Writing What you Love Vs. Writing What Sells

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When it comes to writing, I generally follow the Toni Morrison rule: “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

That’s why I write the kind of books that I write: southern paranormal fiction and humorous fiction. I generally write the types of books that I would walk into a bookstore and buy.

But there’s another issue here: actually making a living as a writer.

Before I started my publishing journey I was aware of a few things:

It’s hard out there for an author, especially an independent one, without the marketing muscle of a big time publishing company. There’s no guarantee that the book you spent a year, two years, or even ten years writing will ever make a dime.

But there is a genre that seems to be raking in the cash: erotica. In an article titled “Why Boomer Women Are Hot For Erotica E-Books” author Julio Ojeda-Zapata discusses the convergence of two trends: a rise in e-readers (fans can now read these books with anonymity) and a mainstream acceptance of erotica (the success of books like 50 Shades). In fact, in 2012 romance and erotica books raked in $1.4 billion in sales. The erotica book business seems to be a-boomin’.

I recently came across a blog post where an author was saying that the genre she loves the most doesn’t sell well but her erotica titles sell something like 2,000 copies a week (yes, that’s 8,000 copies a month).

After I read that I said to my husband: “I think I’m going to write erotica under a pen name.” And you know what happened? He laughed at me! I said, “What’s so funny?”

He said, “You don’t even like erotica!”


“I think you should just stick to what you’re doing.”

I have to be honest with you: I have been seriously considering trying my hand at erotica (under some sexy pen name like Veronica Sizzle) just to see what happens, but you know what? My husband is probably right: I should probably just stick to what I’m doing because a book written without passion is sort of, well…meh. And the last thing I want to do is get outed by TMZ for writing subpar erotica. No, ma’am!

So I guess I’ll just stick to writing what I love and do like all the other authors who came before me: read as much as I can, hone my craft, and hope that with a little dedication and persistence, my writing career will eventually take off.

But it is very tempting to try and write the trend in expectation of getting a huge pay day. Very! So if you ever see a book by Veronica Sizzle, just don’t judge me, okay?

What about all of you? What genres are you writing in? Do you think about book sales when you write? Does what you write just so happen to fall into a genre that’s hot right now?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!





32 thoughts on “Writing What you Love Vs. Writing What Sells

  1. True, historically & to-date, very, VERY few books are selling at the Harry Potter rate. I’ve held admin jobs that paid more.

    But if you’re looking to make “more” money, I wouldn’t pay for book tours. Too many writers spend far too much money bringing out one book. Copyright fee, printing, proofreader, cover design, plus giveaways, review copies, conference costs and then blog tours on top = too much money for the “average” salary most earn per book a year.

    I prefer to be read foremost, which in that case, blog tours are notoriously advantageous! Many of those who I’ve interviewed on my blog have won notable awards, been on Oprah, gotten reviewed, and certainly are being read,,, which not necessarily is all on me, though I have been keeping an eye on this trend. Which brings me to another irony you’ve blogged on. Ironically, I didn’t intentionally set out to write erotica… I just happen to write direct sex… which woo hoo, those books do get read!!! And still, I’m a big fan of reading fun light-hearted chicl-lit stories……… so, if I were you, I’d stay with my heart…

    • Okay, so you’ve officially cracked me up! 🙂 Too bad I don’t have an affinity for writing erotica. I’d be curious to see what others have to say about paying for book tours: on one hand I feel like I can do them myself but on the other hand, I think that if a blog tour can reach another audience then that’s a plus (but how much is that worth?).
      Quanie recently posted..Paid Blog Tours…Are They Worth It?My Profile

  2. Lol @ Veronica Sizzle! I agree with your husband. Keep writing what you like to read. I do see your point however. As an author who still has to go to my day job 5 days a week, I can totally relate to the temptation to write some erotica and rake in the dough! I think that answer is to find a way to write what you want, but also do as much as possible to write what sells. Once you find your niche audience, readers can be extremely loyal.
    Faith Simone recently posted..Serena Wills is in Our Author Spotlight!My Profile

