Do You Write For Yourself Or Do You Write For Book Buyers?

Write For Todays Book Buyers

Nothing is the same as it was ten years ago for today’s book buyers.

Ebooks, print-on-demand paperbacks, Kindle, self-publishing, online book buying, and the rise and rise of online book reviewers have changed the book market in almost every way possible.

Anyone involved in the book publishing industry has had to change.

And to adapt, accept, and modify to suit an ever-changing and evolving market, except in one regard.

The slow-moving story

Fiction is still a slow-moving animal. Literary fiction is even slower.

Yet, books are consumed by readers who have less time, less attention span, and less willingness to spend reading hours waiting for the action to begin.

Dostoevsky would have been a total flop in today’s book market.

Today’s readers are now reading more and more books on phones.

It means that thousands of words describing how a pile of dirty dishes rest in a sink would lose a reader in no time. My apologies here to Joyce Carol Oates.

Every writer knows that the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule should apply to their writing.

Writers also know the famous quote by Charles Reade, “Make ’em laugh; make ’em cry; make ’em wait.”


What book buyers want

But in today’s reading world, perhaps it’s time to forget all this old sage advice and apply a new writing rule.

One that says give readers what they want, and give it to them fast.

In a recent article in Salon, well-known author Lydia Millet takes up this point in an in-your-face way with her article, “Porn is the secret of my future success.”

She makes several points that are relevant to writers today.

We don’t get to the point, not for 200 pages, at least. Sometimes 3,600, if we’re Knausgaard.

At writing workshops, they taught us to show not tell — well, showing takes time.


Black words on a white page. We figure we can get away with that. Laughable. Honestly.

No wonder only a handful of us carve out a living from this activity. Give us a few years, we’ll have to cast our lot in with the poets. Those poor saps.

Millet uses the example of pornography in her article, but I can see how her idea would apply to many genres.

Get to the action, stop world-building, and stop worrying about nuance. On how porn is perceived, she writes:

No one critiques you for missing the mark with a metaphor, for example, or for inconsistency of character.

Let’s say you have a fireman, right? He’s dressed for a four-alarm fire, he’s got the fiberglass helmet, the pull-on boots, and high-vis yellow jacket.

He goes to a woman’s front door, rings the bell. She lets him in, wearing an apron.

He instantly removes his pants. No one says, Hey, a fireman wouldn’t do that! You haven’t earned that moment!


New voices and original ideas

Today’s book buyers want entertainment, escape, and, most importantly, instant gratification.

It’s worth considering the point that reading is not an activity that is solely applicable to books and ebooks.

The Internet is all about reading text, so ebooks and books are but a small part of a very competitive market.

The reader and book buyer of today is not the same animal as ten years ago.

So would I be right in assuming that, like me, as a writer, you are still writing for yourself, and for a time long past?

I’ll admit it and plead guilty here.

When you look at ebooks, in particular, that are selling well now, they are clearly written for a specific market niche genre and get to the story quick smart to hook the reader.

These books are products created for the market and not for the writer’s ego.

Even the covers of best-selling books in certain genres have a similarity in colors and designs that are designed to attract a particular reading demographic.

The book is not a book anymore. It’s a product competing in a highly competitive online market. Only authors who deliver the best stories win.

Perhaps it’s not about writing at all.

It’s now about producing a marketable and saleable product that today’s book consumers will want to buy.

So, are you still writing for yourself or for today’s book buyers and readers?


More reading: 350 Other Words For Said For Your Dialogue Writing

Derek Haines

A Cambridge CELTA English teacher and author with a passion for writing and all forms of publishing. My days are spent writing and blogging, as well as testing and taming new technology.

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8 thoughts on “Do You Write For Yourself Or Do You Write For Book Buyers?

  • Avatar for Jack Eason
    December 4, 2021 at 11:20 am

    These days I write for myself and to hell with anyone else!

  • Avatar for Jack Eason
    April 11, 2021 at 11:59 am

    I agree with Christine, I refuse to pander to morons as you well know Derek. If that means that my books struggle in today’s market, so be it!

  • Avatar for Brad Graber
    May 11, 2017 at 6:52 am

    Love this piece. That is how I write. So glad to hear that I’m on the right track.

  • Avatar for Joe Gorman
    April 22, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    Thank you very much for your keen insights and advice about self-publishing. I am most grateful and appreciative.

  • Avatar for Kimberly
    April 11, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately in regards to diversity and LGBTQ books. It seems that agents and publishers want to add more diverse books to the market, and I totally get it, but unless that is a natural element in my story, I don’t want to add it to make it more ‘marketable.’ This includes hot button topics as well, but, I get why they sell. It is real life and it’s not always told.

  • Avatar for Sharonlee Holder
    May 11, 2016 at 10:04 pm

    I write the way the story wants to be told. So far, that tends to be fast-paced and to the point. Should that change and a story requires of me a little more time and extra words to grow into the fullness of its being, that’s okay too. Swings and roundabouts.

  • Avatar for Pam Bloom
    May 11, 2016 at 8:43 pm

    Well this post just cheered me right up. I write concisely and, some would say, quite shortly. My first novel, which admittedly was written for children of 11 and over, is only 37,000 words long. The chapters are around 1,500 words each. I don’t do waffle. I have yet to self-publish, but hope that purely because my writing doesn’t beat about the bush (no pornography pun intended) it’ll attract some readers.

  • Avatar for christineplouvier
    May 11, 2016 at 7:32 pm

    Forget pandering to the lowest common denominator, who are so busy navel-gazing, they don’t have time to read. I write the way I read.

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