Writing to Market: What Successful Authors Know

Doug Landsborough
September 22, 2023

These days, being a successful author isn’t about getting lucky in your search for an agent or soliciting dozens of publishers until one of them takes a fancy to the book you spent countless hours on. With indie authors wielding the power of self-publishing like an entrepreneurial sword, more people than ever are making a living (and potentially a comfortable one at that) from their writing career.

One of the ways these indie authors have found incredible success is writing to market. They treat the process of being an author the same way most people treat their day jobs: do the work, write the things people want to read, get book sales.

It sounds like the dream, right? And for many people, it is. But writing books to market isn’t for everyone. So in this article, we’re going to figure out if it’s something you want to pursue and, if it is, how you’d go about it.

To that end, we’ll be discussing:

  • What writing to market is
  • Understanding your market
  • Crafting compelling, market-oriented stories
  • Leveraging trends and market demand

It sounds technical and, to a degree, it is. This is truly about authorship as a career. That doesn’t mean your writing journey isn’t without passion or creativity (and we’ll discuss that in this article), but writing to market means approaching this through the lens of a business.

Let’s clarify that a little.

What is Writing to Market?

"Writing to market" is a phrase that's been bouncing around the indie author community for some time now, but many authors still aren’t familiar with it. So what does it really mean? 

At its core, writing to market is about striking a balance between creative expression and commercial appeal. It's the art of crafting stories that not only capture your own voice but are also tailored to meet the demands and interests of a targeted audience.

Imagine being an entrepreneur and thinking of a product. Before launching it, you'd first research what the consumers want to ensure your time and money are spent on something viable. 

Similarly, you need an insightful understanding of reader expectations and preferences, trending themes, and genre-specific demands to write to market. This doesn't mean you're selling out or dampening your creativity—in fact, forcing yourself to work within a time limit and reinventing known ideas can push you to be more creative. Writing to market is about leveraging your talent in a way that vibes with a larger group of readers, maximizing both reach and revenue.

The importance of understanding your target audience in this can’t be understated. When you know who you're writing for, you can more effectively cater to their tastes, emotions, and desires, amplifying the chances of your work's success in the crowded literary marketplace.

Writing to market merges the heart of creative writing with the strategic acumen of a savvy marketer. It's where passion meets strategy and your creativity meets commercial success.

Understanding Your Target Market

Alright, let's get down to brass tacks. If you're looking to write something people actually want to read (and pay for), you need to know who those people are, aka your target market.

Understanding them is like getting a cheat sheet for your next writing assignment. Here’s how you do that.

Market Research for Writers

This is a crash course in these topics, as they could be their own articles. For the sake of this article, I’ll explain as much as I can.

Identifying Your Niche and Ideal Readers

There are hundreds of genres, subgenres, and even sub-subgenres. You could write a sci-fi romance novel about time-traveling vampires, and guess what? There's probably an audience for that. 

But the key is to find out who's into what you're offering and if there are enough of them. So decide on your niche first. 

Are you all about those heart-pounding thrillers? Or maybe cozy mysteries are your jam? Once you’ve got that figured out, think about the kind of person who'd be super into it. That's your ideal reader.

Analyzing Reader Demographics and Psychographics

Now, get a bit sneaky. Dive deep into understanding your ideal reader. 

How old are they? What's their day job like? What TV shows are they binging? Heck, what's their favorite snack? 

Then psychographics come into play. It’s not just about age and location. It's about what makes them tick. Get to know their values, interests, and lifestyle. The more you know, the better.

Studying Genre-Specific Trends and Themes

Pop into online forums, check out Goodreads reviews, or snoop around in Facebook groups centered around your chosen genre. 

What are readers loving or hating? Any recurring themes or tropes they can't get enough of? Being a little nosy (while being respectful) now can give you a leg up later.

Connecting with Your Readers

Once you know who your readers are, then what? You need to get in front of them to effectively write to market.

Engaging with Your Target Audience

It's time to mingle. Jump onto social media platforms, join those reader groups, and don't be shy to comment and chat. 

Think of this as a two-way street; not only are you promoting yourself, but you're also building genuine connections.

Conduct Surveys and Seek Feedback

Feedback is gold. Want to know if your vampire love triangle subplot is a hit or a miss? Ask! Shoot out surveys, polls, or even DMs if you have permission. 

Listen to the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s all valuable.

Building an Author-Reader Relationship for Long-Term Success

This isn’t a one-book game. It's a journey. The more you interact, appreciate, and value your readers, the more they’ll stick around for your next book... and the one after that

It's easier to keep an existing reader than to find a new one.

Then, once you know your readers and exactly what they like, it’s time to write it.

Crafting Compelling Stories for Targeted Audiences

Now that you’re buddies with your audience, let’s chat about how to write the stories they’ll rave about to all their friends. 

We’re not just talking about a good story; we’re talking about the story for them.

To do that, I’ve got nine tips for you, broken up into three categories: genre, writing style, and your plot and characters.

Choose the Right Genre

1. Explore Popular Genres and Their Characteristics

Here’s the thing: genres are like flavors of ice cream. Sure, vanilla is timeless, but maybe matcha green tea is having its big moment. 

Dive into what’s hot now, but also know the main ingredients. Romance novels are all about relationships and emotional payoff. Thrillers need suspense and unexpected twists

And don’t forget to sprinkle some of your unique style on top.

2. Evaluate Personal Interests and Strengths

Real talk? Passion shows. If you’re rolling your eyes writing about zombies because it’s "in," readers will catch on. 