  3. I definitely write what I love to read, and since I like reading adult literary and thrillers, I hope to write them one day, too. Veronica Sizzle is such an apt name for an erotica novelist. No, no, I won’t judge you. Have lots of fun if you do get to it, Quanie! (I also love westerns, but I don’t think I’ll be able to write this well.)
    Claudine @ CarryUsOff Books recently posted..Finding Magic IN WordsMy Profile

  4. I say give it a try. Write it, and if you think it’s good, share it with friends who like the genre and will give you an honest opinion. Who knows, maybe you’ll turn out to be crazy good at writing erotica, and we’ll all know the name Veronica Sizzle five years from now. ^_^

    As for pen names, some friends once told me I should write fanfic porn under the pen name “Buckingham N. Flagrante”. Totally going to use that if I ever need an erotica pen name, because it’s just that ridiculous.
    Mason T. Matchak recently posted..Quotable.My Profile

  5. Omg, that is just screaming for a comeback! You need to tell him, “You know, honey, you’re right. Writers should write what they know, and well…”
    *cackles* Kiddding. Kidding. 😛

    From all I can tell, I did better than most on sales of my debut, but the numbers are finally falling. If I don’t write another book, and then another, I won’t keep earning.

    What I DO know is, good books sell. We should focus on putting out the best books we can and market them reasonably. Even if our products take a while to get noticed, don’t give up. Keep writing.

    Great post as always, Quanie.
    Melissa Maygrove recently posted..Blog Tour – Sidelined by Kyra LennonMy Profile

    • LOL! I hadn’t even thought about that! I will definitely have to whip out that one-liner next time. And I think it’s GREAT that your book is doing so well! When you have your next one ready you’ll have an audience eagerly anticipating it. Kudos, honey! And you’re right: all we need to do is keep writing (instead of always thinking about writing, like I do…).
      Quanie recently posted..Writing What you Love Vs. Writing What SellsMy Profile

  6. I’ve totally considered writing erotica under a pen name, too!!! I’m STILL considering it, actually. I have no idea if I’d be any good at it – I don’t read it, either, LOL – but it might be worth a try! Then there’s that bridge to nowhere I’ve been wanting to buy, too… 😉
    Liz Blocker (@lizblocker) recently posted..Freewriting as FuelMy Profile

    • I’m getting the impression that several of us have been thinking about it. Seriously, though: I could only do it under a pen name! And if you’re interested, I’d be happy to sell you that bridge. All money should be forwarded to me via PayPal. Nonrefundable, of course. *Insert evil laugh* Ha! 🙂
      Quanie recently posted..Writing What you Love Vs. Writing What SellsMy Profile

  7. My writing life is divided because I also do freelance writing work, and that currently contributes significantly more to paying the bills than fiction does. The freelancing is by definition writing what sells, which is better than going back to an office job, but can get tedious when the subject doesn’t interest me.

    But that has got me thinking about whether there’s a middle ground – could I take all the experience I’m getting writing about something like management topics and write a management book that would interest me more than other books on the subject. Maybe something with a twist relating it to my passions – Management Lessons From Epic Fantasy or suchlike? It’s a middle ground that might let me sell more (though like you I’d want a pen name for the diversion) but might just be doing what I don’t want to do for little profit.

    I guess sometimes you just have to write something new. And maybe your middle ground would be combining the paranormal with erotica – I know plenty of people who read that combination.

