4 Tips for Writing to the Right Audience

4 Tips for Writing to the Right AudienceHere’s my somewhat radical idea: Writers don’t need to know who their audience is.

And, yes, I know this goes entirely against popular advice, which encourages (even insists) that beginning authors must know their audience. I’ve probably even said basically that somewhere or other on this site.

You’re supposed to go so far as to write up a dossier of your ideal reader, sometimes even complete with a stock photo.

Or at the very least, you’re supposed to think of one person who you know reads your books (your mom, your editor, that one really nice reviewer) and write solely to that person as a representative of your audience.

On the surface, those ideas don’t sound so bad. And yet when writers sit down to try to form an idea of their “ideal audience,” most of us come up blank.

“Um, my audience is, you know–[insert vague gesture]–anybody who likes books like this.”

Helpful, isn’t it?

Here’s the thing though: your “audience” only matters when it comes time to market the book. That whole write-a-dossier-of-your-ideal-reader thing? That’s a copywriting trick—an advertising technique.

Sure, you’re probably writing this book for eventual sale, but, frankly, selling it is the last thing you should be thinking about when you’re writing it. Time enough to figure out who to sell it to once you’ve finished and know what kind of book you’ve got.

Does that mean you should completely forget about an audience while writing? Should you just pretend no one but you is ever going to see this book?

The answer to that is yes. And… no.

Writing for the right audience is incredibly important. But it’s not what you think—partly because finding that audience is actually incredibly easy.

The Problem of Focusing on Writing to the Right Audience

These days, publishing is the wild west. Authors are entirely responsible for carrying their own marketing six-guns. We have to be both artist and businessperson. It’s a tough balance, especially if you’re determined to make a living.

I’m all for business-savvy authors going out there with their amazing books and crushing it. But I am first and always an advocate for the art. You will never hear me tell an author to write to the market. But when an author writes “to an audience” that’s often exactly what’s happening.

“Writing to the right audience” is the first step on the dark road to the kind of soulless disasters Hollywood is churning out right now. It may be a road paved with good intentions (and it is certainly not a road that always leads to soulless disasters), but it is a road that oversteps the most important question of creativity. That question is not “Will this sell and who will buy it?”—but, rather, “What do I want to say and why is this important to me?”

Art is a microcosm of the world. What is important to one artist is, in at least some small measure, always important to the world. Thus: if what is valuable to the artist herself is being overridden by commercial concerns, what is valuable to the world will also be overridden.

And yet… you gotta have an audience, right? And you gotta find it somewhere, right?

Actually, no.

I would argue that you don’t find the right audience; the right audience finds you. I don’t mean that in a marketing sense, because that’s really another topic altogether. What we’re talking about here is writing to the right audience.

Several Short Sentences About Writing Verlyn KlinkenborgIn his beautifully iconoclastic and thought-provoking book Several Short Sentences About Writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg offers a great analogy:

Imagine a cellist playing one of Bach’s solo suites. Does he consider his audience? (Did Bach, for that matter?) Does he play the suite differently to audiences of different incomes and educations and social backgrounds? No. The work selects its audience.

Who Is Your Audience?

You don’t need to create a complex dossier of your ideal reader. You don’t need to hunt down the perfect stock photo of what this person might look like. Just go stand in front of the mirror.

You are your perfect audience.

As Toni Morrison famously said:

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

As we’ve talked about elsewhere recently, the most important ingredient you bring to your art is yourself. Never lose that in trying to appeal to what you think readers want. This doesn’t mean you aren’t always trying to improve your technique or make your writing as accessible as possible. But it does mean that if you’re not writing something you would kill to read, then you’re probably writing the wrong thing.

This is true on so many levels. Not only should be you be writing to the reader who enjoys the stories, characters, and themes that you do—you should also be writing to a reader who has reached your own level of reading. Don’t write down to readers. Expect them to be as smart as you, as story-savvy as you, as keen about all your favorite weird subjects as you. Sure, there will be readers who aren’t quite there; but in trusting even them, you’re giving them the gift of an opportunity to rise, rather than an excuse to remain complacent. More than that: you’re being honest. Arguably, honesty is one of the single most important components in truly resonant art, of any kind.

