[transcript]

 

[Maggie] You’re listening to But Is It Write, a podcast where we discuss, debunk and debate common writing advice.

[Candice] There is a lot of writing advice out there, but is it right?

[Candice] Hey everyone. I’m Candice Lee and I’m here with my co-host Maggie Derek. Maggie is an award-winning Wattpad star, bisexual artist, young eldritch horror, and dark friend.

[Maggie] And my co-host Candice Lee is a full-time author, part-time procrastinator, relentless optimist, writer coach, and karaoke star.

[Candice] Today’s topic is the piece of advice write to trend. Oh, I have many things to say about this. You can’t see it but I’m doing that little finger steepling evil muahaha motion.

[Maggie] I could sense it. I could feel it from across the country well enough. While I have a feeling I should just pop some corn and just sit back and let you ride this one out because I know you got a lot more experience with this than I do. So maybe I’ll take maybe I’ll start with a few lines just so that I sound like I know what I’m talking about and the I’m going to let you take the reins.

[Candice] Sure.

[Maggie] I’m probably going to speak to the opposite side of what you’re going to say and I think that this episode might be kinda timely because I’ve noticed a lot of conversation about this on Twitter over the last handful of months. The idea of “forget trend, write what makes you happy, write what’s in your heart and someone will want it.” That’s literally how I’ve seen it written so I’m not being facetious here, but the idea of writing what’s important to you, writing the story that matters to you, and not worrying about the rest. And so there kind of two schools of thought on this one. One is that, that you should write whatever it is you want to do, and the other one is writing to trend and I’m like Candice take that one and go to town with it. I am of two minds where this advice is concerned because I think that it depends on what you want. It depends on what your expectations are for your writing and your writing career because there have been some really fantastic amazing stories that have come out and are coming out from people who have just written the story they want to write without any sort of care about what is marketable and what is selling right now. Because I think a lot of writers particularly the ones that are just kind of getting started and dipping their toes in the world of publishing, it’s easy to forget that publishing whether it’s something you do traditionally or indie is a business. And that sucks if you are just trying to write whatever makes you happy and hopefully find a home for it because—if your work is a bit more niche, if it doesn’t quite have that sales-worthiness, you might have a hard time getting it where you want it to go. And that can be really disheartening and that can suck, and that can really hurt but I’m saying this as a queer writer who writes queer fiction, I think we’re finally starting to see a bit of our, we’re coming into her own particularly in the young adult category and that’s awesome and exciting. We’re starting to see more queer stories where it’s not just a coming out story it’s queer characters doing other things which is also exciting because as it turns out we’re more than just the fact that were queer. But I digress. It can be really really heartbreaking if you write something that really matters to you and you’re told by agent or publishing house that you know what you’ve written just isn’t something that they can sell and it can feel like the world is against you or that you’re a terrible writer, which is not what they’re saying. What they’re saying is, what they’re trying to remind you of is publishing is a business, and it kind of comes down to “Can we sell this? Is there a market for it?” And so it can suck and it can be hard, but sometimes you break through. Sometimes you hit a chord and people are like “This is what I didn’t know I wanted, this is what I didn’t know I needed” or you’re writing for those marginalized voices that normally wouldn’t be heard and you’re breaking through the crowd and you’re getting it done. And so my thoughts, my recommendation is absolutely write the book of your heart, write what makes you happy, write what you love. Understand that where you want to go with it might be challenging down the road and manage your expectations accordingly. I’m not saying don’t do it and I’m not saying you won’t get published because I believe in you. But I am saying go into it knowing that you might be up against a bit of a wall, you might be up against a bit of push back, and go into it with a plan. And also maybe to use it as your opportunity to explore other options as well. I think about The Star and the Ocean a lot. I was talking to someone at Wattpad about this. You know I’ve been very, very lucky with that book and that series and that it’s found a home with a lot of readers and in people for whom it means a lot but I don’t think it would ever get picked up traditionally. I have a hard time writing a synopsis for it, let alone a log line. I don’t know. I to this day can’t think what the comp titles would be, I just don’t know.

[Candice] I know exactly what they would be.

