Should You Write to Market: An Author’s Dilemma
There’s a popular term in the writing world directing individuals toward financial success: Write to Market. When you Write to Market, you are discovering what people are paying for and writing to satisfy that niche.
Is there anything wrong with this? Are you a sell-out for doing this?
Yes. And no.
Let me explain it in this way…
Once Upon a Time…
The first day of school. Senior year. The halls echoed with nervous chatter. The clanging of lockers mixed with the greetings of old friends and the shuffle of squeaking tennis shoes on linoleum.
I reached my assigned locker and looked down at the scrap of paper in my hand. A series of numbers scribbled on the note was my key to getting rid of the backpack slung over my shoulder. A body slid up behind me started spinning the combination on the locker next to mine. I turned to see a girl staring at a paper, similar to mine, trying to apply her own safe-cracking skills.
I was able to get my locker open on the second try and toss my backpack onto the metal floor of its new home. The girl was still fidgeting with her lock as I flipped the door shut on my locker. I could hear her let out a sigh of frustration as she started over spinning the dial and clearing her previous attempt from the lock.
“Need a little help?” I asked.
She smiled at me and blushed. She was cute. Not pretty, but cute. The freckles on her face a definite holdover from her elementary school years. She had pale skin and red hair. When she blushed, her face blended in with her hair, like a chameleon trying to hide in the woods.
She nodded and handed me the paper. I spun the lock like I owned it and quickly popped the metal can open for her.
“There you go.”
“Thanks.” She lowered her eyes, her red cheeks glowing.
A cocky grin caught the corner of my mouth. The hero. My first day and I’m a hero. I chuckled at myself and saw her eyes dart to my face and the sound.
I held up my hand, “I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing at myself.”
Her eyes lowered again and she dropped her chin toward her chest. Stupid me.
“The first day of school and everyone’s a little stressed about getting it right,” I offered.
“I’m Chase,” I tried to excuse my laughing.
“Connie,” she said.
“Cool. See you around, Connie.”
I waited for her to look up from her locker at me. She slowly pulled her gaze from her empty locker to my eyes and grinned. Definitely a cute smile. The combination of her shyness, mixed with her freckles and red hair, were a good compliment.
Sitting in my first class, I took a seat in the back corner to have a better view of everyone in the room. I’d gotten there while the seats were still mostly empty, hoping to watch as the others entered the room. The doorway to the classroom was like a curtain call as students began to push into the room. Two types of students made their way through the door: those looking for a seat and those looking for their friends.
The kids looking for empty seats scurried between the desks to sit down. A sense of relief on their faces as if sliding into home plate. Safe from being involved in the game on the field.
Then there were the others. The “populars.” They strode in and waved at friends. Their heads held high. Exaggerating their excitement to see long-lost friends from before the summer break. Fake little hugs for everyone.
I flipped open my Steno pad and waited for the teacher to call order to the room. The dust settled and the teacher began working his way through the list of students in his hands. I’d noticed a bombshell of a girl parked right in the middle of the room, surrounded by maturing shoulders, each vying for a shot of her attention.
“Victoria Lane?” the teacher called and looked directly at the girl.
She smiled back and flipped a hand in the air, “Here, Mr. Mott.” She shook her mane and pulled the oxygen from the boys around her.
She’s the one, I thought. She’s my ticket.
Unfortunately for me, this would be our only class together. Two classes would have made it easier to saddle up to her. Two classes would have made it a bit more natural to introduce myself. But one class would have to do. It is what it is.
Four periods down and the lunch bell sounded. With a sandwich in my left hand, I grabbed a soda from the machine in the corner of the lunchroom and surveyed the room for Victoria. Kids were scattered throughout the room. Pockets of chattering groups emerged at tables, along with students sitting alone further down the rows.
A red shock of hair caught my attention sitting at the end of a table near the entrance to the room. Connie. Our eyes met and she gave a shrugging smile. I smiled back and continued my search for Victoria. Nowhere in sight. I would have to do a little more work to find out where she spent her lunch hour.
Giving up, I looked to see Connie still alone, staring down at the brown paper bag and sandwich on the table in front of her. One last failed attempt to locate Victoria and I settled on heading toward Connie.
As I neared, I noticed her sit up a little straighter and brush a few crumbs off her lap.
“Is this seat taken?” I motioned to the empty seat across from her.
She shook her head, the red in her cheeks returning once again. I straddled the stool and leaned my forearms on the table and dropped my sandwich down in front of me. I took a draw on my open soda and set it down next to the sandwich.