If you can do this—if you can write to yourself as the audience—you’ll discover you’re not just writing to yourself. You’re one in a million, remember? That means there are upwards of 10,000 people just like you and a whole lot more whose interests overlap. That’s your audience, baby.

4 Tips for Writing to the Right Audience

Basically, my big bit of advice here is: write for yourself and don’t worry too much about your readers. Not yet anyway. As they say,

The first draft is for the writer; the second draft is for the reader.

Once you realize this, there are a couple steps you can take to optimize this mindset in creating your best possible book. Here are four.

1. Write to Your Audience of One

This is where it all starts. Just write a book you would objectively love to read.

That’s not as simple as it sounds. It can be incredibly easy to write a book, enjoy writing it, and then realize (usually a few years later) that this book is not even close to something you’d like to read but actually even presents characters and themes with which you’re in total disharmony. I know; I’ve done it.

This can happen for two reasons:

1. You’re trying to imitate authors you perceive as successful or especially erudite.

2. You’re unconsciously (or not-so-unconsciously) mimicking trends you’re absorbing in popular media.

This is why it’s important to be rigorously aware of yourself as a person—and, in turn, rigorously honest with yourself as a writer. When I’m in the prep stages of my novels’ outlines, I always try to step back and objectively evaluate the ideas I’m coming up with:

  • Is this theme playing out like this because this is how it always plays out—or because it’s representing something I believe is true?
  • Is this character behaving like this because this is how this type of character is expected to behave—or because it feels honest and true to me?
  • Am I creating this plot because it’s a familiar and successful iteration—or because I am just insanely in love with it?

This goes for the writing itself. Choose words and write sentences that make sense to you and that you feel you would enjoy reading. Don’t limit yourself to your preconceptions of your readers’ skill level. Time enough to make adjustments for any errors in judgement (aka, writing-that-wasn’t-quite-as-brilliant-as-you-though-it-was) when you start getting feedback from confused beta readers.

2. Trust Your Readers as Humans

Writers often end up on two extreme ends of the spectrum: either we just assume readers will get what we’re saying no matter how incomprehensible, or we worry readers won’t get anything we’re trying to say and we just spell it all out.

You know both are mistakes because you know that, as a reader, you would appreciate neither. Your goal is to try to strike the perfect balance of clarity and trust you find in your own favorite authors.

One of the best rules of thumb is simply remembering your readers are humans too. They’re living this life same as you—learning as they go, same as you. The older and more mature they are, the more likely they are to extrapolate your subtext, and, thus, the less likely they will need every little nuance spelled out. Klinkenborg reminds:

It helps to remember that your prose is going to be read against two different backdrops: What the reader knows about reading and what the reader knows about life. It’s surprising how many writers forget the life part.

3. Trust Your Readers as Readers

Last week, we talked about reading as a learned skill and how readers are at different levels depending on their depth of experience. The primary reason it’s so important for writers to be experienced readers is because they cannot write books that surpass their own reading skills.

It is not possible for a writer to write a book better than those he is able to understand and appreciate as a reader (although it is certainly possible to read and enjoy books of a higher level than our current writing skill set).

Because you are trying to write the kind of book you would enjoy reading, it is important not to write a book that is less complex and trusting of the reader than the books you read. Write bravely. Write with all the intelligence and audacity you can muster. Dare much and throw it all out there on the page.

Your beta readers, critique partners, and editors exist to tell you when you’ve missed the mark—when your complexity is really just obtuse, or your trust of readers to “get it” is really just a plot hole. But save all that for the second draft. When you’re initially writing this story, write it for yourself, knowing you will totally get it.

Readers appreciate books that trust them. It allows them to enter the imaginative experience as a co-writer and the thematic experience as a peer of equal frankness and insight with the author. Trusting your readers starts with trusting yourself as a writer.

