Whenever I hear an author say something like, “I wrote the book for myself – I really didn’t think about readers”, I want to gag.
Warning: This post may have been inspired by reading just such a comment from a well-known author after finally reading the brutally disappointing final book in said author’s series. I am not naming names, but if you have read the book, you can probably guess who I mean.
But this author is not the only one, by any means – you see those kinds of comments all the time:
“I was really writing it for myself.”
“I never really thought about how other people would see it.”
“I just had this relationship with my characters – I had to write the story, for me.”
Goat piffle, I say. Having been on this long, arduous journey toward publication for almost ten years now, I can tell you that, if you really want to get published, there’s no way you can NOT think about your readers. At first, it’s specific readers: your betareader, your critique group. Then it widens: the poor put-upon editorial assistant who has to wade through the slush pile. The agents you query. The editors. And of course, always, the people you hope will one day read your book.
So when you first write that story down, and it’s just you and the first draft – okay, maybe THEN you can write just for yourself. But if you get a book deal and you have editors and agents and all manner of people tearing your manuscript apart to make it better – there is no way you can forget to think about your readers, because all those people will remind you constantly that you have to think of them.
Maybe part of the reason I feel so strongly about this is that, in every aspect of my life, I am a communicator. As a librarian, I have to think about what my patrons need and how best to communicate that information to them. As an interpreter, I darn well better consider how best to convey the source message and who the target audience is, or I can’t do my job. And as a writer, I am communicating a message too – only it’s through a story and theme and characters and setting. But I am always thinking about how readers will see it, and what they need to navigate the story and feel the emotions of the characters. If I am not thinking about the people receiving the message, then what the heck is the point of trying to communicate it in the first place?
There are many authors I admire, but there are a handful whose books make me sigh and say, “That’s how I want my readers to feel after reading one of my books.” Megan Whalen Turner. Rachel Hartman. Kristin Cashore. That feeling right there – that’s what made me brave enough to start writing in the first place.
If you’re not thinking about your readers, then you’re just shouting into the universe and not even listening for a reply.