Stop Caring About Your Audience
Recently, I overheard a discussion about whether or not people would read a book written in first-person-present. As the novel that I’m writing is in first-person-present, I was intrigued. Along with eavesdropping on the conversation, I asked other people I know. I also scoured online discussion groups to find out what people were saying.
It turns out that a lot of people will flatly refuse to read first-person-present, and will steer clear of the author in general because of that style of writing.
Now, this isn’t an essay about what perspective you should write in, but instead something I learned a little while ago that was reiterated from observing these discussions: to succeed as a writer you cannot care about the audience.
That statement comes with a fair few caveats, mind you, as ultimately you do have to care about your audience. But the level you should care needs to come in stages. The general stages of writing a book (massively simplified) are: writing; agent/publishing; marketing/selling.
Never even remotely care about your audience at this stage. They are not relevant. This is your story. It’s the one that you want—or need—to tell. So, tell it. There are many reasons people won’t read your book. The problem with writing for an audience is there are too many to avoid.
Are you liberal? Are you conservative? Are you a woman? Are you a woman who writes in a non-women genre? Are you any ethnic background other than white? Are you writing about a sensitive or uncomfortable subject? Is your writing style somewhat different than traditional styles? Do you have LGBTQ+ characters or themes? Should your themes or topics or scenes or characters be preceded by trigger warnings? Is your book genre? Is it literary?
All of these things have a shockingly high amount of people who will flatly refuse to read your work. God forbid that you combine a few of them. If you’re trying to avoid things that people won’t read or like, you’ll never write your book.
Tell your story. Worry about people after that.
Now you’ve got your book written, edited, and finished, and you’re ready to send it out to the world. No matter what route you decide to take, the only reason you need to decide to worry about your audience is to know who to approach.
Publishers and agents have lists of the types of book that they’re looking for. Approach the ones who are looking for what you’ve written. If you’re going to self-publish, cover artists will often specialise in genre or style, so you can get an idea of who to contact. Self-publishing platforms ask for genre, so you just need to know which box to tick.
That’s about the extent of how much you need to pay attention to what the audience wants. At this point, it isn’t your job to worry about an audience because, quite frankly, they don’t exist yet, no matter what or how you’ve written.
Once your book is available for pre-order or sale, you’re ready to start reaching your audience. This is the point at which you need to start caring about what your audience wants. But, like the other stages, you don’t need to care a massive amount. Certainly not enough to change your story. You need to know who your audience are and, by extension of that, what they’re looking for so that you can find them and sell your book to them. That’s about it.
I know that there will be some people who disagree with this, and that’s fine. There will be occasions where your book doesn’t sell, or agents and/or publishers reject the book countless times because it’s not something that, in their opinion, the audience wants. That’s something you’ll come up against no matter what you write, though, so why bother wasting time or energy worrying about it? Write the story that you want to tell. If it doesn’t take off, learn from it. Then start writing your next one.
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© 2018 David Chitty
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.