and look forward to it coming out every Wednesday. Keep up the good work.

    And finally, like cowbells, you can never have enough sound effects so get on that Jim, please.

    George

    • Bryan

      Hooray! Glad you could stop by George :).

      That’s a great resolution! Can’t wait to see you more. Happy to hear that your passion is paying the mortgage. Keep up the good work!

  • Carolyn Jewel

    You guys! I suggest you google Sara Maclean and read done if her past columns. She is a NYT best selling author of Romance and is a supporter of the genre however it’s published. It was a big deal that wapo even hired someone to review romance at all. Lastly Alisha Rai publishes across all vendors so her excellent book stands in the exact same position as any traditionally published book with respect to it being on sale at Amazon. There is no difference in degree of potential conflict between her book and any other.

    Carolyn Jewel

    • Bryan

      Carolyn! Hey :).

      Thanks for the additional info. Yeah, it’s pretty cool that Wapo is reviewing romance. Always nice to have an insider romance perspective :).

  • Authors who want to make a living writing should write from the heart. …as long as their hearts tell them to write space opera, romance, and other things that sell well.

    • You also have to consider where and how something that’s selling well starts to sell well initially.

      YA reads (like the Harry Potters) might not take off without a bookstore, target, or walmart to stock it. Young adult YA readers aren’t exactly flocking to Amazon. My daughter and son (19 and 17) hear about books from friends who are physically carrying the books OR when they go to the bookstore to browse books.

      Things like space opera and romance, on the other hand, have readers actively searching Amazon and goodreads.

    • Bryan

      Lol :).

  • Amelia Smith

    When you were talking about book recommendations I can’t believe you didn’t mention Goodreads. Now I know that some indie authors dislike the harsher review system over there, but it is a great place to find like-minded readers and their recommendations.

    As for Passion vs. Profit, I’m writing a series that most would describe as a “passion” project, simply because I got this idea years ago and feel the need to work it thorough to the end, but I plan to move to more marketable fiction after this series is wrapped up. I also write articles, which pay much more reliably, but I have to have some interest in the subject to even take on a project. I mean, I’ll write historical romance, but contemporary billionaire romance? Probably not. It’s not a genre I read, so why would I try to write in it?

    • Bryan

      Ah yes. Goodreads. I don’t like it that much, but I know it has a TON of people.

      “Probably not. It’s not a genre I read, so why would I try to write in it?”
      / This. Agreed.

  • I write with an eye on both things, as best I can. Writing for passion means I’m a lot more motivated, so will get more done. At the same time, I want to sell books and not be an unknown author that only a few people have heard of. So I try to fit my passion projects into series where I can.

    For example, I wanted to write something similar to Battle Royale / Hunger Games, so the fifth book in my Bytarend fantasy series is about a school for assassins, where a hundred girls enter and only one graduates. Which is a book most fans of the series love.

    • Bryan

      Nice. Book 5 sounds awesome :).

  • WarrenBluhm

    There’s an adaptation of Somerset Maugham in here somewhere. We all know he said, “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at 9 o’clock sharp.” Something like I only write what I’m passionate about. Fortunately, I’m passionate about giving readers what they want.

    • Bryan

      Hehe. Great reworking of the quote :).

  • Jonathan Westwood

    The beauty of using pen names is that you can write for both passion and profit without excluding one option.

    • Bryan

      Nice. Good point, Jonathan!

  • You totally missed the point of Kris’s blog post. In fact, I got the feeling that all you read was the excerpt posted to The Passive Voice, not the entirety of the original, because Bryan immediately began talking about story structure, not about the kinds of books you should write. And Jim jumped in with his “artiste” mini-rant.

    What Kris was talking about was the bunch of writers who jumped on the erotica bandwagon to make a killing, or the ton of copycat vampire romances when Twilight hit the big time, or the Hunger Games wannabes, or the glut of billionaire romance novels. She wasn’t talking about story structure at all.

