Monday, January 26, 2009

Who Are You Trying to Impress 4

Thanks to everyone who has managed to stay with me through this series, and who have thrown in their two cents. I do think my points have been misunderstood on occasion. My whole focus is on knowing your audience. I’m not saying that using words like argent or lavender is pretentious. Far from it. I’m saying that some audiences will care and others won’t. I’m not indicating that one of those audiences is somehow better than the other, only that they are different. And I’m not saying that there isn’t a market for fine writing. I sure hope there is. I’m saying that different kinds of writing are directed toward different audiences. I’m not trying to indicate that one of those audiences is somehow superior to another. Anyway, here are my closing thoughts on the topic, though such thoughts are always subject to revision.

First, a writer doesn’t have to pick one audience to write for. They may write different things for different audiences. Jack London wrote work directed at the most literate of readers and also churned out potboilers to make money. And, a writer may in fact write for more than one audience at the same time. I think a lot of writers write for readers but also find they have to please themselves first. And, as several folks have pointed out, the readers we writers have the most experience with is ourselves, so if we’re writing for “readers” we often use ourselves as a model. We could easily have two audiences, which don’t have to be incompatible.

Second, writers can, over time, change the audience they are directing work toward. When I wrote Swords of Talera it really was for myself. Although in the back of my mind I had some thoughts about becoming a published author, I never gave a single thought to audience in the first go through of that book. I wrote it purely and simply because it was fun for me and I wanted to know what happened next. As a result, it rambled. When I rewrote it in an attempt to published it, I took out the rambling parts and tried to focus primarily on the story, because I felt that was what the reader wanted. My main audience was no longer myself, although I still wanted to please myself too.

When I wrote Cold in the Light, I tried to keep the “reader” in mind every step of the way as far as story and action went, but I personally adore beautiful language so I tried to keep the prose at a little bit of an elevated level, both for myself and for my writer peers. But I’ll tell you honestly that when I wrote that book I wanted readers, as many as I could possible get. (I didn’t get nearly as many as I wanted.)

Wings over Talera was a hybrid. I wrote the first chapters right after finishing “Swords,” and it was still written solely for myself. But after “Swords” was serialized and I went to finish “Wings,” I tried to keep in mind the readers from the magazine who had liked “Swords.” I wanted those same readers to be happy with the new book. I knew that readers outside of fantasy probably wouldn't care.

Witch of Talera was written, from the first, for readers, the same folks who had enjoyed the previous ones in the series. Of course, I wanted to please myself as well, but I wanted, needed perhaps, to hear people tell me they really liked that book. I’ll tell you, for me, it is truly a great feeling to hear someone say they spent some of their precious time reading a story that I’ve written, and that they liked it. And I’d much rather have that than have a critic discuss the deeper meaning of my prose. The most wondrous gift that any book could give me as a kid was to fire my imagination. And that’s exactly the gift I’d like to give to others.

So who do I write for? Not for critics at all. And not so much for peers, except for the fact that I am one of those peers. I have to please myself in any writing project, or else I can’t go forward. But because I really want to be “read,” I can’t say that I’m writing primarily for myself. My main audience is the kind of reader who likes to read the same stuff I do. And I’d like to have a lot of them. Unfortunately, many readers just aren’t going to like the genres I like so I limit my potential audience by that very fact. Any time you select an audience there are likely to be tradeoffs. In writing, I don’t think you can have it all.

So, some of you have already answered the question of who you write for, but if you’d like to share feel free. And even if you don’t want to tell me, I think you should always tell yourself.


laughingwolf said...

to my mind, i can't wait to see sequels to 'cold'... though more in the talera series i'd read, too :)

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks for a nice series that made me think.

Vesper said...

I found this series very interesting, Charles, very thought provoking. Thank you for pointing out how important it is to know your audience with examples from your own work.

Some ideas that particularly stood out for me are:

writers typically judge fiction differently than do readers who don’t write.

The most wondrous gift that any book could give me as a kid was to fire my imagination. And that’s exactly the gift I’d like to give to others.

My main audience is the kind of reader who likes to read the same stuff I do.

I couldn't agree more. I think we all start writing for ourselves and that gradually changes as we and our writing mature.


I love your new pic. I noticed it first on my blog. Very cool!

Paul R. McNamee said...