Still aim to write what you love. If you can find a sweet spot between what excites you and what your audience craves, you’re onto a winner.

3. Align Your Genre Choice with the Target Market

Think of it like a Venn diagram. One circle represents what you love to write, the other shows what your audience loves to read. 

That sweet spot in the middle? That’s your golden zone. Aim for that overlap and you're golden.

Tailor Your Writing Style

4. Adapt Tone, Language, and Writing Style

You wouldn't talk to your grandma the same way you’d chat with your best friend after a T-Swift concert, right? Think of your readers in a similar way. 

Know their vibe and match it. If they're young adults, maybe that snarky, informal tone works wonders. But if you're writing historical fiction for a more mature audience, perhaps a refined, elegant style suits better.

5. Address Reader Pain Points and Desires

Stories aren’t just stories. They're ways for readers to live vicariously, to find solace, or even solutions to their real-life problems. 

If you know that your audience struggles with, say, loneliness, a tale of a character finding their tribe can be super impactful.

6. Balance Creativity with Market Preferences

While it's crucial to keep market tastes in mind, don't cage your creativity. Remember why you started writing in the first place. 

Marry your imagination with market insights. Let them coexist.

Create Great Characters and Plots

7. Develop Characters Readers Want

In your market research, hopefully you find what characters are in right now.

Is it a snarky heroine? A track star? An antihero?

The main characters in your story will be one of the selling points of your story, and readers are looking for specific ones. Think about ways you can integrate these types of characters into your book.

8. Put a Spin on Familiar Plots

I’m not saying you should recycle whatever the current bestseller is, but look for commonalities in successful new releases.

Is it hot right now to include a magic school as the backdrop to your plot? Maybe chosen ones aren’t in right now, so a story about one won’t sell well.

Figure out what works and what doesn’t, then put your unique take on the former.

9. Don’t Be Afraid of Tropes

Tropes can be powerful tools if used correctly, and are even mandatory in some genres (I’m looking at you, romance genre).

If you’re writing to market, you know which tropes are in and which aren’t. Think about how you can use these tropes effectively without sacrificing quality or creative genius.

Writing a story isn’t just about stringing words together. It's a blend of knowing your readers, understanding their world, and sprinkling in your magic. 

But, when writing to market, you need to understand that thing you’re writing to.

Leveraging Trends and Market Demand

You've got the tools, you know your audience, and you're pumped to write. Now, let's give your work that extra edge by tapping into what's buzzing in the literary world.

Recognize Emerging Themes and Concepts in the Market

Remember when dystopian novels like The Hunger Games had their big moment? Or when everyone was raving about vampires? Being aware of emerging themes gives you a head start. 

You can either hop on the trend train or, if it's saturated, find a fresh twist on it.

Incorporate Relevant Elements into Your Writing

So you've spotted a trend. Now what? 

Weave it into your narrative in a way that feels natural. Maybe it's the setting, a character's job, or even the central conflict. The trick is to make it integral, not just a fancy add-on.

Understand the Needs and Wants of Your Target Readers

This is where your earlier research pays off. If you know that your readers are craving strong female protagonists or are tired of the same old love triangles, give them what they want. 

But, as always, add your unique spin.

Identify Gaps in the Market

Look, the market is big, but it's not always filled evenly. Maybe there's a dearth of LGBTQ+ representation in a particular genre, or perhaps readers are searching for stories set in a specific era or location. 

Find those gaps and fill them with your awesomeness. But make sure you do it appropriately and authentically if you’re dealing with real-life people or topics.

Tailor Your Content to Meet Existing Demand

Listen to your readers. Check out reviews of books in your genre, participate in online forums, and engage with readers on social platforms. 

What are they wishing for? What makes them roll their eyes? Use that feedback to tailor your content.

If you’re writing to market, you need a thick skin. You need to be able to take feedback and adapt your writing accordingly, because you’re writing more for the reader than for yourself.

It's about being alert, adaptable, and always ready to pivot or evolve. Because in the dynamic world of writing, staying static is not an option.

Write Your Book to Market

One thing we haven’t discussed in this article is how quickly you need to write in order to write to market. In the best case scenario, you’re able to spot an upcoming trend and get ahead of it, giving you a month or two to be part of the first wave of books readers get their hands on.

Worst case scenario, you have a month left to write, edit, format, and publish your book.

Either way, time isn’t really a luxury you have, and you need to get your book done quickly.

That’s where Dabble can help you write to market.

Not only does Dabble come equipped with Story Notes to make planning your characters and world a breeze, nor does it just come with the Plot Grid to make it easy to craft a unique and market-reader plot with killer subplots, but its goal setting feature makes writing a book in a short period of time actually feasible.

Need to pen 70,000 words in a month but have a weekend trip and a day full of calls coming up? Dabble will take your goal, your timeline, and your days off, crunch that all up, and tell you exactly what you need to write every day.

Write more one day or can’t reach your goal another? We’ll adjust for you, no problem.

With that sort of accountability, you can get your book out to the market and start raking in those dollar bills. All you have to do is click here to try Dabble out for free and get writing.

Doug Landsborough

Doug Landsborough can’t get enough of writing. Whether freelancing as an editor, blog writer, or ghostwriter, Doug is a big fan of the power of words. In his spare time, he writes about monsters, angels, and demons under the name D. William Landsborough. When not obsessing about sympathetic villains and wondrous magic, Doug enjoys board games, horror movies, and spending time with his wife, Sarah.