[Maggie] Lies! I asked you this before.

[Candice] I told you the answer and I’m not sure if you remember

[Maggie] I think you said like Moana meets—

[Candice] Moana meets Neil Gaiman’s Stardust with lesbians.

[Maggie] The lesbians. See I had to go back and like I see the Moana part, but I feel like… anyway..

[Candice] That can be another episode, comp titles.

[Maggie] Comp titles. Yeah, we should, we should…

[Candice] I recently had to do that because I’m doing a course on how to pitch your books for a television production. And I thought I have no idea what my book is like! My book is my book, but that’s another, that’s another topic.

[Maggie] I think you have to come back to that one because it’s a can be such a contentious thing, and yet it’s depending on what you want to do with your work it can be a make or break unfortunately.

[Candice] Yep.

[Maggie] But therein lies the issue. I don’t know if I could, could get, could go the traditional route. But because of Wattpad I had a different platform to reach readers and it’s been really good for me and so I think that that’s something to take into consideration when you’re looking at your career and you’re plotting out what it is that you want for yourself and your work and examine what your options are. This is something that I think we’re going to have to do a tally of how many episodes can we go before I stop talking about the writer studio program I just took.

[Candice] Never!

[Maggie] The last course I took was an elective and it was all about getting published and so we drove into how to write letters how to do research on agents and publishing houses etc. Talk about self-publishing, talk about a little bit about online publishing, and it was interesting to sit back and look around the room because there were some people in the program who were really new to all of this. And you could just see their minds expanding and you could see that they’re like “I didn’t know there were so many options, I didn’t know the difference between the big five or six publishing houses versus smaller independent presses that are regional versus self-publishing” when they just didn’t know. And I sat back and thought “it’s almost a shame that this course wasn’t part of the mandatory curriculum and offered a lot earlier” because I felt like if these writers had known just how many options were open to them, it might’ve changed the trajectory of their work in that program and it might’ve encouraged them to approach their career a little bit differently. And so that’s why a really big advocate for people understanding what their options are just what’s available to them and encouraging writers to really have a good sense of “What you want from your work? What’s important to you? Do want to just find readers? Do you want to be a multimillionaire?” Good luck. I don’t know.

[Candice] So… many thoughts. So I think, “Okay, I am an indie author which means I write full-time professionally, I sell my books on Amazon, people by them, and it supports me” which is amazing. But the only way I’m able to do this is because people want to read what I’m writing. So if you are writing for yourself, by all means write whatever is in your heart. You write the novel that you’ve always wanted to write, write the novel you’ve always wanted to read, but have never seen. If that is your goal to just get that heart novel out there, you don’t have to think about trends or writing to market or what’s marketable at all. You go on with your bad self. Now if you are putting your work out there, and I’m not saying if you want—so whether or not you want to go indie and publish yourself whether you’re looking to get one of those big five contracts with the HarperCollins of the world, maybe you’re just publishing on Wattpad, and you are publishing online maybe even on your own website chapter by chapter. If you are putting your work out there and you expect anyone to read it, you have to write something people want to read. So I’m not saying you have to write the trend. I’m not saying you have to right to market. I’m saying if you write something that no one wants to read, do not be surprised when nobody reads it.

[Maggie] Can you, will you for our dear listeners, expand on that idea of what people want to read versus what people don’t want to read? Like do you have any thoughts on on that? Because I feel like there might be some people who are listening and going “Well, how do I know what people want to read or…?”

