When you wrote your first book, did you consider who was going to read it? Let me rephrase that: Who was going to want to read it? Probably not. You took the first few years to get through the grueling draft you believed would never end. Then end it did, and you couldn’t have been more thrilled. What did you do next? If you’re like most first timers, you think the hard part’s over and you’re ready to be published. But that’s not how it works. The editing and revising process should take twice or even three times as long as it did to even write the first draft! But that’s content for another post…
For now, the topic of interest is “who is your audience”. Why is this important to consider? Allow me to give an example.
John is twenty-one, handsome, gradating from college and ready to end his “single” status. So, John decides to go on a blind date with a girl named Emily.
John is a simple guy and fully believes that if he meets the right girl, she’s going to “love me for me”. So on his first date, he doesn’t wear anything special. He shows up in his favorite 90’s Tee with an old stain on the side. He meets a nice girl, but doesn’t ask about her background, instead he just talks about himself. He has a great time, they order steak and he laughs when she gets mad he tried to eat off her plate.
Two weeks later… Emily still hasn’t called back. I guess she wasn’t the right girl for me…
No, John. You weren’t the right guy for her. You didn’t once consider presenting yourself for the occasion, nor did you consider what it is she wanted to hear. You only did what you wanted to do and it blew up in your face.
This can be applied to writing. Sure, you can expect the reader to “get you”, and appreciate your style and voice. Or, you can do your research and gear your writing towards something that will appeal to your readers. This, my friend, is your target audience.
No matter how much we might wish it, there is no target audience with “Your Name Here” branded on their forehead (unless you’re Matt Damon). You have to understand who it is that will read your books. Are you writing for Young Adults? Then you need to use phrasing they will understand, situations they can relate to, and characters they will enjoy reading about. I don’t care how much you love talking about Andy Griffith, it’s just going to fly over their heads and bore them.
In my case, I tend to use an edge of purple prose with high, almost scriptural, way of writing. My favorite genre is high fantasy mixed with paranormal, not so much a focus on politics but a turmoil of character emotion. I know it’s not what’s expected, and I know it’s not what people want to read, but that’s what I like. And just because I have a few favorite books that were published by the big 5 doesn’t mean “Oh look, they did it so I can do it too!” (Namely Earthsea, which is a masterpiece of purple prose in an appraised form.)
Ok sure, there are exceptions, and that’s what is so wonderful about this industry. There are no ultimatums. But there is a standard, and unless you’re the special 2%, you’re going to have to conform yourself to that standard, at least to an extent. And then, once you’re established, you’ll have the platform and fan base to loosen your belt and relax if you really want to.
So if you find yourself struggling getting an agent’s interest, or building up a fan base, take a good, long look at your work. Did you write it only for yourself? Is this really just an extravagant and well-thought out diary entry? Or is this something you’ve polished for others to read and enjoy? Have you considered their tastes and expectations?
Ask yourself the hard questions, and then listen to your gut. If you bite your lip and squirm, maybe you need to ask yourself what are your true goals. Do you want to be recognized as an established author? Or do you just want to write what you love, self-publish it to put it out there, and leave it at that? There’s nothing wrong with either route, but you need to decide which path you truly want to be on.