This is not a marathon.

It is a hurdle race.

This writing saying is new to me. This is not a marathon, it is a hurdle race.

When I had coffee with a writer friend last week, I realized how fully it encompasses a writing career. There is no made it. No end goal to attain. Once a story or book is published, it then must succeed. Once that occurs, the next piece must be written and published. If an award is won, there is still no telling what a next book will do.

Recently, on Book TV I watched a slew of Giller and Governor General award-winning authors speak about this very subject. What was interesting, (and reassuring), was that not one of them felt that their success helped them write. Most stated that, if anything, it impeded them, knowing that their next novel would be scrutinized to a larger degree.

I paused to think about this, relating to it completely. Writing as a business is a whole different thing to writing. Writing is solitary. It is done in a quiet space each of us finds even if we are surrounded by chaos. Yet, these hurdles we must pass are done in full view of an audience. A terrific agent recently asked me to send him my work so that he could decided if he could sell it. Not if it was good, but if it was marketable. As a young writer (not in age but experience šŸ™‚ ) I was thrown into reality with this one sentence. I categorized my work, compared it to specific novels, but still, I had not seen it as an item.

When you write, do you think about marketability?


28 thoughts on “This is not a marathon.

  1. No. Yes. No.

    I’ll try to avoid an essay here … I didn’t think about marketing until I started getting feedback on my novel. About half the readers in my critique group found my main character unsympathetic. A published novelist in the group suggested I reduce her “stage time” and increase scenes with my other 2 POV characters.

    Long story short, I was derailed for about 8 months trying to figure out how to make my story more salable. I finally decided I want to finish writing the novel I set out to write. If it’s not marketable I’ll be frustrated, but I want to tell this story. (I have been working to ensure her back story is better developed and she’s more sympathetic – she was coming across as one dimensional.)

    I write stories of crime and violent death from the perpetrators’ POV. This seems to be more acceptable in short fiction, and I’ve published some short stories in that vein. I think it’s more difficult to do in a novel, but that’s what I want to write.

    So no, I didn’t think about marketing when I started writing “psychological suspense”, and then I thought too much about marketing and now I only think of it in terms of trying to tell the best story I can.

    So it turned into an essay after all!

    I’ve been planning a series of posts on this as I struggle to find books “like mine” in preparation for marketing to an agent. I’ll keep the rest of my essay for that venue.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Cathryn!
      I think I deal with the process similarly as you. I write, this is left mainly to the subconscious and the story that needs to be told. Then, when it’s time to edit, the marketability of it enters. I did not realize this was what I was doing, but it only makes sense for me. As you say, to “think of it in terms of trying to tell the best story I can.”

    1. In the draft stage, when I think of consciously, I freeze, Sharon. It’s too much pressure for me. But, as Cathryn said, it is something that enters when editing. One of the best things for me about writing is that I never stop learning.

  2. When I first told my father I wanted to write, when I was about 19 or 20, he said “Have you thought about the market?” My father was an accountant. So I thought about the market. And I wrote some really bad stories. I thought about the market some more and decided if I really wanted people to pay me for what I was writing I should write to please rich people who had money to burn. I stopped writing stories and wrote about the stock exchange instead. I earned lots of money and I was satisfied for a while. I thought I would soon have enough money to be able to give up work for a few years and write something for myself. But then I got married and had a child and my expenses multiplied. I decided to compromise and wrote some things in genres I thought would sell. Science fiction. Crime. Horror. I researched those markets and got further and further away from why I wanted to read and why I wanted to write. Slowly I am coming back to it. Now I have decided it would be better not to get paid. I don’t want money for it. I want to write about what interests me and I don’t care who wants to read it. I don’t care if no-one reads it. I want to write for myself before it’s too late.

    1. wow Joseph, sounds like quite a journey!
      “got further and further away from why I wanted to read and why I wanted to write”. This is the most important aspect, isn’t it? Would I write something I didn’t enjoy because I thought it would sell? I cannot answer that as I have never been in the situation. I would love to say no, but who knows…I hold to the belief that I can write what I need to, and that there would be readers.

  3. Ah, this is what I blogged about this morning. I listened to feedback from someone who writes for a completely different market and I panicked. But now that I’ve calmed down, I realize that’s not my market and I’m back to writing what I’m passionate about.

  4. I like the hurdle metaphor for a couple of reasons. While the process of writing a novel is by no means short, it should not necessarily be an overly long and (for me, a short distance runner!) impossible task. (Perhaps publishing will be a marathon with hurdles for me! But writing … I hope not) I also think your image of the hurdles is a nice reminder that this is a quite an up-and-down process.

