Know your reader, they say. What makes him or her read? How do you take their biggest problem and fashion a book around it? You have to understand more than the demographic your readers fit into, and what genre they read. That’s how the advice goes. Don’t just write, communicate – adapt your writing to your audience.
Am I the only one who stands helpless in the face of this advice? Is it even true?
The truth is, I have no clue who my readers are. I guess they’re the people who like what I write. My book, A Prize of Sovereigns. which is still being serialised, has had around 1,100 reads. But I didn’t write it for them – I wrote a book I’d want to read. The way power works, and what its limits are, was what interested me at the time. I set it in a fictionalised Medieval Europe. Any comparison with Game of Thrones was conscious. I wanted to see if I could manage a story told, like Game of Thrones, through multiple characters. But it was the book I would like to have read. One in which ordinary folk are protagonists along with the nobles, and where the high folk devise cunning strategies to bend events to their will.
I don’t mean I wasn’t interested in my readers. Quite the reverse. The first draft is always written for me alone, but all subsequent drafts are for the readers, with errors removed, words honed, and storyline engineered. It’s just that those readers are unknown. And I see no way to find out unless I get lucky enough to be famous enough to have fans who communicate with me.
I guess you could pick a genre, look at what’s selling in it, and try to copy that formula. But that would be to break another fundamental rule of writing – write what you enjoy, because if you don’t enjoy it why would anyone else? If you write experimental literary fiction, then of course you must settle for fewer readers. I’ve read of writers who share early drafts of chapters with their fans and rewrite in response to the comments they get. Oh to be in such a position! To some extent, joining online writing communities, like Friday Fictioneers gives me a little of this feedback.
For now, all I can do is write what I care about at the time, and write it the best I’m able. I share drafts with the one or two readers and other writers who like my work. Writing with those couple of people in mind is the closest I can get.
If you’re one of my readers, and I guess you are if you’re reading this, I’d love to hear from you. Tell me what you like to read, and what you don’t like, also any comments about my writing. Derek, Paula, Sue, Toni, and a few others, I know you, so I’ll be able to spot if you’re fibbing. Please leave your comments here.
2 thoughts on “64. The unknown reader”
Well, I’ve heard been told that I should write the book I’d like to read. And as far as writing to please my readers, of course I want to be understood, yet I don’t want to compromise my vision. Writing is communication, even in fiction, so the message is my own, but it’s my responsibility to deliver it clearly without condescension or obfuscation. (Or too many multisyllabic words!)
That’s pretty much what I feel, Paula. It’s your baby, not a Frankenstein’s monster, but you want to give it the best possible start in life