Who Are You?
Spoiler alert! The title has absolutely nothing to do with the song, Who Are You by one of the greatest rock groups of all time, The Who. My apologies, in advance, to all of you children of the sixties. With that, I’ll move on.
I’ve been asked: “How did you decide who your audience was going to be,” or “Who do you write for,” or “Who is your audience now,” or some variation of that question. I can, and will, answer all of those questions.
I knew I wasn’t going to be writing Romantic, Western, Sci-Fi, Horror, or some other specific genre. Authors who write in those genres have a pretty good idea of their audience. That doesn’t mean they’re going to be successful; it just means they generally know what that audience expects. I had no such idea, being that my stories were going to be about my own life’s experiences, none of which fell into the above categories — although there have been some who have said some of my personal and military experiences fell into the ‘Horror’ genre. That said, I knew my stories would mostly be Creative Nonfiction; perhaps some Fiction if I felt energetic enough. I was more concerned if my stories would ever get published. If they didn’t, then who my audience was going to be was a moot point. So, how did I decide who my audience was going to be, how I was going to write and, who is my audience now?
The answer was then, as it is now, quite simple — I wrote, and still write, for an audience of one… Me! I know, I know, that sounds narcissistic as hell. But it makes perfect sense if you refer back to the previous paragraph. I mean, if I didn’t know who my audience was going to be then, the only person I had to please was me. And it still is. Think about it… If you write to please others, but aren’t ‘happy’ with what you’re writing, then what’s the purpose of pouring your heart and soul into every word of every story? To me, that’s a rhetorical question.
In full disclosure, I came to my conclusion about who I should write for very early in my writing ‘career,’ after asking my editor and mentor, a professor at Albright College, that very question. Her lengthy response was illuminating. She said,
“I once read about the response of an author, whose name now eludes me, when he was asked for whom, and how, he decides to write. The author responded — and I’m paraphrasing — ‘If you constantly stick your head out of an open window in the dead of Winter to determine the temperature, you’re going to catch a cold that will be the death of you.’ I took that to mean that you can’t keep taking the proverbial temperature of your readers. If it’s Winter, then you can assume it’s cold. The readers know that, and they know how you write. You don’t change how you write; you just do your best to make what you write better. You write for yourself. If the readers like it, that’s great. If they don’t, then find out if it’s something you can correct. If not, then so be it. There will probably be another reader who will like it.”
Her explanation made perfect sense to me then, and it still does. I can only write in a way that pleases me. I figured an audience would eventually — and hopefully — find me. And they have. I’ve been published in over two dozen literary journals, and recently had my anthology, It’s Always My Fault & Other Short Stories published. (Shameful plug!) If you asked me who my audience is now, I would have to candidly answer, “I don’t know,” and then state the obvious: “I suppose it’s people who like what I write.” I really can’t quantify them. All I know is that the editors and readers of those journals where I was published like what I wrote, and they supposedly know best what their readers like. I’ve also heard firsthand from readers who have read my stories. That’s good enough for me.
I’ve been a member of a small cadre of writers who have met for many years. We read our stories — when we’ve written that is — and graciously listen to the well-intentioned feedback that is offered. I’m not a fan of everything that others write and that’s cool. They’re not a fan of everything that I write. But I, for one, always take their advice to heart, internalize it, and decide if it works for me and my story. If I can make it work, I do it in my style. If it doesn’t work for me, I follow my gut, move on, and hope for the best. So far, so good. It’s okay to want to emulate your favorite author or authors. But do so in a way that is true to how you want to write. In the end, it has to be your style, not theirs. If the reader wanted to read another author’s style, they would read their works. You ultimately want readers to read your works because it’s your style.
I know this will sound trite, but be true to yourself. Have faith in yourself and how you write. You have to live with the words you write. They — the readers, friends, and editors — don’t.
Wishing you the best in your writing adventure.