4. Write Rigorously-Imagined Literature

Light the dark BookOne of the reasons reading fiction is a learned skill is that there are often certain genre conventions that are not immediately intuitive to new readers. Often—as in science fiction, fantasy, and historical novels, among others—the writer must simply trust the reader to get aspects of the form without taking the time to spell it out. In Light the Dark, William Gibson explained from the vantage of high-concept science fiction:

Sophisticated science fiction requires a sort of cultural superstructure of reading skill. We forget as readers of longform fiction that at one time we didn’t know how to do that—we had to acquire the skill through cultural education. It’s the same with good sci-fi, which generally requires a sort of superstructure of culture experience to make it pleasurably accessible. As a reader, I want to encounter rigorously imagined literature….

Yes, this inevitably means you’re going to lose some readers. But if you lose them over something like this, then they weren’t your readers anyway, were they?

“Rigorously-imagined literature” encompasses a thorough, detailed understanding of your story’s inner workings—its theme, plot, character arcs, setting (both physical and historical), language, and details. Writing something deeply complex and asking readers to figure it out is totally different from writing something blurry and vague and asking readers to fill in the blanks.

This takes work. It takes discipline. It requires logic as well as creativity. Historian David McCullough nailed it when he said:

Writing is thinking clearly. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.

But if that is what you expect from your own favorite authors, seems only fair to expect it from yourself as well, right?

***

“Writing to the right audience” is about nothing more or less than the same old directive to write the best book you possibly can by first having a clear understanding of what you’re writing and why. The answers to both those questions come from deep within yourself.

If you can gain a clear understanding of what you enjoy as a reader and why you enjoy it (as well as what turns you off and why), you will have taken huge steps toward writing the kind of book that will appeal to your ideal audience of rabid fans.

Let me leave you with one last challenge from Klinkenborg:

Say more than you thought you knew how to say in sentences better than you ever imagined for the reader who reads between the lines.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What is your mindset when figuring out how you should be writing for the right audience? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. How does this apply to writing for special audiences, e.g. writing for children? “Draft 1 is for (the adult) me” doesn’t sound like the right approach there..

    • I don’t write for children, but one approach might be to write for “your understanding of” the audience, what you yourself think you want to say to them. It would be combined with serious research in what works for that audience, but then think of what you want to write within that range.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Well, you’re writing for the kid in you, yes? 🙂

    • When I write Young Adult fiction, it’s always been “what I would’ve wanted to read as a teen.” Which was pretty complex as well.

      As a parent, when I’ve tried my hand at picture books (which admittedly I don’t do often), I write for my two preschool-aged kids.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        I would imagine being a parent of young children gives you a unique perspective on writing *to* children.

    • What KM said. Remember the movie “Puss in Boots”? When I saw the trailer, I evaluated it based on what my eight-year-old self would have thought of it. The trailer avoided all the things that irritated me as a child, when animators seemed to think kids weren’t too observant.

      Example, in the original “Duck Tales” eight-year-old me was irritated that when Webigail suddenly needed to check the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook, all she had to do was reach down “below the screen” and it appeared in her hands. She hadn’t been carrying it; she didn’t have a purse or a backpack, nothing to account for the book’s presence. I thought the animators had assumed kids wouldn’t notice.

      In the Puss in Boots trailer, everything onscreen is accounted for. You hear the bull snorting before you see it. You see Puss’ eyes glance in one direction before the camera pulls back and reveals what he’s looking at (a pinata) before he tosses his sword at it. I knew that in this movie, if Gargamel (bear with me) were to put him in a cage with bars widely spaced apart, Puss would know to just slide out between the bars instead of whining that he’s trapped like the Smurfs would do. I loved that.

      Think about what stories you read as a child. What tropes annoyed you? What tropes thrilled you? What did you want to see in stories, but didn’t? When I was a girl I would have loved the world of Ella Enchanted — wooden escalators in fairyland — but I didn’t see any such worlds in books back then. There may be characters you wanted (ninjas), or settings (wizards with flying cars), or scenarios (suppose ninjas fought the troll-king). Write them!

