Should You Write For Yourself Or Your Audience?


Writing a book is daunting. Before you even settle the finer mechanics of plot, characters, setting, and the like, you have to fill in the big blanks. One of those big blanks is, ‘For whom am I writing?’ 

An audience of one
The question regarding audience is an important one. Many aspiring authors try to emulate authors they admire, rather than writing what they like to read. This is evident when they’re asked to compile a list of the last 20-30 books they’ve voluntarily read, and the books on the list don’t resemble what they’re trying to write. If you write the book you’d like to read, it means you’re writing for yourself. In a sense, you are your own audience. 

There are other options
This isn’t the only option, though. Kip Langello has written an interesting article for Writer’s Digest, to explore whether one should write for oneself or for the reader. His first nine novels, written as novels he would’ve enjoyed reading, weren’t published. Rejection letter after rejection letter confirmed he needed to change tack.

A different audience of one
He shifted his focus from writing for himself to writing for a specific type of reader. He didn’t write for a generalised intended readership. An example of this is: ‘I’m writing for 30-45 year olds in the middle class, who enjoy crime, typically watch the following shows, and have a fair of knowledge of police procedurals.’ 

Someone more specific
He was much more specific. He says, ‘The same way I create my characters when I write, I created a reader – my ideal reader. The best fit for my book, my work.’ On the Writers Write course, we encourage writers to create complex characters. A part of this process is filling out the details of their lives on character sheets. Even if they don’t use those details in back story, at least the characters will be ‘living, breathing beings’ in their minds. This helps them portray their characters as such in their writing. 

Who was it?
Kip did something similar when he created his ideal reader. He made her a woman. He decided her age, where she lived and worked, and the hobbies she shared with her husband. He gave her a name – Peggy – and then wrote for her. Peggy was his filter when crafting all his scenes. The result? His tenth book was published, with a six-figure advance, two-book contract, and an option from Viacom for a TV movie. He has written five novels for ‘Peggy’ since, all published. 

What about the author’s voice?
Writing for the reader raises the question: will the writing sound ‘canned’? Will the author’s voice still be distinct in the writing? I think that there’s an aspect of an author’s voice that is intrinsic and that will express itself, no matter what is being written or for whom it is being written. In fact, having the fixed, external target of a specific reader may actually help the author ensure consistency of voice. 

What do you think?

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.

  by Donna Radley

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