I believe I'm with you - I write for myself and readers. When I was screenwriting, I was a bit in the "write for peers" group, but I don't think that applies anymore.

If my peers like it, it's because they are readers. In other words, I'm not going to rework a sword-and-sorcery piece to please a romantic writer peer in a critique group. But if there are other s-&-s fans in the group, they can enjoy it.

Lisa said...

I feel like a troublemaker now! But in the end, we are 100% on the same sheet of music, although I'm very far behind you on my path. You've confirmed for me that the questions and answers beg constant reevaluation over time. Thanks so much for such a well thought out series of posts. It helped me to think through these questions and it clarified the answers for me.

Barrie said...

Just had a thought--having judged many writing contests, I can tell you there are people who write for contests.

Lauren said...

Thanks for the series. It definitely made me think.

Crushed said...

I think one pitches at different people at different times.
I think I'm conscious of the fact that what I like to write doesn't always interest readers.

I think I generally write for people who want to read it, so its for them and for me.

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, I'm considering another book along the lines of Cold now. Calling it "Where it Wanders."

Pattinase, glad you enjoyed.

Vesper, glad you were able to take some thngs from it. I enjoyed developing my own thoughts on the matter.

Paul, I've done the same thing, avoiding changing a story just for someone in a group who isn't in my target audience. It's very counterproductive.

Lisa, no, I enjoyed the back and forth. It helped me clarify my own wording and expressions as I worked through the posts. Thanks for your thoughtful responses.

Barrie, ah, another type of for the audience writing. The contest judges. Interesting.

Lauren, glad you enjoyed. I've added you to my Google feeds.

Crushed, I actively think, at least in some cases, of trying to recruit new readers, though.

L.A. Mitchell said...

Great series, Charles. I have an "ideal reader" like Stephen King does. A person who shares my adoration for a certain type of book or movie experience and who represents my primary audience. The transition from peer to reader has been long and winding, though. Freedom has only come fairly recently.

Steve Malley said...

This has been a *very* thought-provoking series for me.

I have a reader in mind when I write: actually two of them. One is a woman, she wears tennis shoes to and from the office because dress shoes hurt her feet. She packs her lunch and doesn't much like her work wardrobe, but at least she gets to pick up a book in that crappy little half hour break they give her.

My other reader's a guy. He doesn't read as much as he wishes he did, stealing a little time here and there when the kids are asleep or he's on vacation.

I want to give these two something they can get right into: accessible language, quick chapters, a story that makes them want to steal a little more time.

And I hope that the stain that seeps into all my creative work will stay with them after they close the covers.

But the fact is, I'd keep writing (I do keep writing) whether or not these two ever read me. I write because the stories are inside and need to come out. I write the way someone else might lance a boil.

And that's only for me.

David Cranmer said...

Charles, These are very informative posts that I have enjoyed reading.

Angie said...

I write for myself, and also for readers like me. Hopefully there are enough of them out there to buy a few copies of my stories. :) I also write for other writers like me, although some readers are knowledgeable enough that they and the writers are pretty much equivalent in how they read.

I have a pretty good vocabulary and I use it where appropriate. I like varying my sentence structure, and the thought of writing only or even mostly short sentences makes me cringe. Some of my stories are popcorn reads in theme and action, but even with the short, funny ones, I don't tone down the reading level. I've heard that you should aim for the third grade reading level or something like that and I'm just... no. Sorry. :/

I probably could write that simply if I wanted to, but I don't want to. We're certainly not in this for the money, so I have to really enjoy what I'm doing, and I don't enjoy simplistic.


SQT said...

Ultimately I think I'm about the reader-- like I said before. I get enjoyment out of doing it for myself, but sharing the story is always the goal.

Charles Gramlich said...

L. A., I'd be afraid the "ideal" reader might be a little too ideal. Would that guy want to read some rambling dissertation about iron smelting on Talera? lol.

Steve Malley, I really like the thought of the "stain." I want that too, something along that line, although I didn't get it into this series of posts.

David Cranmer, glad you liked 'em.

Angie, you probably have it a little more specific than some writers because the stuff you've done so far has been very specifically targeted. Perhaps you could do a blog post about that sometime. It would be different than a more general target audience perhaps.

SQT, I agree, sharing the story. Getting someone else into my world and letting them interact with it.

