Monday, April 8, 2019

Writing to Your Audience

Salutations, my curious congregation! Let's have a talk about knowing your audience and writing to them.

-muffled sounds of some fedora yelling about pandering in the distance-

-reaches up and closes the window-

Today we're going to talk about why it's important to know the kinds of people that are going to be interested in your stuff, and why it's important to play into what they expect and what they want. Dungeon Masters, this applies to you too, so don't think you're excused! Remember that your players are your audience, grab your notebooks and come with us.

Content Warnings: A healthy dose of irreverence, as always. Probably some swearing. Long term exposure may result in glowing tonsils, but no promises.

Those of us that write genre fiction are aware of some of the conventions in our particular genres. Urban Fantasy readers expect bad ass women, hot paranormal men, some kind of mystery to be solved and at least 5 books to get through in a series. Romance readers expect a happy ending, a lot of kissing (maybe more than that depending on the subgenre) and a hero they can imagine falling for as assuredly as the heroine does. Horror readers expect you to scare the living shit out of them because we're a bunch of sadists like that.

In the olden days, we called it genre. And genres, much like language and the human body, are living growing things that shift with the times and sometimes grow hair where you don't expect it.

There's a little more to it than that, but that's basically what it is. That's why it's important to read in your genre before you write in it. Because what a genre looks like on the outside is not necessarily going to be what a genre actually is once you crack it open and start looking at all those pesky unspoken expectations.

DMs in the audience, this job is really easy for you. Because unless you're streaming,  your entire audience is sitting right in front of you and it's as easy as looking each one in the eye and asking "what do you want from me?!"

I'd highly advise you not shake them by their shoulders when you do this. From personal experience I can tell you they don't tend to like that. But you probably have an audience of 4-8 people (and if you have any more than that first of all hats off to you for your ambition, 6 tends to be my hard limit) and it's pretty easy to know the ins and outs of what they want and where that sweet sweet overlap is. You don't have as much of an excuse for leaving people out because it isn't as easy for them to get up and find another table in the middle of a game.

Curate your table. Don't invite your hard core min-maxer friend to play with your political intrigue group unless they're willing to curb that for the good of the party, it's only going to make everyone upset. It's your job to know your group. It's your job to keep them entertained. You are part of that group. Find players that gel with you.

Authors, your job is a little bit harder. Because genre is an unwritten covenant and there's no list of expectations you can just google and find and understand what your audience is going to want. You have to read. You have to read a lot. Hopefully if you're writing books, that's something you're already doing.

When they say 'write what you know', this is what they mean. Don't write about your life. No one cares what you had for lunch today. Take the interesting pieces of your life and put them in a story that fills enough of the niches your genre is expected to fill, give all of it a sharp twist, go forth and do the thing.

But even within your genre, you're not going to be able to cater to every single reader. Read that again because it's important. You can't please everyone.

I am currently head over heels with Seanan McGuire's work and saw someone complaining in the reviews that there aren't any sex scenes, only fade to black. Frankly? That works for me in a big way. Unless a book is explicitly erotica I'm likely to just skim over sexual content anyway. Apparently that was a deal breaker for this other person.

But you know what? That person wasn't part of her audience and that's okay.

Don't waste your time trying to cater to an audience you aren't really trying to write for. If you are interested in social issues and want to write a diverse cast of characters, do it, and find the people interested in reading that. If you are interested in the nitty gritty details of whaling and every disgusting thing that entails (I'm looking at you Melville, catalyst of my high school nightmares), write that, and find the people interested in reading it.

But realize that the more niche the thing you're writing about is, the more niche your audience is going to be. And that's why Urban Fantasy is full of bad ass chicks in leather smooching on vampires. Because a lot of people are interested in reading about that.

If you realize you've got a certain group of people who are reading your shit and are into certain aspects of it, lean in. Don't pull back because one or two people are iffy about it. They aren't your audience. The ones who love your work the way it is are. The ones who don't, know where the door is.

What you don't want to do is go writing rage responses to people who weren't into your work. They didn't write that vicious review for you, they wrote it for other readers like them who didn't find the book to their liking and wanted to warn off other readers like they are. And you know what? You don't want those readers anyway, because they're just going to be disappointed.

Writing to your audience isn't pandering. It's giving your people what they want. Okay, maybe that is pandering, but so fucking what? Pander. Pander to the people you want reading you, do it shamelessly, and give no fucks about everybody else. They can always go find another book.

Fortune Favors,
Megan R. Miller

P.S. I'm going to try to sell you things again. Torchlighters is over here for the low low price of 99 cents, and if you're into the idea of demons, mobsters and the zeitgeist of the 1920's it might be the book for you. And if not, that's okay too.

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