[Candice] This is where you have to do a combination of my heart novel and my research. Because the best way to be successful is to find a way to marry what people want to read and what you want to write. Because if you find out that “oh my God billionaires are so hot right now, I’m going to write a billionaire book” but you hate billionaires and if you actually don’t enjoy writing it, it will come through and your story probably won’t be as good as it could have been if you have an actual love for the topic. What you can do is go online and think about the novel that you want to write and what other people are writing those kinds of books. Is somebody writing the book that’s basically Moana meets Stardust, right? If that’s the novel you want to write and you go searching for books is similar to that and you see there’s a really great audience for that. Wonderful. Because then you know you’ve kinda struck something if you see the novel of your heart is already being written by people, you know there’s an audience for that. However that’s not to say that you can’t create an audience, because it’s exactly what you said—there are times when something brand-new has come up. A brand-new genre or brand-new mashup and everybody is like “this is everything I didn’t even know I wanted”, you know? But again if you’re going to write that novel, it might not catch on and you have to be prepared for that. So you can take risks, you can write a novel of your heart, you can write something totally new and original, something nobody has ever done before, something nobody’s ever seen before. That’s wonderful. But don’t be surprised if it doesn’t catch on because it might not. Which is fine. It means you wrote the novel of your heart and maybe you won’t be a millionaire, maybe you won’t have an audience of hundreds of thousands, that’s fine because you wrote the novel of your heart. And that’s okay. If you try to write something you think is to trend and it’s not the novel of your heart and it bombs, you’re just gonna feel even worse because you put all that time and energy and effort into something you don’t love and nobody wants to read it anyway. Because there are just so many ways to get your writing out there nowadays and it’s not even putting your writing out there to make a full-time living or to sell a million copies even just you know putting it on your own website and Wattpad. if you’re writing something and nobody really cares to read about that topic, then it’s going to sit there and you’re going to feel really bad about yourself, but—

[Maggie] That’s what I wanted to say. It was the idea of managing your own expectations.

[Candice] Manage your expectations. You don’t yet have to write the trend but it really helps.

[Maggie] It really helps if what you want is—

[Candice] An audience.

[Maggie] Specific things. Yeah.

[Candice] If you want an audience. I have a friend who originally started publishing on Wattpad and she has, I don’t know what number it’s at, 15 million reads like 1-5 million reads.

[Maggie] She is not talking about me by the way. This is not like a veiled “I’m going to talk about Maggie without talking about Maggie”. I do not have that many reads.

[Candice] One day. So she’s really popular on Wattpad and she recently decided to publish on Amazon and there’s been some kind of like ups and downs with her writing career on Amazon. And she recently did one of those kind of 2020 goal setting sheets and “what are my values, what I want in life” and she came to the realization that actually like she has a great job in real life, it pays for all her bills. What she actually wants is for maximum people to read her stories so—

[Maggie] Any story? Or The Story?

[Candice] The stories that she is writing. She just wants as many people as possible to read her stories. And if you publish something and you put it on Amazon or iBooks, you have to work really really hard to get that audience. That’s not to say that getting an audience on Wattpad is easy but people don’t, there’s no barrier of people needing to buy your book. Do you know what I mean?

[Maggie] Yes.

[Candice] So she kind of thought to herself “I’m putting all this time and energy and effort into building an audience on Amazon when that audience already exists for me on Wattpad and I’m ignoring my current audience on Wattpad to try to build this audience on Amazon, but my goal is ‘reach’—my goal is the most amount of people reading my work.” That’s what her goal is, that’s what she values, and I think that’s a really important thing to keep in mind when we say write to trend. What’s your goal? If your goal is to write that heart novel and you don’t care how many people read it because it’s for you, trends don’t matter. You can write whatever you want. But if your goal is to build an audience, to get that publishing contract, to make $1 million, then you do have to think about what the trends are.

*****

[Maggie] Yeah, and I mean it kinda reminds me of when I decided to get rid of my Patreon and people thought I was nuts. Because I wasn’t making a ton of money off of it, but I was like I was making money consistently every month off of Patreon and what I was doing was giving advanced reading opportunities for the last book in the Starborn series were you could read it a month in advance from everyone else. And I eventually got rid of it even though it was my biggest–I don’t make a ton of money off my writing, but the reason I got rid of it was because I wasn’t getting any engagement. People I think were reading the work, I can only hope that they were as they were paying for it every month, but nobody was commenting we was liking because what would happen is Patreon would just send the chapters to their email so they could consume the content without ever actually having to engage with it. And I hated it. I hated that I couldn’t see how many people were reading it or what they thought and I finally said “This is too much work and I’m not, I feel like I’m not getting what I want out of it” and what I wanted was just to connect with it–like I’m not going to be getting a huge crazy reach making enough money to live off of that I really just want to hear from my readers so I pulled it and people thought I was nuts but I have no regrets

[Candice] Because your goal is to see that community engagement.

