Thursday, August 17, 2006

Who Are You Aiming To Please?

There's a lot of advice out there about what to write. Some say, write the book of your heart. Others say, write to the market. Still others say, write what you love but keep an eye on the market. It's hard to know who's right, though I suspect that at some point that advice is right or wrong, depending upon who you are, what you're writing and what the market is at the time you're trying to sell. Clear as mud? Of course it is. That's the beauty of advice. Take it however you want to take it.

What about the stories you write? Forget whether you're writing to the market or the book of your heart. Who is your target audience? And what exactly do you want to give them?

Recently, a well known author has indicated that a much loved character from her very famous books might meet his doom in the last book she writes in the series. I haven't read the books, so I don't think it'll bother me too much, but what will it do to the millions of people, a good many of them children, who do read and love this character? Is this a good marketing strategy or career suicide?

Many blogs ago, I mentioned that I've boycotted a very famous author for almost twenty years because she killed off a beloved character in a sequel. I've yet to buy another of her books, even when they're on the bargain shelf. Childish? Maybe. But I took what she did very personally and felt as if it were a slap in the face to her many fans who cherished her books and the characters she'd created.

I didn't really want to see the author suffer. Well okay, maybe I wanted her to suffer just a little. She didn't. She became an even more popular author, hitting the NYT bestseller's list time and again. I'm quite sure she never noticed or would care that I never bought another one of her books.

Not everyone has to have a happy ending. As a former bookseller, I was shocked to discover that some people actually wanted books that would make them cry or disturbed them. And that's fine, to each his own.

But do authors have an obligation to write what the reader expects from them? Doesn't an author grow a readership by supplying their fans with the kinds of stories they've come to enjoy?

What about you? Are you writing to entertain and satisfy the masses? Do you write to please yourself, please the market? Would you care that millions of people or perhaps just one person, never bought another of your books because of how you ended your story?

In other words, as my granddaddy always said, who are you aiming to please?


Carla Swafford said...

Wow! Christy, this is a great topic. I’ve been fighting the same advice as many others have I’m sure. My personal opinion is that you write what you believe is right for you. So if you wish to write to market, go for it. Shows that you have business savvy. But if you feel that will betray your personal honor, go for the book of your heart. Me. I try to write what I would enjoy reading and hope the market will have a spot for it. Since I enjoy reading some of the books that hit the best seller lists, I believe my book may one day show up there, too.

But the book of your heart may have to sit on a shelf for a while. Markets come around. Books I had never expected to see published, but wanted to read/write, are now hitting the shelves. We’re more open to gritter or so-called on-the-edge romances. I like that. What I read twenty years ago won’t necessarily entertain me now. Though I do have a couple favorites that I pull out to read over and over again.

So when it gets down to whether you write the book of your heart or a “marketable” book, I say write the Book and then follow up with the marketable ones. The best of both worlds. Who knows they may be all the same – publishable.

Paula said...

I write for myself first, figuring that I'm a reader, too, so if I please myself, I have half a chance at pleasing others. But I also know that writing for myself alone isn't enough, so I do keep a potential audience in mind when I write and try to give them what I think will make them happy.

What I DON'T do is write to the market, because the market trends change faster than I can write. I just try to tell a classic, timeless story that people will want to read twenty or thirty years from now.