Should Authors Be Writing for a Specific Audience?

Should Authors Be Writing for a Specific Audience?

Authors write to be read. We write not only for ourselves, but to share our thoughts, our words, our stories with others. Unless we happen to be Emily Dickinson (whose work was never published during her lifetime), we inevitably realize our words will be read by someone other than ourselves (even if it’s only our mothers). In short, we write for an audience.

Who Was Your Intended Audience When You Started Writing?

When you wrote your first story, who were you writing it for? What spellbound audience were you envisioning somewhere in the back of your brain? Chances are the only audience you had in mind at that point was yourself and, perhaps, your family.

Most of us write that first story for no other reason that because we want to satisfy and entertain ourselves. At that point, we’re writing almost entirely for an audience of one. But should we be lucky enough to grow our audience in the interim between Story #1 and Story #2, the simplicity of our focus has a way of evolving, and not necessarily for the better.

The Pressures of Having an Audience

As you add more people to your audience, not only will the pressure to perform increase, but so will the pressure to conform to what you think your audience wants to hear. No longer are you able to please only yourself; suddenly, you have a whole host of readers to think of.

And, naturally, you want to please them. You want to give them exactly what they want, for reasons of personal pride as well as professional necessity. But the simple fact is that you can’t please everyone. And when you start trying to please everyone, you’ll very likely end by pleasing no one, including yourself.

Should You Write With a Specific Audience in Mind?

“Know your audience” is a common tenet of all media. After all, if you don’t know your audience, you can’t give them what they want, right? Yes and no.

Should you write for a specific audience?

Writing for an audience, instead of merely to an audience means you’re molding your artistic vision to please the whims of the public. You’re risking the creativity and the uniqueness that only you can bring to your writing.

When you catch yourself censoring a passage or altering the direction of the plot simply because you feel this is what someone else would want you to do, you’re sacrificing the artistic gift that is distinctly yours. You weren’t meant to write stories the way others would have you write them; you were given the gift of storytelling so that you might tell the stories you were meant to tell.

It’s tempting, particularly with a sophomore novel, to pander to what we think readers want. But if they loved your first book enough to become your rapt audience, then likely what they want is more of the same, more of you.

Think About This Audience While You’re Writing

Believe it or not, none of this is to say writing with a specific audience in mind is necessarily a bad thing. It’s essential to know your audience and to know what they expect from you. But when, how, and if you decide to fulfill those expectations needs to be an educated decision.

Also, we need to avoid the pitfall of thinking that just because our artistic vision is ours that it’s 20/20. It’s not. Period. No one’s is. Therefore, it’s vital to obtain the objective influence of a select part of your audience.

Writing Life StoriesIn their book Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach and Kristen Keckler suggest:

Think of your writing as a conversation with a reader—just one. Two people intimate over a meal, say, or over a cocktail or coffee, head-to-head. What if your audience was not a huge roomful of frighteningly various souls but one single person, the king or queen of good listeners, always nodding in interest, always with you, and a genuine friend, always ready to question your logic? What if you started to think of your writing as a conversation?

Pick a dear friend with whom you enjoy conversation and argument. Now picture that friend reading over your shoulder as you sit down to write or revise your story.

What must change? ….tailor your sentences to the needs of one reader, and you’ll tend to make your work more accessible to all.

Writing to an audience is one of the inevitable joys and frustrations of the writing life. We can’t avoid it, despite its pitfalls, but we can channel it by narrowing that audience down to specificity.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What specific audience do you have in mind when you’re writing? Tell me in the comments!

Should Authors Be Writing for a Specific Audience?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. This was a great post. I blogged about a similar thought a couple of days ago. Having just finished my first ms, I realized I wrote the story that I wanted to write. As I am letting it rest and mulling over new ideas, I am praying about this next book. I didn’t really pray over the first, except that God would help me to finish it! lol Now I am seeking His guidance in writing what would please Him…and me both! 🙂 Thanks for some great thoughts!

  2. Prayer is such a vital part of the process for me. As you’ve probably guessed already I believe strongly in following my “artistic vision.” But I always want to make sure that my vision is in line with His!

  3. I think most writers–or novelists at least–start off writing for themselves. They write that story that has been burning in the back of their mind for years, or that came to them in a dream, or that they always wished they could find on the shelf at the local book store. But it’s easy to get caught up in the idea of writing for a specific audience. You do have to think about your reader, but if you try too hard to write for someone else, then you risk your passion not showing through.

