“You don’t understand me! You never will!”
Whose fault is it when the message fails? The sender or the receiver? Some writing experts say you gotta analyze your audience in depth in order to reach ’em. So who are you writing for?
- A a group of unwashed truck drivers who like panda bear porn?
- A gaggle of Fraggle Rock fans with an unhealthy interest in poop-flinging zombies?
- A bunch of bored househusbands who dream of winning it big in the lottery, buying two truckloads of Nutella, and slathering it all over the neighborhood?
- Or are they, like, normal people? Hell, define normal, these days.
It would seem that Prevarications doesn’t have much of an audience. That became abundantly clear when “The Right to Die,” despite its controversial subject matter, raised little interest, even amongst my friends.
Partially, that can be blamed on Prevarications not having much of a focus, other than me blathering on like a blithering idiot about aspects of my writing life, and posting the occasional review. Perhaps during November, while participating in NaNoWriMo, I’ll use this here unblog to track my progress, my reactions to writing every day, and maybe some background about the plot or characters.
What I won’t be doing is posting each day’s output. That’s because it’ll be first-draft puke-stuff, not ready for prime time. Layoff won’t see the proverbial light of online, so to speak, until it’s two or three drafts down the line.
So, who is my audience? I would hope that, eventually for Prevarications, it’ll be fellow writers. I’m not as well-versed in the craft as someone my age should be, because I haven’t toiled at it every day. It would definitely benefit me to trade ideas and war stories with those who really do log a discernible word count every day. I still have a lot to learn from published and self-published writers.
But, until I have something to offer to that community, my Prevarications audience will necessarily remain just my friends — when and if they drop by, that is. In that meantime, my audience will be just me.
And, really, I should be my first audience, anyway, for these posts and for fiction. If I’m not happy with what I write, if I’m not entertained by it, then who else would be? No one, that’s who. Please note, I said “first,” not “only” audience. If I wrote only for myself, then I may as well just keep a journal. I’ve tried that before — it isn’t a good thing when you bore yourself.
Your second audience? That’s where you have to start thinking about, but not pandering to, your potential readers. If you want to sell what you write, you better know something about your market. Don’t just jump on the latest trend and hope you can ride the wave, however.
For example, Layoff‘s protagonist needs some hobbies, some secondary characteristics to help round out his life. I’ve already mentioned that he’s a film buff. While casting about for another interest, an idea came to me this week: hey, why not have him play zombie video games? Zombies are popular now, thanks in large part to Max Brooks’ 2003 book, The Zombie Survival Guide and his 2006 follow-up, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Zombies are cool, they’re really popular with Gen-X (the age-group to which my protag belongs), and they can also serve as a metaphor for corporate greed and mindlessness.
That’s when I had to put on the brakes. Zombies. Corporate wage slaves. Didn’t I do this joke before, albeit in different form? I took out references to The Office calendar and the Dilbert doll from a previous draft because they were too on-the-nose, right? Wouldn’t including references to zombies just pander to a potential Gen-X audience?
Yes. So maybe I’ll have to skip the zombie videogames completely.
These are the things you have to consider when crafting a story. What are you putting in that will just play to an audience, rather than being integral to the plot and characters?
This happened in the writing group I was once a part of. In the beginning, we were just writing to entertain each other, throwing in jokes or characters just to get group members’ approval. As I mentioned in the “Writing Groups” post, I started writing shit just to make the group laugh. Some day, I’ll dig out a couple of those “business card stories” to post here, just for shits and grins.
Here’s another example, from the same group — once, I wrote parody lyrics about the Harmonic Convergence, set to the hymn of “Blessed Assurance.” (Hey, the Xtians stole several pagan holidays to bring the “heathens” into the early Church. I figured turnabout was fair play.)
My singing voice is horrible, but for some insane reason, I chose to sing it in the group. One person began laughing derisively, so I lost my temper and nearly walked out of the meeting. That’s neither here nor there. He was, obviously, not my audience. (Arguably, my singing has no audience, AT ALL, and that’s the way it should be.) There were two or three pagan/New Age believers — and I wrote the parody to entertain them, specifically. It didn’t further the purpose of the group, it didn’t help my writing, it didn’t help anyone’s craft. It was a waste of time, and perhaps that person was right to laugh.
Nevertheless, I still say you should write first for yourself. Pay attention to market trends, but don’t write strictly to the market. As of this blog posting, Steampunk is big BIG BIG! But by the time you finish that steampunk romance, even if you finish it *next week*, by the time that novel is ready for publication, the steampunk ship will have sailed.
Five years ago, the paranormal romance market was beginning to explode. The category is still popular, but it’s seen its best days. The market already shows signs of fading; one such indicator is the fact that Charlaine Harris has said she’s written her last Sookie Stackhouse book.
Who knows what the next big trend will be? Besides, is that the kind of writer you want to be, just jumping on a trend because you think you can get a book published that way? Let me stress this again — WRITE FOR YOURSELF FIRST. Hell, if you like paranormal romance or steampunk, then go for it. Just realize that unless you bring something new and fresh to either subgenre, you’re going to have a tough time getting that book pubbed.
There’s always self-publication, of course, the route I went with “The Angel of Lies,” but going that way means the lion’s share of the marketing/promotion/book design lands squarely on YOUR shoulders. As John Scalzi is wont to say, the job of a writer is to WRITE. I’m not 100% in agreement with him, but I definitely see what he’s saying. If youou think Writer is a full-time profession, just add Marketer, Promoter, Book Designer, Cover Designer, Agent, Editor, Business Manager to it and see how you hold up.
Some people are made to be independently published writers. I’m not sure I’m one of them. As I’ve mentioned before, “Angel” has sold only a double handful of copies. But then, I’ve only marketed it to friends and Facebook buddies, not many of whom are 1) horror fans, 2) have an ebook reader, 3) are inclined to read anything I write aside from short status updates.
I like Nancy Kress’ advice, as published in Writer’s Digest, which seems to describe the kind of writer I am:
“Forget the audience while you write your first draft. Evoke that audience when you go through the second draft, revising and polishing. After all, an audience may be more welcome at a dress rehearsal rather than a first readthrough. “