    • Hi Andrew, thanks for stopping by. Writing a paranormal-erotic novel had never even crossed my mind–and it might not be a bad idea! I think you’re right about exploring a management book that would interest you, because chances are, if it interests you then it will probably interest someone else.
      Quanie recently posted..Writing What you Love Vs. Writing What SellsMy Profile

  8. There are never any guarantees…and it’s also impossible to follow trends. Dystopian books are lining the shelves (especially in YA) but agents are saying publishers don’t want to see any dystopian books anymore. They’ve been saying that at least a year–yet someone who came along and looked at the books that are popular would incorrectly assume that’s what they should write. It would be better to look at what agents and publishers are saying they want (they do this a lot on Twitter) and see if there’s something along those lines that meets what you like. Chances are, you enjoy reading something they’re looking for. Of course, the best thing is to write what you love, but–as an example, if what you love is writing romance novels about movie stars and those books have been deemed unsalable by major romance publishers (as they have for decades), you have to ask yourself if you’re comfortable going with a small press or self-publishing or never being published…or if you’d rather buckle down and write what they are buying.
    Stephanie Faris recently posted..Why My Hometown is the BestMy Profile

    • Stephanie, you give some great advice about searching for what agents are looking for. I totally agree with you that it’s impossible to follow trends because by the time you figure out what the trend is and write the book, a new trend has emerged. I also agree with you that if what you love to write isn’t “sellable” then you do have to decide if you’re okay with not selling many books or buckling down and (sigh) writing what you know is going to sell.
      Quanie recently posted..Writing What you Love Vs. Writing What SellsMy Profile

  9. Hi Quanie,
    I love that name “Veronica Sizzle.” I don’t know if I could write erotica. I have a hard time putting down the sex scenes in a regular novel. When I’m writing sex, there are all these censors in my head, like my grandmother, etc. It’s hard to silence them. Erotica is best, to me, when its written from inside the character’s mind, not when it’s written like a sex tape, recording every twitch. You have to write what you love, because that’s where the fun comes in. But, if you can make a little money with erotica, I encourage that too. I wish I could do it. If writing a bad sex scene ever turns into being a great sex scene, then I’m in business.
    Burnita recently posted..TORTURE!My Profile

    • Burnita, you are so right! I would be MORTIFIED if I wrote erotica and my mother read it. Yikes! I also find it hard to write sex scenes (that’s probably why I don’t do it). But I think if I could be completely anonymous by writing under a pen name I might be a tad less inhibited. And if writing a bad sex scene ever turns into being a great sex scene, then we’re both in business, LOL!
      Quanie recently posted..Writing What you Love Vs. Writing What SellsMy Profile

  10. I always write what I love. Sometimes the stories fall under what’s popular now and what’s selling, but sometimes they don’t, and are stories I wish were out/popular. I mostly write romantic-suspense and supernatural-thrillers.

    I do have a few steamier, sexier stories I plan to write, but even though they have more sex scenes, and are more descriptive than what I normally write, I still wouldn’t classify them as erotica. Who knows? Maybe they are. But they have story lines beyond just sex. I won’t or publishing them anytime soon though, so we may have to wait to find out their true genre and how they sell.

    I think you’re right though to stick with what you love, instead of writing something your heart isn’t in.
    Chrys Fey recently posted..Computer ProblemsMy Profile

    • Agreed! I think if I tried to write erotica it would probably turn into something paranormal, and then I would forget all about the erotica elements and focus on the spooky stuff. I can’t even think about “what’s popular” when I write (but part of me wishes I was one of those writers who could!). And I’m sure that whenever your steamy stories are ready for the market, you will have a HUGE audience for them.
      Quanie recently posted..Writing What you Love Vs. Writing What SellsMy Profile

  11. Nice post and I really love that Toni Morrison rule. I write what I want to read because I do read it, over and over, while I’m writing. 😀
    I not only write stories I want to read but also stories I feel should be told. Real stories are not always pretty and I assume most of the characters in erotic stories are described as “pretty” with toned bodies and lots of titillating visuals, smells, and more. I just can’t suspend my disbelief enough to read about an erotic journey that is pretty for the voyeur (reader) and all body parts being perfect…
    Terri Patrick recently posted..Family fun and moreMy Profile