  2. Sue Jeffrey says:

    Wow, this is just what I needed to hear. I’ve been going back and forth regarding which project I should be focusing on as the one I really want to write is fraught with problems. Looks like I need to buckle down and make that baby work :). Problem is – I read this at midnight and now my brain is wired :).

  3. Robert Billing says:

    That was a brilliant article. It cleared up something for me. Some years back I wrote a novel for the YA reader about time travel, and how it could cause more problems than it solved.

    It was a glorious jaunt through history in which two modern kids fight the Romans, accidentally cure the bubonic plague, drop in on the battle of Trafalgar, go for a drink with Pepys before helping to start the great fire of London, cause the demolition of their school by a WW2 flying bomb, and have many more adventures. I’ve been wondering how I should pitch it to a publisher, but now I realise that it is for me, I wrote it because I fell in love with the idea.

    And that’s perhaps what I should have in mind when I try to sell it.

  4. Thank you for writing this. On the one hand I’ve always disliked the “imagine your audience” rule for fiction (how do you *find out* who your readers should be? just make one up in your head?), but of course this is really about the only reason there is to write:

    We write in order to write. There are thousands of ways to make more money, more fame, influence more people, than the sheer sweat it takes to make even one book worth having– so our deepest reason needs to be that it’s not work for us. And if we compromise our sense of what idea we’ll be spending the next year with…

    If you spend a lifetime locked in a room with your dreams, you’re living as a writer.

    If you spend it locked in a room with someone else’s dreams, you’re not living at all.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’m sure I would still write even if I knew none of it would ever be read. Having readers pushes you, makes you work to be clear, and is just downright fun most of the time. But I would have to write even if I knew I would never have that particular incentive again.

  5. I think its important to write from yourself first. Mainly because if you have your audience in mind, you might find boxing your creativity to adjust to others, adding or taking out this or that for your audience when you dont need to. Get the first draft done so you know what its all about without limiting creativity and adjust it later. It might be even if you aim for one audience, the creative direction may naturally go in another.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      This is one reason I no longer let others read my early drafts. I don’t want their voices, expectations, or criticisms in my head at that early juncture. I want to clearly see my own vision for the story, write it to the best of ability, polish it up–and then get feedback.

      • Sally M. Chetwynd says:

        So you promote giving the story and your characters time to get strong (“grow up” or perhaps more like a butterfly just emerged from its chysalis, which must allow its wings to unfold and stretch to full size and dry before it flies off) before you launch them into the world. Good concept. I have done this, but not with this deliberate consciousness.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          In part, it’s just a matter of *me* solidifying my own vision for the story. When the time comes for feedback, I want to be in a place where I can logically weigh which pieces are helpful and which are not. I’ve learned that I’m much more vulnerable early on to running with bad advice.

      • I agree with that. I think feedback too early can end up feeling like you need to write the story their way, and it might be you change loads yourself anyway, plus a good first draft allows you to better weigh feedback.
        If feedback interferes with the vision it can be destructive.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Of course this, too, is why I think it’s so important for authors to *have* a vision–to know exactly what kind of story you’re trying to write. If not, it’s difficult to know which bits of advice are helpful and which aren’t.

  6. Tom Youngjohn says:

    I love this one.

  7. Donna Fields says:

    OMG! Thank you for this article plus “7 Ways to Decide Which Story Idea You Should Write Next.” My brain has been bouncing around with so many ideas and so much worry about who the audience will be. You have given me the freedom to just be ME. I want to set up a blog and now you have alerted me to a way to focus on exactly what it will be about. Thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s a good feeling. 🙂 I clearly remember deciding, when writing what would be second published book Behold the Dawn, to write as if I expected no one else to ever read it. That made such a difference.

  8. Again, I must ask if this post can time travel about 10 year back in time to when I was writing my first book. Back then, I simply assumed all my readers would be metalheads and I tried to curtail my writing towards them. Probably not a bad idea in itself but there were definitely things I could have done a lot better.

