Is Your Story Idea Marketable?

I recently posted a new YouTube video called, “How do you know if your story idea is marketable?”

Here’s the transcript:

Hi everyone. I’m Ephiny Gale, and today I’m going to be talking about how you might know if a story idea is marketable.

I know it’s been a while between videos. If you watched my earlier videos and you’re still here, thank you, I appreciate you. Thank you also to Mohammed for asking me about this topic – great question – and for being patient while this video was in the works. It’s here now. Let’s talk about story ideas and marketability.

Quick disclaimer: obviously this is all just based on my own opinions and experience – you’re free to disagree – and as usual, I’m looking at this primarily through the lens of selling short fiction to publishers, although I do think that it has a wider application as well.

Knowing what is marketable is largely a matter of informed guesswork and prediction based on what’s currently being published and what was published in the relatively recent past. For example, if Daily Science Fiction has recently published X and Y stories then they might also be interested in Z story, which is similar to those other two stories that they’ve already published.

So then your ability to predict becomes how well you know your potential markets. As most writers are statistically unlikely to sell their story to the first couple of places they submit to, I would encourage you to consider the wider publishing landscape for your genre rather than solely focusing in on a couple of specific publications.

It does definitely help to read where you’d like to be published, although you don’t have to read everything. You want to read enough to get a sense of the style and tone of the market so that you can get a sense of whether your own writing might fit there. If you read several pieces from a market you can also sometimes pick up on certain tropes or themes that keep coming up, which might indicate that they particularly like those tropes or themes and they’d like to see more of them in the future.

A few other things to consider here: there’s a difference between writing for a niche / stories that only a couple of magazines will publish, and stories that no one is publishing. If you’re writing something that doesn’t look like anything that’s being published at the moment, chances are you’re going to have some trouble selling it.

If there’s been a flood of a certain type of story lately – for instance, if a whole bunch of mermaid stories have recently come out – then no matter how good your own mermaid story is, publishers might be reluctant to publish another one.

And what doesn’t sell in novels might have an easier time in short fiction. I keep hearing about how incredibly difficult it is for people to sell portal fantasy novels, but I’ve also seen authors have success with portal fantasy short stories and novellas.

On a more personal note, you can also take into account your experiences with your other stories. What I mean is: have there been some of your stories that have sold really quickly, and others that have sold much more slowly? You can compare your current story or story idea against your previous stories and see what’s similar to to help predict whether your new story is also likely to sell quickly.

Or did a story sell relatively slowly but then went on to be received very well? For example, my own story ‘In the Beginning, All Our Hands Are Cold’ didn’t sell particularly fast, but it then went on to win an award, so when I later wrote another story with a similar feel I thought, “This one will probably do well,” and it did. It sold to a pro magazine.

There have been a couple of stories over the years that I found really difficult to sell, and even though I would still write what I wanted, if I had another idea that seemed like it would produce something similar to these difficult-to-sell stories, I would probably think twice about it or consider how I could tweak the idea to become more marketable.

Obviously, a lot of this marketability prediction process also relies on your ability to predict how a story idea is going to turn out once it’s fully written. How well do you know what the style, tone, length etc. are going to be in the final form? And a lot of predicting that is just a matter of practice and getting to know your writing and your writing process more and more as you keep going.

Lastly, and I went back and forth on a few names for this section, but let’s call it, “Thinking critically about who your story appeals to.” Separate from the current publishing landscape, this point really boils down to: is your story likely to appeal to other people, and thinking critically about who the audience for your story is. Whether the key audience for your story really is you and maybe a few others, or whether it does have that wider interest.

To me, that often relates to a story’s level of self-indulgence, and self-indulgence has actually become a bit of a controversial topic lately. I’ve seen tweets saying that your story should be self-indulgent, otherwise you’re not going to enjoy writing it, and I’ve also seen tweets saying that if a story isn’t self-indulgent then it’s going to be uninteresting and boring to read. And I really disagree with both of these statements, and I think that their authors are conflating putting pieces of yourself and your interests into a story with self-indulgence.

For clarity, I 100% support putting pieces of yourself and your interests into your stories. I think that makes them better. I just don’t consider that to be self-indulgence.

To me, a story becomes self-indulgent when it becomes so much about you in some way – which doesn’t necessarily have to include a self-insert – that it detracts from a stranger’s reading experience. That you’ve put so much of yourself into the story in a way that is making the story worse for other people to read. My writing as a teenager was often quite self-indulgent, and my writing got a lot better once that self-indulgence stopped.

I should mention here that I don’t think that there’s anything inherently wrong with writing a self-indulgent story for your own personal enjoyment. I just think that that story is then going to be less marketable and harder to sell.

So that’s it for today. All the best with writing, submitting, and selling your stories. If you enjoyed this video give it a like and subscribe, and I’ll see you in the next one. Bye.

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