  12. I definitely write books that tickle my heart and shed light from within my own creative world. I think when we master what we are good at, it has the potential to sell. And let me tell you something, Quanie… you created such a hysterical, heartfelt and down-to-earth novel with “It Ain’t Easy Being Jazzy.” I couldn’t stop laughing!
    BUT, you are right– being an independent author is TOUGH WORK. We have to market, promote and pretty much do everything ourselves. So most of the time, it’s hard to spread word that our books even exist.
    I’ve enough success with my children’s book to be content for a first timer. But this is because I avidly put myself out there to connect with schools and libraries. As far as Amazon sales, they aren’t moving because it’s impossible to spread word for a self-published children’s book. However, I do impeccably well within the school districts.
    I knew I had a clever idea but I didn’t want to spend years trying to pursue publishing it, traditionally. Houses are very picky nowadays and unless you have a good platform, you are probably better off finding your own niche and building it from the ground up. Word of mouth has helped provide the fuel for me writing what I love. So I guess I am old school when it comes to writing. I think we should write what moves us and makes us feel alive.
    Now, with that being said, I also think it’s extremely smart to think like a business woman or entrepreneur. If erotica is where the money is, then honey, go for it! Shoot, I might even take a stab after reading this post! I might go under the name Gigi Smooches. Ha! That sounds terrible!! My boyfriend is looking at me like I have an eyeball smack dab in the middle of my forehead. I take that as a big “NO” from him, lol.
    Loved reading this=)
    Gina Stoneheart recently posted..Getting Back on the BikeMy Profile

    • LOL! Gigi Smooches! I think that if a writer is writing what’s hot and just so happens to be good at it, then that is definitely a plus. But for someone like me who knows nothing about erotica I’m not sure how well a book like that would be received from me or if the book would even be good. Seriously, though. I am considering giving it a try!
      Quanie recently posted..Writing What you Love Vs. Writing What SellsMy Profile

  13. I tend to follow Morrison’s advice too, writing the kinds of books I love to read, but also the books I like to write–which would be literary fiction. The thing is, I also enjoy a good romance or adventure or thriller, but I’m not “called” to write in those genres. I do love good “hot” romance scenes, probably not what you’d call erotica, and I tend to include those when appropriate in my stories and novels. But a hated “50 Shades”, not only for the piss poor writing, but because the sex scenes just weren’t turn-ons for me. I got zilch out of them. Not “hot” at all. Just creepy. Now Lady Chaterley’s Lover, which was banned for its erotica, THAT was hot. Some of Henry Miller’s lusty scenes were hot. Sometimes I think it might be fun to write erotica that met those levels of literary hotness and see how well it sells today in the e-book market. My first taste of erotica when I was a teen was the wildly popular and banned novel called “Candy” I believe that came out in the 60’s. From what I remember, it was vastly superior to “50 Shades”, but my memory could be faulty. Just googled it, here’s a link to info about it, listed by Playboy as one of the sexiest novels ever written: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candy_(Southern_and_Hoffenberg_novel)

  14. Writing multi-genre can work…sometimes. I prefer to write romance; however, I am working on a romance/mystery based on the heroine’s sister in my first book. I think writers write in what they are most attracted and comfortable with. I have read works by Phillip Kerr who writes excellent historical mystery novels on policeman, Bernie Gunther, during Germany’s Third Reich. Kerr also writes children’s stories and popular fiction. I was recently surprised to discover Ian Fleming (James Bond author) wrote Jitty Jitty Bang Bang, a popular children’s novel and movie. Write what you love and what makes you happy.

    • I agree with you, Urenna. We should definitely be writing what makes us happy but I also understand why some authors decide to write the trend: because they are thinking about making money. But then again, by the time you figure out the trend and actually write the book, the trend is usually over, lol.
      Quanie recently posted..Writing What you Love Vs. Writing What SellsMy Profile

  15. Quannie, I too write paranormal fiction. I have an African American twist to mine and it is YA. I’ve noticed within my group of author friends that some are getting into erotica. I thought about it, ever so briefly. My mind just isn’t there so I must stay with what calls to me. My chosen genre is complicated enough. Nice post! I’m visiting from Shewrites.com.
    Stephanie Rose Bird recently posted..Striking Balance Through TadasanaMy Profile

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