[Maggie] Exactly.

[Candice] That’s what you value, that’s what your goal is.

[Maggie] Yeah, and I mean the other thing to is understanding with the trend. I think that’s another thing worth talking about is understanding that the trend for your audience for your platform may be different than it will be elsewhere.

[Candice] Yes. Different platforms have different audiences.

[Maggie] Yeah, and those audiences have different needs. I will use Wattpad as an example yet again. When I first started writing The Star and the Ocean, my chapters were longer than–I was writing it like a novel. What I discovered despite–so I was writing it like a novel, despite the fact that I was releasing it as a web serial. And for people who aren’t familiar with that it’s like, it’s episodic where you’re putting out a new chapter or new part regular serialized basis as opposed to giving the entire book all at once. And so I was I was releasing like that but I was releasing longer chapters, and what I didn’t realize is that readers on Wattpad are mostly consuming content on their phones. And when you’re reading something on your phone you’re usually reading in shorter snippets than if you got a book in your hands and settling down on the couch to read. So what was happening is readers were getting like halfway through my chapters and be like “I have to go to class” or “I have to go to work” or whatever and they would they would kind of drop off and I will lose them. And so once I realized that was what was going on and this was I did this with your help actually. Thank you a million times over. Because I think it really changed the game for me as we broke up–we took the first 16 chapters originally, and we broke them all up into smaller chunks and we wrote in these cliffhangers which I’ve now become infamous for, and readers are constantly giving me a hard time about my cliffhangers like “we hate you but we love you but we hate you because these cliffhangers every single chapter” but it’s what it took to get them to come back. And what I realized was that writing online, writing web serials, is more like writing for TV, it’s more like you’re writing a TV show than writing a movie.

[Candice] So what that might say is that the trend on Wattpad is shorter chapters and you are writing to trend.

[Maggie] Exactly. Exactly what I’m saying. I may not be writing a specific trope, I may not be like writing a genre that super popular, but I’m understanding the trend of my platform. And it made a huge difference, it made all the difference in the world.

[Candice] Exactly. If people don’t want to read a 3000 word long chapter in one chunk, and you’re posting 3000 word chapters, do not be surprised when they do not read that 3000 word chapter.

[Maggie] Especially when it’s the very first book and you’re trying to get these readers invested. Now my chapters have gotten longer again as we’re getting near the end of the series. But anyone who is reading them is invested. If you’ve gotten all the way to this part of the series, we’re in the third book, we’re 60 chapters in, I think that you want a longer chapter, but I had to earn that first and writing long chapters wasn’t doing it.

[Candice] I love how you say you have to earn it, because that’s almost exactly how I feel. If you’re brand-new as a writer and people don’t know what to expect from you, you need to write to their expectations of whatever genre or platform or what have you. You’re odd. People are used to a certain thing, that’s what their expectations are and you want to meet those expectations. Once you’ve got them then, you can play around, then you can do kind of whatever you want because they’re hooked and you’ve got them. It’s almost like if you’re a movie producer or a director, you kinda have to do–kind of pay your dues I suppose. You have to prove you know how to follow the rules and direct a proper movie, three act play, you know. And then once you’ve established yourself then you can pull a Tarantino and do whatever the hell you want.

[Maggie] Yes, I agree. This kinda comes back to the idea of you need to know the rules before you can break them. It’s that idea of paying your dues. It makes sense. And I imagine that there are some listeners right now who think, who aren’t necessarily loving the way that were most talking about “writing is a product” and the reader…

[Candice] It’s a little mercenary, it does sound a little mercenary. However, it’s not it’s not really a bad thing. It’s about pleasing your readers and isn’t that exactly what we want to do? If you’re writing your heart novel and you don’t care who reads it, fine. But you want to please the people who will be reading your story and whether that means giving them what they want or writing to trend or meeting their expectations. Now that’s not to say you have to cater to your reader because again, Maggie, you can give an awful cliffhanger and they hate it but you know what? They love it.