  9. Ms. Albina says:

    I am writing for Young Adult. In my current project, I am writing about Leilani a mermaid princess who gets more training as a healing. She is seventeen in the novella and the next book Leilani is a mermaid goddess with her four daughters. This will be a novel. How many drafts do you do before you publish it? My characters live on a fictional planet.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The number of drafts always depends on the book itself. You just keep going until it’s polished enough for publication.

  10. First, I love the cute teeny tiny book you found for your little wooden artist’s mannequin to read! Second, your concept of writing a book that YOU would enjoy reading resonates deeply and reminds me of a topic I’ve been thinking about lately. To me, it applies to audience age as well as topical interest.

    When I was a kid back in the 60s, I don’t recall the term YA being used. And, although I knew there was a section in the library for children I didn’t seek out those books after graduating from the Hardy Boys at age 10 or so.

    Once I discovered SF, the books I read were, I guess, written for adults, although I never really thought about the characteristics of their intended readers. I just appreciated that they were neutral and all-inclusive in their approach and the authors’ assumption that the audience would understand the concepts – some of which were a stretch as my vocabulary slowly expanded.

    I recently read “Burning Midnight” out of curiosity, and although it had some excellent concepts, characters, dialog, motivation, etc., there were a few parts where I was jolted back to the realization that the author was purposely “targeting” the story to a younger age group. It was as if the author had suddenly remembered, “Oh, right. I’m supposed to be writing this to YA readers,” and added some “teen” stuff that wasn’t really needed.

    In comparison, my kids and I read all of Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series as the books were released. And even though I understood that the main characters were young kids, I never felt that the author was writing “down” to me in the effort to target a specific age group. I think she was writing a story that SHE would enjoy reading!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      YA is such a popular genre these days–with so many adults reading it–that I think we’re seeing less “writing down” than we did a couple decades ago.

  11. Sally M. Chetwynd says:

    So far, I find that I must write to the story. If I mess with my characters, they will mess with me.

    But in general, I agree that to be true to the story, you must write it without worrying about your audience. I feel somewhat disillusioned if I feel that an author is trying to pigeonhole me with a certain style of writing.

    I am not interested in women’s fiction, for example, because it’s specifically women’s fiction. My primary interest is reading a good story. If a woman has written the story that I find a compelling read, that’s great. If a man has written that story, that’s great. If a black or an Asian or a Latino or Norwegian or Australian aborigine or Latvian has written that story, that’s great. There are genres that don’t particularly interest me – for example, stories set in inner-city or urban environments, but that doesn’t mean that a good, compelling story in these settings won’t draw me in. Some have.

    Write the story, and polish it until it is the best you can make it. Then I’d like to read it.

    • I don’t usually read YA novels but recently I read “Once You Know This” by Emily Blejwas, I was hooked. And its setting was the inner city of Chicago, far removed from my home in the Deep South. Her story is good but it was her writing style that resonated with me. To top it off, this was her debut novel.

  12. Sally M. Chetwynd says:

    This reminds me of how pristine areas of the world get corrupted. A traveler from a “tired” locale discovers a beautiful place and decides to move there. Word gets around and more and more people come. Their permanent settling destroys the very features that drew them there in the first place, especially when they bring all the “stuff” with them that they thought they wished to escape in the first place, and enact legislation to make this new place just like the old place.

    It’s a kind of concept where we must tread lightly in order to coax our desire out of the shadows.

    Maybe I’m just weird. I can accept that.

  13. Claudia Campbell says:

    When I read a story, I don’t care what genre it is, I just want to read a good story, even when it’s not necessarily well written. I just finished one that was a great story, but could have been written better. Still enjoyed it. I am currently working on the final draft of my 1st novel and am focusing on writing the best story I can. I’ll worry about whose the best audience when it’s done. BTW, I love your site and have learned a ton from the articles. Thank you for sharing you experience and understanding of the craft. You’re awesome!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Totally agree with you about just wanting a good story. If an author can give me that feeling that anything is possible, I will follow them anywhere.

