From a marketing standpoint, success in any endeavor where you’re selling a commodity is primarily a matter of linking the right audience or customer with the right product. There are two ways to do this.
One way is to develop a product and then find someone to buy it. The plus of this is that if you are inventing or creating something, you can concentrate on making it the best product it can possibly be, regardless of who will use it. Then when it was completed, you turned toward the marketplace to find the perfect customer.
When I first started out as a book editor–a few years ago–that was the approach that our publishing house took. We would find a book manuscript we were enamored with, bought it, edited it and printed. Inevitably the process was followed with the words, “This is a book that [insert customer] needs to read.” The problem was that even though we thought the customer needed to read it, in many cases, they wouldn’t buy it.
A new president came to the publishing house and took one look at the stacks of books in our inventory that we felt were “needed” in the market, yet weren’t selling, and made some changes. No longer would we create the product first. Instead, we would take the second approach and do what most marketers–the smart ones, at least–do. We would find out what the customers wanted, not needed. Once we were confident in our evaluation of the market, we would go out and try to find product that they would want. Customer first, product second.
This came home to me when I first started being successfully published. I wrote practical stuff. And editors loved it. I wrote a lot of stuff directed at Seventh-day Adventists, and since I was an editor at a Seventh-day Adventist publishing house, I had a pretty good idea at what people–and my fellow editors–were looking for. Yesterday, my Drama Writing class had a visit from Marvin Moore, a good friend, formerly a fellow editor, and now the published author of 36 books, one of which has sold 100,000 copies. He has always written–and continues to write–for a Seventh-day Adventist market. He knows his market, he is known in that market, and he’s good at it.
I, on the other hand, have for the most part, turned my back on that market because I feel I have been called to write elsewhere. I write steampunk/alternate history, science fiction, apocalypse, and occasionally Christian suspense. I would have had a guaranteed audience if I had continued to write for my former employers, but I wanted to do something else. The risks are far greater–I don’t know if I will ever develop a reliable following writing what I write. But I don’t have to depend on writing as a primary income, and so I am following my muse.
No one ever said that writing wasn’t risky. If you want to write what you are inspired to write, then be prepared to deal with the challenge of following an audience.
But if you are mainly interested in making a living writing and getting read, then take the marketing approach. Find out what readers and editors are looking for, then give it to them.
That’s my advice.