Who do you write for? It’s a question I’ve pondered a lot over the past few weeks. It’s something every writer has to ask at least once. Most of us probably ask it every time we open up a file or pick up a pen. Every word we put down has been chosen for a reason. It carries more weight than its place in a sentence.
My first answer to this question was myself. I remember feeling quite virtuous as I said it, as if I were giving the only right answer. I’d skipped to the end of this particular lesson.
My second answer to this question was a more subdued echo of the first. As I read some of the not so nice reviews of my first published book, Less Than Perfect, I needed to remind myself of the fact the story had been for me. I also consoled myself with the fact that someone other than me had seen value in my words, my characters, my vision. Someone had chosen to help me rewrite it, doubling the length of my original submission, improving it, then covering and producing it.
But I hadn’t written it for them. Or had I? Maybe just to prove I could? I certainly hadn’t written it for anyone who might read it, not then.
What about my second published book, Chaos Station. Who did I write that for?
Hence the third time I had to answer this question. I wrote it for myself, damn it. And maybe for Jenn. Because the guys we nicknamed space boys had been kicking around both our heads for a while. If we didn’t let them out, give them voice, they were going to start leaving bruises. I guess that means we also wrote it, in part, for them—for our characters—and oh how that answer complicates such a simple question. Or, maybe the question isn’t as simple as I thought it was.
So who did I write Lonely Shore for? Well, we had a contract, so I had to write it for Carina Press. I also had to write it for the guys, because Chaos Station was only the first chapter of their story. I think we both also felt we might be writing for readers at that point. Surely they’d want to know more? Overwhelmingly they did. By the time we got to Skip Trace, our readers also had criticisms and suggestions in the form of reviews.
You can’t please everyone. Often you can’t please anyone. Does that mean you should change your story? Yes and no. Reader expectation is a thing and, unless you’re Stephen King, you have to take it into account. Also, with every book, particularly when you’re writing a series, you’re laying out the terms of an agreement. You’re fulfilling a contract to a certain point, with some clauses still under negotiation. As a writer, I have an idea of how I want every story to end. The points I want to hit along the way. But if a reader posts a review of book three pointing out something they’d like to see in book four—that is not a part of my current plan—do I listen?
Yes. But only if what they’d like to see makes sense. Because, well, I’m supposed to be writing these books for me. They’re my art, my form of expression. The message within (if any) is mine to share.
I wrote Out in the Blue for myself. Jared is me (in an alternate reality). Same with Paul from When Was the Last Time. These guys are expressions of self I use to explore ideas. Is it weird I chose to represent myself with a male character rather than female? No. Changing the gender of my main character helps me maintain distance, to write someone who is not me. Also, I’m fascinated by men. I love writing them. I almost always choose a male avatar when I’m gaming. I prefer to read books with male leads.
We’re not going to examine that in further detail.
So, what brought on this post? Well, it’s a number of things. It’s a reaction to some conflict in the romance writing community. It’s me questioning the validity of my work and the desire to continue writing love stories. It’s me wondering if I should submit the sequel to a book I currently have in edits now, or wait to see if anyone likes the first one.
It’s the answer to the question of should I be scanning the MSWL hashtag for project ideas that will sell, or should I be writing that post-apocalyptic Christmas love story that’s been kicking around in my head for way too long.
Seriously, who is going to read that?
I would—and that’s why the answer to my question “Who am I writing for?” always has to be me. Myself. Because for a lot of what we do, we’re only going to have an audience of one. So shouldn’t we strive to make them happy?
In a word, yes.
(This post was also inspired by a post by Dan Blank called Why We Create.)