    • I seldom peruse, much less read, romance novels. But then the cover of Nora Roberts’ novel, “Hot Ice,” lured me to take a peek inside. I was soon intrigued by her characters. A jewel thief and a rich NY woman (polar opposites in many ways) team up to find a treasure in Madagascar. At first Roberts habit of head-hopping threw me a curve but she handles it so well that I don’t mind. It’s the fast-paced, suspense-filled story that kept me reading.

  14. Thanks very much, once again. I LOVE reading your common sense, grounded words of wisdom. Just one question. Why is it you know just what we need at this one point in time? Hahaha!

    Big fan. 🙂

  15. Andrewiswriting says:

    Thank you for posting this, it’s my new favourite Katie post (and competition is fierce). I’ve been worrying over how a couple of things in my current book will be received, and I know a couple of my betas will be opposed to what I’m saying.

    This is about the third thing I’ve seen in as many weeks that’s boiled down to ‘too bad, it’s what I’ve got to say’ and I greatly appreciate it.

    I’m not their typing monkey, confined to writing comfort tales, no. I’m there to say what I have to say, and let the audience find me.

    Thank you so very much!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You’ve probably heard me say it before: My rule of thumb with beta advice is “two people have to agree.” One of those people, obviously, can be me. If I can see the point in a beta’s negative reaction, then, of course, I’ll make changes accordingly. Otherwise, I ignore it–unless I get the same response from another beta. Even then, I don’t take it and run with it right away. But it’s a hint to me that perhaps I’m missing something and need to think about it again. Ultimately, though, I *have* to agree with it before I can change it.

  16. Thanks for writing this. You always have great insights. When I started writing my first detective series, I realized I was writing it as science fiction. My Beta-readers loved it. I got the nerve to publish it and thought, this will never get readers. I had to put it free on Amazon to get attention. This book has over 100 reviews at 4.3 stars. And now, people read all of my other books, which are all coming out sci-fi, that’s the writer in me, it’s what I want to write.

    You couldn’t be more right, if we writers have the courage to write, we will find the readers. I want to thank you for all the amazing books you’ve put out there that have helped us writers find our way. Once again, you rock!

  17. Claire Tucker says:

    Thank you, Katie, for another round of solid and do-able advise. Definitely takes a lot of pressure off the writing process, and allows us to enjoy the story, meaning that (hopefully) readers will too.

  18. RobinTVale (darkocean) says:

    This is so much saner than anything about writing for your readers I’ve ever read.

    It drives me crazy when other writers go on about you having to write for your audience. I don’t know who they are yet, well not totally. On the book writing site I’m on (for feedback, critiques, and book wide help) I often get people coming in who don’t read fantasy but like my book (well what’s there so far, it’s still a mess.) About time someone stood up against that so-called advice out there, what good is it if you haven’t even gotten writing chops yet? It’s already confusing enough at the beginning learning stuff like show vs tell and then throw write for your reader into the mix and you get a big new writer migraine coming on. @[email protected]

    I personally am more focused on learning structure and fixing plot holes and finishing the darn book then worried about who will read it. (I don’t care who anyone is fine with me if they will happy with it I am too.)

    I can’t wait for your next article. 🙂 Oh hey I found a nice writing program (free) it’s called: Ableword – http://www.ableword.net/ I’m testing it out right now. (got to try something to fix this book.) Hopefully, this one won’t delete all my work when it updates! (The last writing program did I could just cry.)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Sorry to hear about your lost work! I’ve gotten into the habit of doing two backups per day on my WIPs–one to Dropbox and one to an external harddrive.

  19. When I write superhero, I usually get nervous because superhero novels without pictures aren’t as popular as graphic novels, and, to be honest, I think anti-heroes/heroines or even darker heroes, in general, are more popular.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Trends change. Don’t worry too much about what seems “in” right now. Who knows? Your story may be the trend-changer.