Angie said...

the stuff you've done so far has been very specifically targeted

Humm. True, but only in subject matter. The gay fiction crowd isn't any more erudite than anyone else that I've noticed. And I've read plenty of popcorn stories in that genre. [ponder]


G. B. Miller said...

Hmmm....I write for a couple of different readers I would think.

1) I write for me. However, I'm now very careful when I write for me, because at the moment, I'm going through some vicious backlash because I wrote for me without really considering my audience.

2) The other readers. I try to write for readers who share my slightly warped {and non p.c.) views on the world around me. Because of that, I now realize that I shouldn't go completely hog wild with what I write.

Overall, a very informative series of posts.

steve on the slow train said...

This has been a very helpful series of articles. I didn't really think about my audience. When the Dickens Challenge was going great guns, I was writing mainly for that circle of readers. And those readers, yourself included, were helpful in my writing. I miss that audience, though I agreed with Lisa that we needed to take our works in progress to a limited-access site, which she has set up.

I agree with you that Lisa was no troublemaker, but actually helped you clarify your position.

I really like Steve Malley's images of his readers. It's brilliant, but it's not something that would work for me personally.

So who do I write for? (The old grammarian in me wants to say "For whom do I write?" though that's writing for an audience in the past.) I have to write for myself, but I'm also writing for an audience interested in history, in spirituality, and in politics.

P.S. I just finished listening to a course on CD, "Songs of Ourselves: Walt Whitman and the Dawn of Modern American Poetry," taught by Karen Karbiener of New York University. In some of his poems, such as "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," Whitman is writing not to his chronological peers, but to generations yet unborn.

Greg said...

i definitely liked the poetic language in Cold in the Light. that attention to language is one of the things that made it stand above many sci-fi/horror novels I've read recently.

X. Dell said...

I've really appreciated this series, for I have actually written quite a bit (fiction, non-fiction). I've published a few things here and there under my own name (and have ghostwritten more than I care to think about--after all, when doing that I'm not writing for any of the four you list; I'm writing for money).

Most of my fiction I definitely wrote for myself. I've completed four screenplays and two novels, and haven't sold a #$@!-ing thing, because I haven't really agrgressively tried to sell anything. For me, it came more out of the frustration of going to the bookstore and not finding exactgly what I wanted. Writing only for myself, I can salt-and-pepper the prose to my individual taste.

Chris Eldin said...

It seems I've missed some controversy over here!

I also think it's important to read outside of the genre/audience you write for. I fervently believe this. Exposure to different styles and techniques can help you to hone your own craft (imo!!)

I will go back and read your other posts now....

Chris Eldin said...

I just saw Barrie's comment about writing for contests! LOL! I was headed in that direction for a while.

Erik Donald France said...

I enjoyed this, all well-articulated. Tradeoffs -- exactly.

Nice work -- now I just need to get all your books ;->

the walking man said...

Charles a very concise and direct statement that opened up thought and dialog about the process of understanding who and where are audiences are...thank you.

Charles Gramlich said...

Angie, there are certainly little things that I do for the insiders in Sword and Planet fiction that those folks, and I, appreciate, where I wouldn't include in my horror stuff.

Georgie B, I found I had to revise Swords of Talera pretty heavily when I decided to try to get it published. It was too much for me.

Steve, I had one editor from a bigger house say I was writing for a "past" audience with Swords of Talera. I knew there was still an audience out there alive, though. I can see that about Walt Whitman. Hadn't thought of it that way.

Greg, I love that kind of language. I suppose it's why I try and write poetry in addition to other things. Something about it brings me joy. Thanks for the kind compliments on "Cold."

X-Dell,I've certainly written some experimental pieces that way, and then have tried to sell them later. When I first started writing short stories I probably wrote them almost exclusively for myself and then worried about marketing. But most of the time when I got ready to submit stuff I revised based upon my thoughts on the audience, and I do that more these days than I used to. Marketing definitely requires some aggressiveness.

Chris Eldin, it was fun controversy. I agree with your comments about reading. I'm very eclectic myself.

Erik, always tradeoffs. I hope you enjoy the books if you get a chance to read them.
Mark, glad you enjoyed it. I thought of a lot of side paths this kind of discussion could go down as I was working on it, but I figured, it's not a book, just keep it concise.

BernardL said...

I enjoyed the series, and I didn't think 'Swords' rambled. :)

Maalie said...