    As for marketability, I am still in the beginning stages of my novel and, like others, I have found thinking too much about marketability derails me. I’m in that “shitty first draft” stage, to quote Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. By nature, I’m too self conscious, and so I’m finding that I have to push that aspect of myself out of the way as much as possible when I sit down to write each morning. Sorry to keep paraphrasing others (and to go on for so long; apparently, I like to hear myself type!), but I think it was Aaron Copland, the composer, who said that inspiration may be a form of super consciousness or sub consciousness but it never stems from self consciousness. For me, marketing is very much a self conscious act. Necessary in the end, but not at all helpful in the beginning.

    All that being said, congrats on the contact with the agent!

    1. Hi Christina, and thanks for coming by!
      Inspiration never stems from the self-conscious – very true.
      Is the writing itself composed of hurdles? I think it is. I’ll get a scene, but occasionally will blunder about what will come next. Is the character depicted correctly? Is this chapter too long? too short? Is the cadence overly staccato? And for me it goes on and on…

  5. I started writing because of marketability, you may say. In a particular genre, I didn’t see anything that I would enjoy reading, though the overall concept of the genre should have provided a lot of material. This is why I started my current project.

    My market is me. If more enjoy it, then I guess that is cool.

  6. Nathan – that’s a very intriguing perspective – my market is me.

    Jennifer – I just noticed your comment on Stein’s “On Writing”. It would be great to see a post on how his book changed the way you wrote. Or if you’ve already done that, will you point me to the location in your archive. Now I *really* have to go back and refresh my memory.

    1. Thanks Cathryn! No, I haven’t done a post on this, I haven’t been doing this for long. But, I sure can – thanks for asking, and let me know if your dig it out again…

      1. It’s off the shelf and back on my stack! Judging by all the orange and green highlights, it was very useful. Unfortunately, I’m a “how to write and writing life” book addict, so the specifics are blurred into memory.

        I’ll be re-browsing it while I await your post!

      2. Thanks, Cathryn! Pls be patient while I gather my thoughts on this one. Kiddies are home full-time for summer now…brain is on low fuel šŸ™‚

  7. I try not to think about the market, because I’m always convinced of the absolute unmarketability of my work, and the unmarketability of my work makes me want to quit.

    So I refuse to consider it, not while I’m wrassling with the first draft.

    1. Thanks for stopping in Katy! The first draft seems to be the common theme.
      I am at the query stage with one novel, and sometimes thinking about it for that novel spills into WIP – no good when that happens. I have to turn it off, otherwise I just fidget at the computer!

  8. Writing without the consideration of selling or marketability is like writing in a vacuum. If there is no cosideration toward selling, then we are all writing to put our vast brilliant output in a time capsule for someone to read at a later point in human history.


    I want to sell! i want to be published! I want to make money!

    Ah, but I do not think I have to alter ANYTHING about myself or my writing to do so. The internet, the WorldWideWeb has created a whole new spectrum for our literary dissertations. There IS a market for you and you and you.

    I don’t read romance. But it is a big seller. I don’t read fantasy but it is a big seller. I don’t read goth but it is a big seller. I write noir type mystery and suspense fiction featuring really deviant characters, sick people, off-beat characterizations. There is a market for that, too.

    All of you—keep writing your own “write” and you will sell. IF that is what you want.

    1. HI Tikiman! Nice to hear you!
      I love your confidence! I am absorbing it. šŸ™‚

      “IF that is what you want”
      My readers tell me this all the time. They tell me it us up to me I will succeed or not.

  9. I started out writing what I enjoy reading but when I got closer to finishing I started looking at the market. I think you have to write what you love because you have to stick with that book for a long time.

    Just my two cents.

    1. Thanks Patti – I love hearing how everyone does it! It is a constant learning process…
      And, I certainly agree with you! My novel has been with me for five years now.

  10. I don’t, I can’t, think about marketability while I’m writing the first draft. It’s impossible, because I’ll stopper up any flow of creativity. I’ll be thinking about someone else taking apart the words. I’d stop writing.

    I think about it after, when I’m editing.

  11. I never think about marketability. I write what interests me, what compels me, because I think that this gives me the energy to overcome my jitters when taking the book to the public.

    Publishers are looking for people who, like you, are keeping blogs and reaching out to get to know people online–there are podcasters getting book deals they might not have gotten because they’ve built a fan base. Amazing how attractive some ideas look when there’s already a potential readership!

    Congrats, by the way, on the agent contact. As hurdles go, getting one to look at your work is jumping a big one! How exciting!

    1. Thanks Nadine!
      – gives me the energy to overcome my jitters when taking the book to the public. – Believing in our work. Sometimes, when re-reading, I think, goodness, what garbage is this? But, I have learned to ignore those thoughts, and hold onto the moment when I knew it was wonderful. Then it passes, and the next time I look, I think, gee, this is really good.

  12. I’m starting to think about marketability only because I want people to read my stuff. I’m tired of writing only for myself. I crave the dialogue with the reader.

    I guess that means I’m still trying to scale the first hurdle.

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