Today, I welcome back author Julie Lynn Hayes for a guest blog. Great to have you here again, Julie!
Whom Do We Write For?
As writers, we are often asked the question whom is our target audience? Publishers want to know for marketing purposes; readers want to know for reading purposes libraries want to know, to some extent, for cataloging purposes. But is the answer as simple as it might seem?
Do we write for our readers or do we write for ourselves? And is there a difference?
I write to be read, of that I have no doubt. If making a living were not a consideration, I’d gladly give my words away simply for the joy of having others read them. But do I write those words for them, or for me? Would I still write if I knew without a shadow of a doubt that no one besides myself, and perhaps my closest friends and family, were to ever see my efforts?
Therefore, I must be writing for me, right?
Good question. Perhaps it is the hope of gaining an audience that spurs me on as much as anything, the hope of having my words read by many that keeps me going. So then the question becomes, do I change what I write in order to gain an audience?
That is a very interesting question indeed, and one that plagues not only book writers, but those who write for television and film and even music writers themselves (I know, they call themselves composers—a rose by any other name….) I think that the answer to that is a resounding yes—there are many writers who feel compelled to write that which they are assured will be successful, either because of current trends or even current successes. But does that make it right?
I don’t think so. And I think that is where many of them fail. To tell a story for the sake of the almighty dollar may work for some lucky few, but for the majority they end up with an effort that is hollow and soulless and unworthy of their talents.
I have a theory regarding one hit wonders, be it in fiction or music or film. The unknown artist writes what he feels, what he thinks, and he writes it to please himself/herself. When it becomes successful, it’s a good thing, so naturally he wants to duplicate this success, keep the feeling going. But now self-doubt enters his mind. So he tries to do the same thing, only different, seeking to appease the fans who enjoyed the first effort. But this second effort fails because it wasn’t done with heart, but with dollar signs. Thus are one hit wonders born. Crowd appeasers who can never find that magic formula again, not realizing, like the Tin Man and his heart, that it was inside of them the whole time.
“To thine own self be true.” How true the words, especially in this context. Follow your own instincts, the ones that got you noticed to begin with, and write to please yourself first. If you’re unhappy with your work, how can anyone else be happy?
I had an editor recently who sent me the first edits of my novel and said, I suggest you change the main character. He thought my character was a wuss and a wimp and no one would like him. He is no longer my editor for this work. My gut instinct said no, don’t do that. For one thing, my book is the second in a series, the character is established. And he is how he is. I believe this editor mistook lack of forceful machismo for weakness. People are different. Fictional characters are too. If we had a pantheon of brave heroic and perfect heroes with perfect bodies, wouldn’t that get old? Seriously? I recently read a novel where the protagonist was an overweight 46 year old suicidal man*. Not your run of the mill hero, by any means, but an interesting one because he’s someone we might know, he’s one of us.
I refused to change my character. As I said, it’s the second book in the series, the first one came out a year ago on March 26th. I plan to continue writing about this character until I stop writing completely—which I anticipate will happen when I shuffle off this mortal coil, unless I find a way to send my words from beyond the beyond. What if the series doesn’t find a publisher at some point, if no one wants to keep picking it up? It’s on its second publisher now, there are no guarantees. No matter, I’ll still keep writing, because I want to. Therefore, I must be writing for myself, even though I’m writing to be read. I won’t make changes even if proscribed by editorial dictates, because editors only suggest, they cannot command. Ultimately, the decision is in the hands of the author.
On the other hand, I see nothing wrong with adding elements to your story that you know will particularly entertain your audience. For example, a friend of mine wanted to become a character in the second novel of the series, so I wrote her in. She is now in the book, immortalized. That might be considered writing for your audience. But I enjoyed doing it, it was fun, so I did it for me too.
The question then is not quite so simple, is it? We write for ourselves, and we write for our readers, but I think that the more we write for the enjoyment of writing, the more that both reader and writer shall benefit from the relationship. Those who are motivated mostly by money, in my opinion, have lost some part of the creative spark that lit their writing fire to begin with, which is sad. I’m not saying a writer should not be paid, far from it, but he should be paid for what he loves doing, not do what he loves for pay—there is a difference. Maybe it’s the subtle difference between a whore and a prostitute: the latter has made it into a business, the former a pleasure.
What do you think, either as reader or writer? Are you turned off by writers who just do it for the buck? Does it even matter? And writers: if you knew you would never get paid for what you wrote, would you keep writing? I’d love to hear your opinions and ideas!
*Bernard:Diary of a 46 Year Old Bellhop, by SL Danielson