  20. Very freeing, especially for a new writer. The only way I can get through this first ms is to write it for me. I would be overwhelmed trying to figure out the storytelling process AND guide it to a target audience. Thank you for freeing me from that pressure!

  21. Thank you for this brave post. Click on any article about how to write a bestseller and almost without fail the advice is to find out what people want to read and then write that story. Writing a particular story/genre with a waiting audience is highly correlated to writing for a specific audience. If you do the opposite, “they” say, and write what you want to read/write, nobody will buy it. Certainly not publishers. Plus, if you write what you want to read, you’ll end up with a vampire story perfect for 2010. I touched on this topic in my own blog post about how I wrote and sold my first book to a publisher, and also argued for your viewpoint (though not as clearly or thoroughly as you did). Even ignoring that it’s virtually impossible to figure out what people will want to read in the near future, the bigger problem is unless you write what you want to read/write, it just won’t be good enough. Your heart won’t be in it. You must write the story you want to write. If you do, perhaps it will be so good that it will create its own audience (or naturally find it).

    The part about trusting the reader really resonated with me as well, because I’ve found that balance to be one of the most difficult to navigate. In my first draft I went full-on “trust the reader” and my readers missed SO much. Subsequently, I went on an explaining binge and was rebuked by my editor with a “trust the reader” (*throws hands in the air*). But I really liked how you talked about allowing readers the chance to be your peer, and sort of challenging them to up their reading level. I’ll admit I was discouraged by how much my readers missed, and erring on the side of trusting the reader is something I need to work on. I could not agree more with your post and thanks again for saying it better than I ever could.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Great points. What I’ve learned in my own (ongoing) pursuit of finding that perfect approach to “trusting” readers is that I have to find clarity about what it is that works for me in books that trust me as a reader. What do *I* need as a reader in order to be able to fully understand and immerse myself in a story? Where do I grow frustrated because I feel the author hasn’t explained enough? Where do I grow frustrated because *too* much has been explained? “Understanding our readers” starts and ends, not so much with understanding ourselves as writers, but understanding ourselves as readers too.

  22. It’s like playing in a band that does a style of music you don’t particularly care for. Yeah, you can do it. You can be serviceable, even good. But your performances are never going to have the same energy or provoke the same feelings as they would in a band playing music you love.

    Not only does the same apply to writing books, but it may be even more applicable because of the time and effort required, and the fact that as a novelist you’re a one-man or one-woman band, with no drummer or bass player to motivate you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, great analogy! And, yes, playing a four-minute song you don’t really like is far easier than spending a year or more working on a story you’re not in love with.

      • For sure! By the way, I know you regularly deconstruct genre movies, so I was surprised to see you haven’t written anything about Bladerunner 2049. Have you seen it?

        I finally watched it a few weeks ago on demand, since it was near-impossible to get anyone to go with me to the movies when it was in theaters, and I was blown away. It was the best movie I’ve seen in recent memory — in years, at least. I cannot say enough good things about Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Harrison Ford and the rest of the cast.

        It is not a cheery movie by any definition. It has an almost complete disregard for current movie trends. But wow, what a movie. I’ll stop my fanboying there, but this is one that’s stuck with me for weeks after seeing it.

        Cheers

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          No, I haven’t seen it yet, but this definitely makes me want to!

          • I’d be really interested to hear your take if you ever get around to it. You’re great at breaking movies down to their elements and explaining why things work and why they don’t.

  23. I agree with you in principle. We do not need to be so focused on writing to a specific reader that we write to a formula or become paralyzed into writing nothing trying to find that “perfect avatar.” A lot of that advice is more suited to blogging advice.

    However, as a Christian fiction author, I have a very specific market. Others outside my market may (and do) read my books. Still, if I write whatever I feel like and don’t take that audience into account, I may break trust with my reader (by say, oh, adding an erotica element to one of my books… I’m laughing at that idea!).

    I think there’s a place for knowing who you are writing FOR… even if that person is yourself. (Shakespeare put it, “to thine own self be true.” It works for writing!)