I believe such names as Charles Dickens, and even William Shakespeare, spent much of their time writing "hack-work" to earn a crust.

I have enjoyed reading this series, Charles Gramlich.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Charles - I just read your series and I think it has such excellent points! You are so right about writers judging fiction differently than readers. I think this is especially true for literary fiction.

And I definitely write for readers. I want to be read and enjoyed. And so I do want to avoid fancy words that might annoy readers more than enhance the reading.

And I love the new pic!!

Miladysa said...

"Who Are You Trying to Impress"

Great series.

I would have to say every man/woman/child and their dogs and then deny that I am trying to impress anyone ;D

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernardl, the first completed version of Swords did, I thought. I had gone off on some tangents but I worked hard to hack those out in the revision.

Maalie, you're right. They were considered popular writers of their day.

Ello, glad you enjoyed. Vocabulary selection is such a deleciate issue. I might try to post on taht subect later myself.

Miladysa, I sure wish all those would buy my books. I should have put a dog in each of them for that market. lol.

laughingwolf said...

i'll read it, but would prefer a sequel to 'cold'... maybe? ;) lol

Scott said...


Excellent series! Very well thought out.

j said...

Excellent final post to this series. It was interesting that you edited the rambling out of your first book and your subsequent books had 'written personalities' of their own.

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, it sure makes me feel good to know you enjoyed Cold that much. :)

Scott, thankee.

Jennifer, authors often say that books are like their babies and there's some truth to that.

Robin said...

Great series, mucho thinking...and I've just spent 4 hours beating my head against the keyboard over a plot problem, then cackling with glee when I came up with an amazing way to get around it! Which, of course, took my story off of storyboard/outline, into new directions; thereby making it MORE work (but fun!)

So yeah, if I write for just me, I'm a masochist...I'm a chic, I shave my legs and wax my eyebrows (and other sensitive areas)...I don't need to add keyboard/headbashing to that equation!

I write, because,'s fun. I'm sure the DSM VI has a diagnosis for that!

I know I'll have to reign in my indulgent impulses to publish...but thanks to the comments here I'm not gearing it to contests!

Robin said...

Great series, mucho thinking...and I've just spent 4 hours beating my head against the keyboard over a plot problem, then cackling with glee when I came up with an amazing way to get around it! Which, of course, took my story off of storyboard/outline, into new directions; thereby making it MORE work (but fun!)

So yeah, if I write for just me, I'm a masochist...I'm a chic, I shave my legs and wax my eyebrows (and other sensitive areas)...I don't need to add keyboard/headbashing to that equation!

I write, because,'s fun. I'm sure the DSM VI has a diagnosis for that!

I know I'll have to reign in my indulgent impulses to publish...but thanks to the comments here I'm not gearing it to contests!

Cloudia said...

"it is truly a great feeling to hear someone say they spent some of their precious time reading a story that I’ve written, and that they liked it. And I’d much rather have that than have a critic discuss the deeper meaning of my prose."
Yes, intoxicating!! Aloha, Charles

Mary Witzl said...

One audience at a time: that ought to be my new mantra.

I am currently rewriting an MS I've been tinkering with for far too long. Like you and 'Swords of Talera', I wrote it mainly for the joy of writing it, with little thought of who I was writing it for. It rambles like nobody's business too...

Drizel said...

for myself.....I love how everything unfolds:)

Chris Benjamin said...

Quite enjoyed this little series.

I think no matter who else you write for, you almost have to also write for yourself, at least partially. Meaning: personally I would hate myself if I was a bestselling author yet couldn't stand my own drivel.

Maybe part of the joy of a large audience is finding people who connect with what you do for yourself.

In on particular order, I write for myself, for publishers, for an audience, and for my peers. Maybe one day I will add critics to that list.

Charles Gramlich said...

Robin, it's very nice when the perfect solution occurs to you. Strange almost how much pleasure that can bring.

Cloudia, somehow, writing a piece of fiction that touches someone else is on of the most intimate of relationships.

Mary Witzl, rambling is OK in the early drafts, although it takes more work to fix it maybe, and rambling can be fun. It may even be part of the creative process. But in the end the rambling has to go.

Etain, that is one of the pleasures of writing.

Benjibopper, I'm the same. I couldn't stand it if I didn't respect my own work, but I know quite a few writers who have done or are doing exactly that.

Donnetta said...

