Jon Gibbs’s Ten things I wish I knew before I was published #8: Write what you know

Write what you know / write what they know.

Look around to see who has just published a book in your genre that is doing well NOW. This will show you what the market is currently handling. If a story is in a magazine, it is good. They had to go through the same submission process you have. Look at what they did. How does it differ from yours? How is it the same?

I’ve been trying to take this advice. I look at novels published by a publishing house I am interested in, and many times I shake my head. It’s hard.

Since I submitted to an anthology recently, I decided to read one (I’ve never read an anthology before). I was surprised. The stories were more like excerpts than stand-alone stories, and two of them ended in a way that actually made me mad. (No ending)

Was I going to write my short like that? No way!

Also, people have noted lack of emotion in my characters. So I look for emotion in recently published work, and Dang it I can’t find any! I mean, I get an idea of how they feel, and I think I am doing the same thing. Ugh. I just don’t know sometimes.

It’s really hard to read something and translate it into your own work… But when I do read something I like, I highlight it for reference later. I do try to learn from anything good that I read. But I learn even more from the bad stuff I read 🙂

Note: The above are Jon Gibb’s main speaking points, with my rambling opinions attached.

Jon Gibbs is the author of one of my son’s favorite books: FUR-FACE, which was nominated for a Crystal Kite Award.

Jon is an Englishman transplanted to New Jersey, USA, where he is an ‘author in residence’ at Lakehurst Elementary School. Jon is the founding member of The New Jersey Author’s Network and

Jon blogs at



20 responses to “Jon Gibbs’s Ten things I wish I knew before I was published #8: Write what you know

  1. My writer’s group and I like to speculate about what the next trend will be and have fun coming up with outlandish stories. We figure that writing to trends is rather pointless because by the time our stuff is published the market will be flooded by stories using that trend. Maybe one of our wild and wonderful stories will be a trend-setter that everyone else wants to follow. 🙂

  2. Please visit because you have been nominated for an award. I hope you choose to accept. 🙂

  3. I seem to come up with ideas that don’t quite mesh with what’s out there. Hey, that could be good—maybe I’ll start the next big craze. (If you believe that, I have a bridge in New York I’m looking to sell….) It might be easier with short stories, but by the time I could even get a half-way legible draft done of “what the market wants,” I’d be two fads behind. Some people can do it, but I think most of us have to trust our instincts (and betas).

    • I have heard not to write to the market. The reason for this is just what you said. By the time you finish your novel the trend is over and you can no longer sell what you have. I think you should just write what you want to write. That way you’re writing something good because it comes from inside you. You never know when the next big thing is going to happen. It’s all just luck anyway.

  4. In deciding what to write about, it’s easy to be torn between choosing something you think might be marketable based on current sales (which is risky in and of itself as readers can be fickle) and something you really want to cover. I guess I still veer to the latter, because if you don’t enjoy the subject you’ve chosen, it will be tough to finish the book. Then again, I’m a newbie, so I still have no clue what I’m talking about. 🙂

  5. typo’s … ooops. Think I meant typos. 🙂

  6. In this busy world and land of small screens, typo’s are so easy. I hate them, but don’t worry about it too much. The message above is certainly more important.

    I think an author needs to stay true to themselves when writing. Analyzing other works is a great way to learn, but writing what you know, are interested in, and have a passion about will produce a better book than trying to write like other’s who are already published. Loved this article.

  7. Wow, tough crowd this morning with typos. 🙂 The Fault in Our Stars…now there’s emotion in there and as a reader, you run through every one you can think of. Nothing explodes, though, except for the lives of the characters you grow to love. John Green’s writing is mind-blowing.

  8. Completely true. There was this one book I read which had me feeling so much emotion for the character I cried. I’ve never cried at a book before in my life. And I can’t remember what it was called!

    Typo alert: First sentence, “you genre.” And last paragraph, “you own work.” Sorry 🙂 I always get twitchy with typos so I assume everyone else does too!