“Surviving your first day?” I asked, keeping an eye on people coming and going from the main entrance.
I looked down at her lunch. A salami sandwich with Swiss cheese. She noticed my sandwich and smiled. A salami sandwich with Swiss cheese. To make matters worse, we had matching soda cans. Seeing the dilemma on my face, Connie’s face grew crimson red.
Luckily I forgot my bag of chips at home, I mused to myself.
She reached into her brown lunch sack and produced a bag of chips matching mine on the kitchen counter at home. She opened the bag and reached across the table to offer me a chip.
I reached inside the bag and grabbed a folded over chip and started to put it in my mouth. A cluster of kids made a loud entrance into the lunchroom and grabbed my attention. With the chip midair, I looked to see Connie, surrounded by the same shoulders from our first period. The odds stunk. This was going to take some work.
Connie looked at my the chip in my hand and followed my gaze to where Victoria was standing.
“She’s pretty,” Connie said and watched Victoria flirt with her suitors.
“And popular,” I added without realizing I was using my outer voice.
Realizing my blunder, I popped the chip in my mouth to block another stupid comment from emerging. I looked at Connie and she took a bite of her sandwich. She set her sandwich back down after taking a bite and met my gaze. Emerald green eyes. How did I not notice them before?
A movement near the end of the table stole my attention and I looked up to see Victoria and her entourage. She glided around the end of the table and stopped next to where I was sitting. I craned my head to the side to look up at her.
She put her hand on my shoulder, “Chase, isn’t it?”
“What?” I answered as if she were speaking a different language.
She laughed, though the rest of the guys with her seemed unamused.
“You name,” she continued. “It’s Chase, isn’t it? We’re in first period together.”
I nodded. She was prettier the closer she got—and she was really close right now.
“Come and sit with us over there,” she pointed at an empty table in the corner.
I looked at the guys surrounding her, a series of unwelcome glares showered me. By us, she meant her, obviously.
I almost knocked over my soda as I absently searched for it on the table while trying to keep an eye on her. I left my sandwich on the table and followed Victoria to the table in the corner like a puppy dog in tow.
“Here, sit by me,” Victoria offered the seat next to her before one of the shoulders could sit down.
I obeyed and sat. I glanced back to where I had been sitting. The distance seemed like miles. I watched as Connie reached across the table and gathered up my sandwich and put it into her brown sack, along with the leftovers of her own sandwich and chip bag. She stood and paused, looking in my direction. A tinge of guilt stung me as she turned and walked out of the lunchroom, dropping her lunch sack into the metal trash bin on the way out the door.
A voice next to me whispered, “Don’t worry about her.”
Victoria put a hand on my thigh and smiled as she spoke. I swear one of the shoulders made a growling noise in response to her touching me. Tough crowd.
The next morning repeated itself, me at my locker, Connie fighting with her locker combination. A hero again. Though this time, not feeing so much so.
I popped her locker open, “Hey, sorry about yesterday and abandoning you at lunch.”
Abandoning.I instantly wished I would have used a different word.
“That’s okay. I get it. She’s pretty and popular,” Connie tried to dismiss my apology, only this time she didn’t blush.
She turned her head and met my gaze straight on. She stared and waited, almost as if challenging my next comment before it appeared. Her transformation from super-shy to a tad bit brazen surprised me and threw me off guard. I stammered to change the subject.
“So, what did you bring for lunch today?” I asked.
“Bologna and cheese on a hoagie bun, you?” she quipped.
She watched as my brow furrowed and I looked into the locker at my lunch.
“Weird,” she said plainly and shut her locker. “See you around.” She turned and walked away, leaving me and my sandwich in the dust.
I sat in first period, thinking about my bizarre bizarre sandwich-connection with Connie when a hand squeezed my shoulder. I looked up to see Victoria standing there. She smiled before being lead off to her seat by her ever-present crowd of guys.
I felt another hand on my shoulder. This time the squeeze was more intense, sending a sharp pain down my arm. A burly boy-almost-man leaned down and whispered in my ear.
“You don’t belong,” he snarled and released his vice grip.
I rubbed the spot on my shoulder where his hand hand been, trying to relieve the sensation his grip had left. the man-boy strutted to his seat next too Connie and sat down. He looked back and me and glared right as Connie turned to smile at me. I met her smile with one of my own, but it was intercepted by the man-boy and his glare turned to a twist of anger and a throbbing vein in his neck. I quickly looked down to my notepad to break his menacing stare.