Hi, Charles: So far, I have only written for myself. BUT-I would like to start writing for readers, probably children. That seems to be the direction I'm taking. Hey, I'm getting old but I'm still walking on the path! I think if I could get just one little children's piece published, I would be running down the path. D

Shauna Roberts said...

Good sum up. After reading your final post in this series, I think I should amend my previous comments to "I write for myself and for people with the same taste as me." And I hope to convert other people to my tastes.

Charles Gramlich said...

Donnetta Lee, I believe children can be both a demanding and a forgiving audience. They are certainly intelligent and discerning. I've been working off and on for several years on a longish animal story for children. I really would like to finish it one of these days.

Shauna, you and me both. I wish I could get a lot more readers to like the kind of stuff I do. But I don't find that many around here at least.

Stewart Sternberg (half of L.P. Styles) said...

This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I like your thought process, although it is different from mine. I always stop and think about the audience. I am always trying to imagine what they are thinking as they progress through the text. I guess each person has his own formula.

JR's Thumbprints said...

If, while in the writing process, you stop to think about your audience, then your writing suffers. However, when you're in edit mode, your audience needs to be considered. I enjoyed this series.

writtenwyrdd said...

Great thoughts again Charles. I think I primarily write to please myself, but then when the internal editor gets going it's not about that at all--it's about my ISSUES, lol. I do try to write to please first myself and then my audience, though.

Charles Gramlich said...

Stewart Sternberg, I think I might find that would slow me down too much on the first pass. But as you say, everyone has their approach.

J. R. I agree with you, which I think is the opposite of what Stewart said just above. IN writing a novel, I do revisions each day of the material written the day before, and I generally try to think of the audience during that revision.

Writtenwyrd, the audience has gotten more important to me over the years.

Clare2e said...

Charles- I've been out of town, so I caught up with this series all in one go!

I've been writing/posting/commenting about this at Women of Mystery since I'm straddling several genres currently while trying to find a market that likes my voice and touch. If you wouldn't mind, I might want to link the whole series, just to discuss how other writers deal with the questions, and because the comments here are so thoughtful, too.

Charles Gramlich said...

Clare2e, by all means, link if you find it useful. I'll head over to check out your posts as well.

Clare2e said...

I just put up the links to this series with a small intro. Thanks for the welcome mat!

laughingwolf said...

i 'lived' that book... so MY kinda tale :D

Barbara Martin said...

This was a good series, Charles, to give a writer another look at writing and how the words chosen can be directed at individual audiences. Its certainly helped me.

Anonymous said...

Hey there,

Shauna Roberts ( suggested I read these posts based on a post I made this week.

A few thoughts that cropped up as I read...

Thomas Ligotti made a comment to the effect that being a Horror Writer is the closest thing to having an identity that he has had and he is happy to claim it.

Stephen King's assertion that the only reason to write that doesn't amount to mental masturbation is 'to tell a good story'.

(all that is paraphrased) :)

So... Like I noted in my own post, there are reasons underlying the drive to write (or paint, or sing, or...) that relate to a spotlight of some sort, held by an audience of one kind or another. For me, I think it is a matter of maturity that I take SK's 'first and foremost, tell a good story' as my primary prerogative.

I don't do didactic. AND I do realize that I want to reach out to a specific audience among 'readers, writers, critics, myself'. Maybe you could say: the disenfranchised. But above that rides the imperatives 'tell a good story/ I don't do didactic', to keep me off my soapbox.

And in a nod to Ligotti's comment, I am happy to be a (insert genre label) writer. New Yorker be damned. I hope to be good enough to write stuff that people actually read, as opposed to admire.

Those are my thoughs, :)

Brandon Bell

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, ;)

Barbara, I think I might want to explore that more at a later time.

Nithska, thanks for dropping by. I'm glad you found the posts of interest. I'll check out your blog as well.

susan said...

This has been an interesting series of thoughts to read. I'm not a writer but am a voracious reader of novels in many genres and I've given much thought to exactly what attracts me to particular authors and not others. Well, for one thing there's not enough time to read everything so one much trust in luck and a certain lean towards reading those whose work feels fresh and original. It's important that the author is comfortable with complex grammar and has a vocabulary suited to the subject. With those necessities covered I'm likely to read beyond the 50th page - my personal limit for books under 300 pages. Next time I'm at the bookstore I'll look up your work.