[Maggie] They’re coming back.

[Candice] Exactly, exactly. And you can give readers what they didn’t even know they wanted.

[Maggie] Yeah, that’s tasty when that happens. That’s a good time. But also there’s something to be said for, you knew you touched on this earlier, that there are certain conventions for specific genres too, that you have to and you can consider that to be part of the trend as well. And romance is the perfect example.

[Candice] Yes.

[Maggie] You can’t write a romance that doesn’t have a happily ever after or happy for now.

[Candice] If you write a romance and it doesn’t end with the couple being together, having happily ever after or happy for now, if you kill one of them off, if you break them up, if they end up with other people, that’s women’s fiction. That’s kinda what the rule is. If you have written something that follows romance to a trope, but doesn’t have a happily ever after, it’s not romance. That’s the rule.

[Maggie] And that is, that is the genre, and I remember that being something again in the writer studio that came up…

[Candice] I’m gonna start a little tally, Maggie.

[Maggie] You should, you should. I want to know. I want the data. But in my workshop group, we had a little, we had somebody writing detective fiction, we had a couple of high fantasy writers, there was romance as well. And it was interesting because those genres have their own specific rules and there will be times that if we weren’t someone in the group that read detective fiction and we would hook, would get caught on this one particular piece, the author would be like “I see what you’re saying, but in detective fiction this is expected.” And we would have to sit back and go “Uh, okay, well that’s a good point.” And so it wasn’t the fact that there was something fundamentally wrong with it, it was just that we weren’t familiar with the genre, but he was.

[Candice] And your readers would be.

[Maggie] Exactly. And so it’s a type of writing to trend, but it’s recognizing that the work that you’re writing isn’t happening within a bubble, I guess. Not happening within a vacuum.

[Candice] Exactly.

[Maggie] If you want people to read it, there are certain expectations you’re going to have to meet. Are there going to be these crazy one-off or break out exceptions to the rule? Always. I think there’s exception to every piece of advice that we’re breaking down. But it’s like saying “I’m going to retire cause I win the lottery.” Like it’s great to hope that you learn to be that breakout star who does their own thing and flies in the face of convention and makes it, but then again maybe you won’t be, and are you going to be okay with that?

[Candice] So yeah, that would be my bit of advice. It’s a lot to unpack because write to trend sounds like “Oh, vampire romance is hot, I have to write vampire romance.” No. I’m just saying that if you want people to read your book, you have to write something people want to read. Whatever that means for you, whether that’s genre, whether that’s you know length. If you write a romance that’s 300,000 words long, maybe you want to split that up into a couple books. If you write a fantasy, epic fantasy, that’s only 50,000 words long, maybe you should try to extend that a little.

[Maggie] I think, yeah. And I think this is one of those topics that out of everything we talked about so far, might get the most feedback. I can tell, I can feel the imaginary listener right now being like “I still disagree.”

[Candice] But, but, but!

[Maggie] Yes. Because I feel like this is one of those things that there’s probably some really passionate buts.

[Candice] Passionate buts.

[Maggie] I think there’s some passionate buts on this one. But hopefully we’ve made our case pretty well. Hopefully. But it’s like Candice said write to trend. It doesn’t necessarily mean writing vampire romance because vampire romances got to be so hot right now. It just means managing expectations. Yours. The readers. The industry. Knowing what you want and what you need to do to get there.

[Candice] I like that, that’s a good wrap up

[Maggie] Thanks. I’m pretty proud of it. Write to trend: but is it right?

[Candice] I would say, yes, but probably not in the way you think it means.

[Maggie] Yeah. So that’s our episode for this week. Again and as always, if there’s a piece of advice about writing that you would like us to tackle in a future episode, you can reach out to us on Twitter @butisitwrite – W-R-I-T-E, and tweet it to us there. Or you can participate in polls that will occasionally run there as well, you can have your say. Or you can send us a good old-fashioned email to butisitwrite@gmail.com and who knows? Maybe your piece of advice will end up in a future episode. Until then, I think that’s that. Thanks for listening!

[Candice] Bye!

[Maggie] Bye!