    You said this perfectly: “It’s tempting, particularly with a sophomore novel, to pander to what we think readers want. But if they loved your first book enough to become your rapt audience, then likely what they want is more of the same, more of you.” That is so true.

    Great post!

  4. I know for me when I was writing my “second” novel, after A Man Called Outlaw, I found myself under a huge psychological pressure that I’d never experienced before. For a while, it threatened to be crippling until I talked myself into pretending that I was the only one who would ever read the book.

  5. Lorna G. Poston says

    “Now picture that friend reading over your shoulder as you sit down to write or revise your story.” I already do that. It’s good to know I’m not the only one. 🙂

    Wonderful post as always, excellent advice.

  6. The friend over my shoulder varies depending on the project, and my choice isn’t always a conscious decision. What is conscious is the attempt to keep it to just one person.

  7. Imagining how a reader would feel about my writing helps me to avoid preachiness. In other words, since I don’t enjoy being sermonized in the middle of a story, I assume my readers won’t enjoy it, either.

    My target audience is adult Christians who enjoy science fiction. If my science is wrong, they will call me down on it–or worse, stop reading my work. If I wind up advancing a wrong theology, ditto. That’s why a thorough knowledge of Scripture comes in handy, even as I take imaginations where no man has gone before.

  8. Casting yourself as your audience is always a good choice! Since we’re all trying to write the stories that we would like to read ourselves, we can hardly go wrong there!

  9. Good post!

  10. Thanks for commenting!

  11. I love how you desribed this as it made me think about who I wrote my first book for–me. And then the second..Hmm–the third was for me too! Maybe this next one I need to rethink that whole thing:)

  12. I’m not saying writing any book is easy – it’s not! – but those sophomore novels are doozies. Once your work is out there, being read by actual (gasp!) people, it’s a whole new ballgame.

  13. I agree – I think that as writers we should write what we are inspired and led to write, over what our audience wants.

  14. And, hopefully, the two end up coinciding! :p

  15. When I first began writing novel-length fiction, attending conferences, and participating in writer’s groups, I began trying to adjust my novel to fit other people’s expectations of it, and to conform with the genre. I did that for a few years, and I grew frustrated over it. I felt much too stifled. So, I decided to write what I wanted to write and pursue self-publishing when the time is right to publish.) I tried various genres and finally settled on the genre I originally began with many years ago. (Fantasy.) I’ve never felt freer and happier. I know that I’m doing what I’m meant to do.

    I think writing what we are inspired to write and having confidence (in my case, trust in God) that our stories will be discovered and read by people who want/need to read them is the way to go. (At least for me.)

    Once we start conforming to everyone else’s idea of how our novel should look, then we lose ourselves and the finished product (in many cases) ends up being mediocre, and/or just doesn’t have that special voice.

    If someone wants to write a novel to make money and emulates bestsellers, and they tailor their story to attract many readers, well, that’s their thing, their business.

    I’m just not one of those people.

    I’m at the point in my life where I’m writing for pleasure and for artistic expression, and if only five people buy my book when I get around to e-pubbing it, I’m good with that. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hear, hear. There’s a time and a place to talk about audience expectations. But artistic vision is not the same as commercial necessity. If we compromise the vision for the commercial, the end product will always suffer–both within ourselves *and* on the bottom line.

  16. Great post! I like the idea of having a “conversation with a reader” as you write. I wrote my first book mainly for myself and shared it along the way with my sisters. We all have (mostly) the same opinions on books and storylines so now I write with them in mind because they’ll usually be the first audience.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I try to write my stories as if they will be read by the reader *I* am. If I can write a story I would like to read, I know I’m doing something right.

  17. I enjoyed reading your post. It confirmed for me to not let that little voice telling me “to write to please everyone else win. ” I lose my own voice when I do that. Thanks for another great post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You know what they say, “If you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one.”

  18. Very relevant post, thank you. I did have a target audience when I wrote my first book, metalheads. I hoped they would share my enthusiasm for heavy metal history in what many called heavy metal’s golden age, the 1980s.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Niche audiences like that are great. They’re super-targeted and super-passionate.

  19. Hannah Killian says

    I was listening to this podcast, and you mentioned a Robin Hood/Sleeping Beauty mashup you co-authored.

    My only question is: What is it called?

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