Writers need to consider their audience, but who is their audience?
Is it the target audience children, young adults, mystery buffs, romance readers? What about the secondary audience: the parents reading to the children, the adult reading the YA book along with the teenager, the grandfather receiving the mystery novel as a gift, the husband who finds the romance book in the laundry basket? And we mustn’t forget the publishers and editors, those folks who have definitive ideas about what makes for good writing and what will sell.
In fact, can’t the “audience” even be that “going market” for what is selling and what isn’t? Think about Jan Krosoczka’s popular Platypus Police Squad. Originally they were penguins, but he was told penguins had been overdone the year he submitted. Fortunately for him, platypus begins with a “p”, too.
With such diverse readers, with competing likes, dislikes, priorities, needs, and wants, what exactly is a writer to do?
On the one hand, writing for an intended audience helps writers. More often than not, we write with a deliberate purpose when we have a specific reader in mind; we make choices about the writing style, vocabulary use, and type of character development. What we know about the audience affects the plot and story structure.
On the other hand, writers often write for an audience of one – themselves. We write for the joy it brings us. We write because the muses insist we must. We write because we have stories to tell and characters and worlds clamoring to be made real. If we are pleased, is that not enough?
Stephen Wright, the comedian, asked, “If all the world’s a stage, where is the audience sitting?” For writers, our writing is the stage, and we must ask the question: “Where is our audience sitting?” Whether we write simply for ourselves or with hopes for publication, the truth is that we do need someone to appreciate what we write. If our audience is only ourselves, the appreciation usually comes more easily. If, however, we want to publish, it may take a while to find our particular audience.
Be assured, though, that somewhere there is an audience. Numerous publishers rejected Madeleine L’Engle’s ever-enduring A Wrinkle in Time and J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular Harry Potter series before they each found the one publisher who appreciated and believed. One wonders what might have happened if they had given up.
Writers write for a specific audience in mind because it helps to direct our work, but in the end, we must always remember that an outside audience can be fickle; and fickleness should not mean our writing is unworthy. We must keep in mind Oscar Wilde’s variation of the “stage” quote: “The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.” Sometimes only when changes are made to the casting of the audience, will we find our readers.
Paula Castner is a co-founder of Seven Bridge Writers' Collaborative as well as a freelance writer and workshop facilitator. She receives emails at firstname.lastname@example.org.