The teacher began his lesson and saved me—momentarily.
The better part of the class was mixed with a series of the teacher talking and me trying to smile at Connie, while avoiding eye contact with her brute. It was an ugly dance.
As class ended, Victoria walked by my seat and dropped a slip of paper on my desk. I snatched it up before any of her trailing goons could get their paws on it. I waited until the room cleared of students before unfolding the edges of the paper.
Meet me tonight at my house at 7pm. You need to wear name-brand clothes preferably, to look more like the other guys I hang out with. And pick me up in something nice. No minivans or anything like that. – Victoria
I stared at the not in disbelief. She wanted to meet me! Me!
I ignored the second half of the note. Most importantly, she wanted me to take her out. Win!
The chiming sound echoing down the hallway signaled the lunch hour. I went to my locker to grab my sandwich and drop off my notepad. Connie was leaning against her locker, lunch sack in hand.
“Hey,” I said and opened my locker. I tossed my notepad inside and grabbed my sandwich. I couldn’t contain the cheesy grin on my face from first period.
“What?” Connie asked.
“That’s not a ‘nothing’ smile.”
I had to tell someone, anyone, “Victoria asked me out.” I fought to not let out a boyish snicker.
“Well, good for you,” Connie offered. Funny thing was it sounded genuine, no sarcasm. “When are you going?”
“Tonight,” I jabbered.
Tonight, I gulped—the last half of the note finally struck me.
“What’s wrong?” Connie saw the concerned look on my face.
“I have to buy something to wear and see if my dad will let me use his car,” the time factor began to crush me, not to mention having no idea where the money for the clothes would appear from.
Connie turned her head, trying to make sense of the noise coming out of my mouth, “Buy clothes?”
Hearing her say the words made me blush this time. I felt like an idiot. I had to buy clothes to be seen with Victoria. But hey, it was worth it, right?
“What’s wrong with the way you look?” Connie stepped back and gave my shirt, pants, and shoes a once over. “You dress nice. Why does she want you to dress different?”
My shoulders shrugged before I could come up with a reasonable answer. It’s how I would get closer to Victoria. It’s how I would win the popular girl. It would make me popular.
Connie leaned back against her locker and watched me quietly as I racked my brain. Patiently waiting for me to answer her question. I had nothing. I searched her eyes for a glimmer of judgement—nothing.
“I need to fit in with the other guys around her,” I conceded.
“Oh,” she blinked and shrugged, then walked away in the direction of the lunch room.
I followed her from a distance and passed her as she sat near the front of the lunchroom, alone. I worked my way around the tables and found an empty seat across from Victoria at the corner table. The man-boy had made sure to sit right next to her and to have another one of their group flank her on the other side.
I watched and listened to the guys around her. Each trying to one-up the others in their displays and comments. The man-boy sat and listened, clearly unimpressed by the others, but keeping an eye on me. I tried to pay attention to what they were talking about. What made her laugh. Which stories and actions drew Victoria in and made her eyes sparkle.
When the conversation was dull, I turned my attention to what the other guys were wearing. The styles. The shoes and shirts. Their haircuts. My transformation would cost me, but it was worth Victoria’s attention.
Lunch came to an end and the roomful of fed students began to flow back out the lunchroom doors into the hallway. Victoria stood and the group at the table snapped up to follow her.
She paused and looked across the table at me, “See you tonight.”
She turned and walked away, leaving me with her pack of wolves and its leader, the man-boy. The exhilaration of her comment was drowned in the sea of testosterone surrounding me.
“Chase?” I heard an angelic voice just behind me. I turned to see Connie standing there. “Could you help me with my locker? I can’t get it open.”
A rush of relief filled my chest. I quickly stood and followed Connie away from the daunting glares.
“Thanks,” I said as she guided me out of the lunchroom.
“You looked a little outnumbered over there,” she laughed. She turned back to look at me, our eyes locking, the emerald color sending a thud in my chest. Her smile sending a second thud.
“Did it look that bad?” I tried to laugh off the situation at the table and the thudding in my chest.
“Let’s just say I was trying to come up with a good saying for your gravestone,” she stopped and turned to face me. She raised her hands in the air, “Here lies Chase. A victim of popularity. But hey, at least he looked good in his name-brand clothes.”
We both busted out laughing. A relieving release.
“That would have to be a big headstone to say all that,” she continued down the same path.
“I couldn’t afford it after paying for the clothes,” I fell on my popularity sword.
“How’s school so far?” I heard my father’s voice.
