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Thursday, June 01, 2017

Who is your audience?

Recently, while critiquing my son's hesitant beginnings of a school essay I told him "This will be a little easier if you remember who your audience is." This essay was being entered in a local contest and his audience was a group of middle-aged Navy veterans. After some thought my son decided to add some high school football to his essay. Although his essay didn't win the contest, it did get a chuckle from his English teacher -- a "that was amusing" chuckle not a "I have never seen so many grammatical mistakes in one sentence" chuckle.

Reflecting on my son's essay and my off-the-cuff advice I realized that, as writers we don't heed that advice as often as we should. Sure, we consider what we think the editors, publishers and agents will like. But how often do we really think about the readers who will buy our book, come across our article while waiting in the dentist's office, or click onto our article as they sip their morning coffee? So I began thinking about those people when planning my writing.

I had often been bogged down by nagging questions:

  • Was that funny?
  • Is that too technical? Do I need to explain more?
  • What's the perfect hook line?
Of course the list goes on and on but you get the idea. Suddenly, with a group of people sitting on my shoulder -- sometimes a group of new moms, sometimes a group of frugal vacation planners, sometimes a group of historical fiction lovers -- those decisions became easier. With a concrete audience in my head, I began to get a better feel for what the right decisions would be when planning my writing and editing. I don't recommend thinking about your audience when actually writing -- with all those characters (fiction) or experts (nonfiction) in your head it could get a little crowded!

Ultimately, I find that much of my writing is initially for an audience of one -- me. But when it comes time to refine it for publication it's helpful to see it through the eyes of that group of readers that will one day stumble across it. As for those editors, publishers and agents? Hopefully, they're thinking of their readers and will recognize that I am too.

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