    But ignoring your audience completely can also leave you floundering. Understanding the basic needs and expectations of your genre (and subsequently of the people (audiences) who read it–knowing why) helps.

    As for avatars that get crazy specific–having one before ever writing your first word… not so much. I’ve never been that specific with my writing, but having one does help people who need more organization to direct them. As for me, I tend to write to the most important expectations of my genre and I don’t worry about the rest.

    But those avatars can be very freeing for people who need direction in where/what to write. For those people who find them constricting or paralyzing, setting them aside is probably wise.

    But still, like any good outline, an avatar can ensure that you take this art–this portrait of your character’s life–where it should go. It’s freeing because it helps limit you to the best choices for that art.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Good point. In writing the article, I was thinking more of authors who have yet to publish and find their niche audience. But it’s true that after you’ve established a reading public, you have to be aware of their expectations. Doesn’t mean you can’t subvert those expectations, but you have to understand the consequences when you do.

  24. “If you’re not writing something you would kill to read, then you’re probably writing the wrong thing.”

    Great quote–I posted it to my Great Quotes on Writing collection.

    I’m a new writer, age 55, and whenever I think: “Would the average millennial teen enjoy what I’m writing now?” my creative gears start crunching and grinding. When I feel like the good stuff is really flowing is when I go back to my twelve-year old self, ducking into a cafe out of the rain after my paper-route, pulling out a paperback adventure novel, and being transported to another world.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s the great thing about stories–they let us tap the parts of ourselves we don’t always get to use in everyday life.

  25. Nice post, as I was just thinking about something similar (my wife’s youtube channel and finding the target audience.) But for my writing as well, my short stories are all for the general adult sci-fi/fantasy/horror audience, but my novel is YA.

    It’s hard to write for that age group, and even harder to market to them when you’re a 41-year-old guy who feels like he’s writing for other 41-year-old guys. Ha.

    Anyhow, like always, thanks for the great advice.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I think most of us are writing for a specific *part* of ourselves (our inner child, etc.). So there’s nothing wrong or impossible about tapping that one specific part of our own understanding or experience and writing to that.

  26. Just what I needed at the moment! 🙂 I haven been reading too much of the “keep your audience in mind” advice lately … Made me feel insecure. But this gave me a boost again. Thank you!

  27. I’m glad you shared that the first draft is for the writer. I don’t think I could write for anyone else, although I try to do that on my blog. But come to think of it, did Dostoevsky write Crime and Punishment for a mom in the Arkansas outback? Nope. And I think he wrote it because he had this horror, this terror, stuffed inside him and he had to get it out.
    And that’s what I do.

  28. This post really speaks to me right now. Transitioning from creative nonfiction to fiction has been a bit of a struggle. And I’ve always followed the “identify your audience” pro forma complete with snapshot. I’m writing, or attempting to write, a historical novel based on my father’s entry into the life of an orphan at age 4 in 1905. I’m enjoying the research I’m doing on the period, i.e. clothing, education, work for widowed women, orphanages and conditions of same, etc. However, when I sit down to write, I’m stymied because I keep thinking about who is going to read this. If I am truthful, this is a book I’ve always wanted to write and so I suppose I should write it for me, at least during the first draft. After all, Toni Morrison knows best!

Trackbacks

  1. […] point in the process, writers need to consider the audience they are writing for. K.M. Weiland has 4 tips for writing to the right audience, Cathy Yardley explores what actually matters to your audience, and James Scott Bell tells how to […]

  2. […] https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/writing-to-the-right-audience/ “Here’s the thing though: your “audience” only matters when it comes time to market the book. That whole write-a-dossier-of-your-ideal-reader thing? That’s a copywritingtrick—an advertising technique.” I’ve often struggled with this. I know that I want readers who like my type of genre but actually picturing the ideal reader? It’s hard to do. Weiland suggests “you” are the reader. I agree with her. You write the book for you then market it to others like you. […]

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