“Know Your Audience!”

The cold weather has descended and I’m spending more time inside writing, and so today’s post focuses on adventures in writing instead of the outdoors. Actually, this is more of a thought about writing and readership.  I keep seeing the advice, “Know your audience!” and “Write for your audience!” and “Target your audience!”  Many, many articles say this is the #1 tip to becoming a bestselling author. (They say that about writing series too.)

The weird thing is, every author I read about that makes it huge didn’t seem think about their audience at all. They wrote a story from the heart. Authors that break out with their first book or an early book often write in the early morning hours before work or late at night, and they seem to be focused solely on producing the story that grabbed and inspired them. Also, that early on, they don’t have their own audience yet. Nicholas Sparks based his first novel The Notebook on a real couple, not an idea for a target audience. I read once that Stephenie Meyer had a dream about a girl and vampire in love and that inspired the Twilight series.

I like to think that I write for the people who love my stories, but I’ve never researched a certain demographic so I could to them. I’ve written and put out books with stories that I wanted to share. As I wrote more and more, I began including more of what I care about, aiming to produce a story with a meaning beyond the entertainment. When I wrote Point Hope, I just felt like it was a great story worth telling. I felt successful with that book before anyone else even read it. I recently finished another book called Costa Rica, and I did think about the things my readers said they liked in my other books. Perhaps that was writing toward my audience. I’m midway through another novel right now called In a Field of Oranges, and it deviates from my last few themes, but it still has my style and tone.

In a way, it seems “know your audience” is an industry catch phrase that doesn’t mean much, at least not to me in a useful way. The applicable part of the advice is to write up a profile for my idea reader and try to write to her… That feels like throwing a dart into the dark to me. (I’m sure there are useful ways to apply that advice, but I’m sharing my opinion and thoughts.) I’d rather write for myself: what I’m passionate about, what I want my stories to say, how I want to improve my craft, and how I want to connect with the readers who talk to me about my stories. I’ve found that the more of my life and passion I put into my stories, the better they connect with others.

So why am I blogging about this? I’ve been thinking about all the authors out there seeking the path to publication or to a bigger audience. Like me, they probably read blogs, articles, magazines and books on writing. I’m just wondering, if they toss out all the confusing advice and write the story that keeps them up at night, what kinds of books will they produce? Yes, it’s important to learn the ropes and fine tune our storytelling and craft, but sometimes we need to take an idea and run. My point is, the books that keep us up reading late into the night are completely different than our own lives and what we  think we want to read. They’re so unique and surprising that they somehow validate and connect with our lives. I’d argue that’s what our target audience is looking for!

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