Argh – I’m Not 12 Hours Late! Wait…Yes I Am… Crap.

I read a post the other day, from someone I like, and it got me to thinking. Now, this person is not a “full-throated” blogger, but rather is an astronomer who throws up a short post every week, on the side. He is also, I should say, a very good communicator of all things astrophysics and science. The guy’s names is Paul Sutter, and you can find his personal website (and blog) here. If you have any interest at all in space and astronomy, by the way, his Ask a Spaceman podcast is pretty much required listening…

57796AA2-AC3A-49F7-AF7B-28A7098A545DThe post that got me thinking was titled “Don’t Go Chasing Audiences.” Now, Sutter approaches his writing — like pretty much everything he does — from his perspective as a scientist and science-communicator, but that post (and especially that title) got my brain going on more than that. Sutter got me to thinking about writing itself…and about who we write for.

One of the things you’ll be asked — many times — as a writer is “who is your intended audience?” What gender? What age? What demographic? These are important questions, as important as questions about genre and message.  But they’re questions that can also lead you out into the weeds of trying to cater to your targets, rather than writing what you want and intend.

Now, look…I fully realize that there are writers out there — financially successful writers — who focus on specific audiences and create stories tightly targeted to them. Unfortunately, in my experience, the vast majority of those stories are formulaic and simplistic. Honestly…as a teenage boy, I read my share of those shallow, basic stories designed to specifically to cater to my then-demographic.

But, that was then…so what about now? Now, I’m not a teenage reader anymore. I’m a writer. When I look at the question of “who is your audience?” from my perspective today, things look a whole lot different. First off, I will admit to a certain arrogance. Maybe I should call it confidence instead, but it pretty much amounts to the same thing. I’m confident in what I write because I believe in it. I believe in the vision, and in the characters, and in the story itself. I wouldn’t bother to write the damned thing if I didn’t! Oh there are definitely problems with execution that still need work — they’ll always need work! — but those problems don’t extend to the actual stories that I want to tell.

No, the “confident” answer — *cough* arrogant *cough*cough* — is that I am NOT going to go chasing audiences. I’m going to write the best damned story I can — the story I want to write — then I’ll find the right audience for it. And, yes, before you say it — I know there are exceptions. A YA or MG book is very obviously more audience-specific than your basic sci-fi novel.

Then again, according to the current rules & interpretations of the YA sub-genres, the DockRat series could very well fit quite well in there. And yet, through the entire process of imagining and writing, I had absolutely zero thoughts or focus on the specific needs and wants of fifteen-year-olds…

The bottom line for me — and what Paul’s post got me to thinking about — is simple: if your focus is on pleasing your audience, if you think first and foremost about what they want, you will never do full justice to your characters or to your story. You will, in the end, simply be pandering to passing fads*…and that seldom ends well.

F7FC25AF-9F3F-42D8-9935-0C39F4994D96*And, yes, unfortunately…the publishing industry has a tendency to be fad-driven and reactionary. Editors and publishers have a nasty urge to pay more attention to clones of The Last Great Thing than such works truly deserve. Just like so many other areas of life, the publishing world is subject to a depressing amount of groupthink…

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