I was laying on the couch staring at the ceiling trying to come up with a plan to pay for the clothes and ask dad to use his car.
“It’s okay,” I responded.
“Just okay? You look like you’re already preparing for finals.” He sat down on the end of the sofa.
“Ahhh, that makes sense. They have the same effect,” he laughed and put an arm on the back of the sofa. “What’s on your mind?”
“There’s these two girls,” I started.
“That’s usually the case. Go on.”
I sat up and leaned my back against the opposite end of the sofa.
“Victoria is beautiful. Popular. Everyone knows her and the guys all wish they were going out with her.”
“And the other?” he asked.
“Connie. She’s pretty. Not popular at all.” I hesitated and shook my head, “And she has great taste in food.”
The last comment drew a confused look on my father’s face.
“Sounds like a dilemma.”
“To be with Victoria I have to change what I wear and I can’t show up driving mom’s minivan to take her out.”
The look of confusion returned to his face.
“Don’t ask,” I tried to laugh it off. “I have a date with Victoria at seven tonight.”
“So it sounds like you’ve already chosen.”
“Can I borrow your car?” I asked.
“Sure. Don’t stay out too late, though.” He stood from the couch and headed toward the kitchen.
I returned to my prone position on the couch, doing a mental walkthrough on the date. What I would say. How I would walk up to her front door. I closed my eyes and imagined the date…and drifted off to sleep.
“Hey,” my dad’s voice rang in my ears as I shook back and forth.
I woke to him standing over me, his hand on my shoulder jiggling me.
“Isn’t your date at seven?” he asked.
“What time is it?” I yawned.
My eyes shot open. I jumped from the sofa and looked to see my father jingling his key ring in his hand in front of him. I grabbed the keys and headed for the front door.
“Not too late,” he called out behind me.
I reached the front door and waved over my shoulder to him. I hit the remote on the keyring as I sprinted to his car. Climbing into the driver seat, I looked in the rearview mirror at my face. My hair was matted against my head on one side and sticking straight up on the other. I peered down at my clothes, still the same from school and wrinkled from my nap. Not name-brand. I glanced in the mirror one more time and reached up to try and tame the chaos that was my hair. Letting out a sigh, I leaned back against the headrest and closed my eyes.
Taking a deep breath, I reached forward and started the engine.
Putting the car in park, I turned off the engine and looked up at the front door to the house. I pulled myself from the car and climbed the cement steps to the patio. Raising my hand to knock on the door, I hesitated. What was I doing? I didn’t deserve to be here. I had no right to think I was on the same level as her. I certainly wasn’t entitled to be seen with her in public. This was a mistake.
I turned to walk back down the steps when I heard a familiar voice, “Chase?”
The sound of her voice sparked a thud in my chest. A rush of adrenaline flooded through me. There was no escape. Her voice kept me from launching myself down the steps and back to the safety of the car.
All options gone, I swiveled back around and met her questioning stare.
“Hi, Connie,” my voice cracked.
“What are you doing here? Don’t you have a date with Victoria?” she folded her arms and waited for an explanation. She looked at my hair, then my wrinkled clothes, and raised an eyebrow.
“Uh, about that. I called and cancelled.” Unsure what to do with my hands, I shoved them into my pants pockets.
“And you drove here just to tell me that?” her arms remained folded.
“Yes. I mean, no,” I jabbered. “I came here to see if you wanted to go for an ice cream or something.”
“Hmmm,” she placed a fingertip on her chin. “An ice cream. Well, I can’t, sorry.”
“I understand,” the thud in my chest turned to a lead weight. “I’ll just go then.”
“Let me finish,” she interrupted. “I can’t go out with your hair looking like that.” She pointed to the mess on my head. “Victoria’s not the only one with expectations.”
She ushered me inside and into the guest bathroom. I splashed water on my hair and used my fingers as a makeshift comb to tame it.
I stepped into the hall and was met by Connie and her mother. Her mother gave the self-same instructions to not stay out too late.
I walked Connie to the car and opened the door before going around to the driver’s side. Starting the engine I asked, “So ice cream then?”
“Sure,” she smiled back.
I put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb, “What’s your favorite flavor?”
“Cookies and cream,” she answered.
I shook my head. Who would’ve known.
In the end, the decision is yours. You have to decide which fits your lifestyle, dreams, and ambitions. There is a right or wrong answer, only the answer is dependent on the individual—its not universal.
Good luck, authors! Keep on writing!
Also published on Medium.