Lately, I've had a lot of time to ponder the importance of an author's audience. In bed with a vicious bug, I had a lot of time to read a variety of books, magazines, and short stories. In between my reading marathons and my naps, my son started reading more advanced chapter books to me. That same week, I turned in a manuscript and was approached to edit a couple of manuscripts.
Without meaning to, I started comparing the unpublished works (including my own) to the published works.
Audience became very clear to me in these instances:
• With my son's chapter books, they make it easy--big numbers or letters adorn the outside so that even he knows if a book might be too difficult for him to read. The authors have a specific target audience when they are writing.
• The manuscript I worked on was a middle-grade work of non-fiction. As I wrote, I tried to keep in mind that age group, but, in all honesty, I may have over-shot my audience. In some ways, I was also writing to try to impress new-to-me editors and I might have lost some focus on my true audience.
• In the adult books area, one author did not seem to have an idea who the book's audience was. The subject matter weaved around: sometimes it delivered to one audience, then, I turned the page for the narrative to dart over here, then trying to please this audience over here.
• One author clearly had herself for the audience. Not really confident that anyone really wanted to hear what she had to say, she floated around throughout the manuscript. She wrote things that, she admitted, she wasn't sure she wanted anyone else to read. Except that now she has decided to work for publication for those outside her family circle.
As storytellers, aren't we seeking an audience to listen to the tale we tell? Don't we ultimately want someone to hear what we have to say? To have someone engage with what we are putting forth? We know our audience exists, right?
Much of my writing has a pre-defined audience with whom I am trying to communicate and engage. Instead of trying to figure out the next best seller (Think a vampire romance trying to cater to the Harry Potter crowd with a little of Hello Kitty thrown into the mix), perhaps I should take more time to discover my audience. Who wants to read what I have to write?
As writers, ultimately, when we sit down to write, who are we serving? Ourselves or our readers?
Elizabeth King Humphrey, a writer/editor/coach, lives in North Carolina.