    Kris Rusch has been writing commercial fiction for decades. I doubt she’s ever written literary fiction. She also referenced her husband, Dean Wesley Smith’s, blog, which is where the topic originated. Dean, as most people know, made a very good living writing to market with television tie-in novels and ghostwriting. The point both of them were addressing was the difference between having a lifelong career versus the get-rich-quick mentality of many indie publishers.

    This hit home with me because I’ve been doing a lot of reevaluating over the past couple of months. When I started writing, I thought I could both write books of the heart _and_ make money. That turned out not to be true. So I’ve spent the last year and a half working on a different kind of book, not too different from my core genre, but definitely keeping my eye on the commercial viability of this new series. And, as I drafted the third book, I realized I wasn’t having any fun any more. The writing had become mechanical. It had become the dreaded day job.

    I had one of those for forty years. I don’t need another one. I’ve decided to write for passion and enjoy it. So, as Dean recommends, I may have to sell my house or get a part time job to support my writing habit, but I will be doing what I love. Because if you don’t love it, what’s the point?

    • Bryan

      Hey Elise. Thanks for the input! I always try to read Kris’ posts in full because I know The Passive Voice really leaves a lot out. I think my mistake was in trying to cover two Kris posts in a single news story. There’s just too much in there!

      I agree that she wasn’t talking about story structure. That’s just what I was talking about ;).

      Glad you’ve come to that realization for yourself! You’ve got to do what’s best for you.

  • Edwin Downward

    I write my passion informed by all the great works read over the years and a desire to bring similar pleasure to those who will read my works. Not sure how that answers the question of the week but there you go.

  • Linda Fausnet

    I really don’t think passion vs. profit is an either/or proposition. Write what you love, but be aware of what’s selling and see if your passion idea can fit in well with an existing market. If I had to pick between the two, I would say passion all the way because there is NO guarantee of success no matter what you do. You can write directly for the market and your book could still flop, and then you’ve really got nothing to show for it. Write for passion – with all you got – and you’ve got a product that you can be really proud of because you know you gave it your all. You really never know what will sell. All you can really be sure of is how much fun you had writing the book. Not to get all deep on ya, but all we really have is the here and now. I love throwing myself fully into a book and my characters, and really feeling the story. That’s passion – and I think it shines through on the pages.

    Also – I listen to you guys on Podcast Addict and not on iTunes so I’m not sure where or if I can leave you a review!

    • Bryan

      Thanks for the comment, Linda! I think even if you don’t listen to us on iTunes, you can still leave us an iTunes review. We’re actually at 99 reviews, so you’d be number 100! 🙂

      • Linda Fausnet

        The link to reviews is grayed out, so I don’t think it will let me 🙁

        • Bryan

          I think you may have to click “View in iTunes” first and then let your computer open up iTunes to do it. And if it’s still grayed out, then you’re probably right!

  • Sachin Garg

    What I always say is – follow your heart. But make sure the heart follows the market 🙂

    • Bryan

      I like it, Sachin :).

  • Geoff North

    Do you write for passion or do you write to market? All four of my standalone novels were written for passion, my two series’ are written to market. But just because the series stories were aimed more for the market doesn’t mean there wasn’t any passion. Any author that says they write to market without feeling may as well keep the day job (if they aren’t already writing full time for a living).

    Also – if every author wrote strictly for the passion, the market would thrive. Reverse the question: how many readers read for passion, and how many buy books they aren’t all that interested in?

    By the way – I’ve listened to every show from the beginning and have never left a comment. This is the best writing podcast there is… the BEST, Jerry!

    • Bryan

      I like the question reversal, Geoff. Very interesting.

      The BEST! 🙂

  • I write to passion, with what little writing I do these days. (Most of my work is on other people’s books right now.)

  • Anmarie Uber

    I underwater basket weave all the time!

    • Bryan

      That’s quite a skill!