Who Are You Writing For?
By Evan Braun
Every writer needs an audience.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that every writer already has one. In extreme cases, that audience might literally be oneself. A person writes to their own taste and may not specifically plan to show their work to anyone in particular. There’s nothing wrong with that.
So your audience might be real people, or it might be hypothetical. Unless you’re writing just for family and friends—and again, there’s nothing wrong with that either—then your audience is probably at least somewhat hypothetical.
I’ve touched on this subject before but it’s important to have a sense of who your hypothetical readers may be. It will help you craft the manuscript and make decisions about it.
Too often, writers make the mistake of thinking about this too broadly. When I receive a manuscript for evaluation, it often comes with a book proposal or letter seeking to reassure me and/or the publisher that the book will be well-read by a lot of people when the time comes to market it. Who is the book for? Everyone, they say. Young or old, man or woman, believer or non-believer, this book has it all.
I suppose there must be some art out in the world with true mass appeal. Movies that everyone loves, with few exceptions. Television shows with huge audiences that almost no one dislikes. And yes, best-selling books with universally positive reviews.
Art like this exists in a theoretical space. In real life, though, I would say that it’s hard to find.
That’s because the most impactful creative works tend to be those that are targeted to a very particular group of people. This isn’t some generic pepperoni pizza cooked up in the middle of the afternoon and stuck in a warmer until some random customer happens over to buy it. This is a highly customized pie, served fresh out of the oven with toppings and special requests designed to make the one who ordered it salivate with desire.
Do you find yourself trying to write the perfect book, the one that will appeal to absolutely everyone? Let me suggest that you may be barking up the wrong tree. You may think this is the way to go, but from an editorial standpoint it’s actually a bit of a red flag. Broad is often synonymous with generic.
My encouragement to you is to think very carefully about what kind of book you want to write, and who is going to want to read it. Be as specific as possible in crafting it.
When you’re in the midst of the writing stage, your readers are hypothetical by definition. But a good approach is to imagine real people who you know and how they might react to your book. Don’t focus on smoothing everything out to make all these people happy, even though that may be your first instinct. Instead, think about who is already going to like it, and then brainstorm ways in which you can customize the manuscript so that they will like it even more. Lean into that prospective reader as hard as you can.
Ultimately, this is going to help you to craft the best, most impactful, most satisfying book that’s possible. And at the end of the day, that’s exactly what you want. You don’t want a legion of people who just think your book is okay; you want a small group of devoted super-fans who will follow you to the ends of the earth.
About this Contributor:
Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. Braun is an experienced professional editor, and has worked with Word Alive Press authors since 2006. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.