Yesterday’s article inspired some interesting questions and discussion about writing for your reader. Trusting your reader is not the same as writing for your reader, and while they're connected and tough to talk about one without the other, they accomplish different things. Those subtleties and ideas are worth further discussion.
Trusting your reader is about not over-explaining things and conveying information in a way that your reader will understand.
Writing for your reader is about targeting your work so it appeals to a certain reader.
“Your reader” is up to you.
This is a little different from understanding your audience, because audience is a general term. It's about knowing where your book fits and the general tropes and rules of that market or genre. Fantasy is an audience. Mystery is an audience. But there are multiple sub-genres and markets in both of those broader categories. Someone who likes urban fantasy might not care for high fantasy, even though many of the same rules apply. But there could be (and often is) crossover between them and one set of readers can easily make that transition. An audience is like knowing the basic genre or market you want to write in. Your reader is the subcategory or type of book within that audience.
Trying to write for everyone is a bad idea, because it’s too broad. Trying to write to please everyone is also a bad idea, because you can’t please everyone. The person you have to make happy is you. You need to love your book before anyone else can.
I heard author Lindsey Leavitt speak at a conference recently. She read a touching e-mail she received from a fan who said Lindsey’s book helped her during her grandmother’s death. Lindsey later said she wrote for that reader. Not that specific girl, but the concept that girl represented. Someone who needed a light, fun book.
That’s writing for your reader. Knowing what you want your reader to experience and take away from your story. Knowing that you want to be able to make a little girl smile during a rough time, and not worry about the reader who wants angsty romance. Lindsey wrote the type of story she wanted to write and she did it her way, knowing where in the market her book would fall, and who that book would appeal to and why.
“Write for you” is very common advice, and it’s good advice. You should write for you, because if you don’t love this job, why bother doing it. Writing for fun is one thing. You can do anything if the goal is to write for fun. But there is a business side to publishing, and understanding that business increases your chances at publication. If the goal is to write for publication, it’s only smart to take some of the business concerns into consideration.
Knowing who your reader is and writing a book that appeals to them is one of them.
How you do that is entirely up to you. Who that is is entirely up to you. No one says you have to do X to be successful. You just need to write a great book that appeals to readers who will buy it. And there are so many different ways to do that.
You don’t have to change your style to write a certain way or do anything that compromises your artistic vision. But if your goal is to publish, business concerns play a role in whether or not that book gets on the shelves. You’re creating a product and successful products know where in the market they fit.
Know where you fit, wherever that may be.