Regarding Readership—My New Take

From Writer Unboxed:

I suppose I’d better start with a confession. It’s a big one.  Ready? Here goes…

Until fairly recently, I didn’t care about readers.

Wait, did I really say that? Reading it back, I can hardly believe it myself. My position was never really that straightforward. Or imprudent (impudent?). The more nuanced version might be something like:

When I began writing, I wrote only to please myself. I never wanted to compromise the passion I put into my stories by pandering to the marketplace.

. . . .

In my defense, I came upon my… shall we call it an attitude?, early in my writing journey. And coming to it was indeed defensive. How could I take on a project so ambitious and actually think that anyone would ever want to read what was fast becoming a massive first story? It seemed like hubris. My solution? I was writing it just for me!

Looking back, I feel compelled to add another element to my defense. When I started (‘04-‘05), epic fantasy seemed to me to be the opposite of marketable. I didn’t know anyone then who read it, the LOTR and Harry Potter movies were recent phenomena (and were considered “for the kids” by most folks in my orbit), and we were still years from the coming juggernaut of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

How could I justify spending hours that turned to days that turned to months and years laboring at something in which no one seemed interested, within a genre that many in my life considered a juvenile diversion?

Even years later, as the genre began to grow, and I began to interface with it online, I kept encountering reasons my work wouldn’t sell. I kept hearing things like, “You’ve got to have a really good system of magic,” and “Old tropes like ‘The Chosen One’ or ‘The Boy Who Becomes a King’ are passé,” or “The hottest books in adult fantasy deconstruct the old genre of high fantasy.” How was I supposed to try to sell a book with no real system of magic; one that largely embraced the old tropes?

My answer: The marketplace doesn’t matter. It can’t, because I can’t see my place in it.

. . . .

As much as I was loving the storytelling process—the discovery, the magic of immersion—I knew through rereading it that my writing stank. I was frustrated by my inability to deftly capture the story I was imagining so clearly.

Which led to my earliest forays into seeking feedback, at first only from those extremely close to me, like my sister and my wife. Then a few close friends. This tightknit group gave me the perfect combination of encouragement and criticism. Through these early-reading dear people, I first gleaned that I was onto something. They fed my suspicions not just that my storytelling could engage another human, but that—if I could just hold onto them long enough—I could even move them. That sort of human connection is an intoxicating drug.

. . . .

For a long time, the readership of my own genre seemed to me an impenetrable monolith. For years I had the vague but dread-inducing feeling that fantasy fandom would, as one, recognize me as an outsider, a pretender.  Here I was, an aspiring epic fantasist who’s not even a gamer. (In fact, I’ve never once completed an on-screen game of any sort—not even solitaire.) As a reader, I skipped right over YA fantasy. It didn’t seem to exist when I was “of the age.” Heck, I’m as old as many of the hottest SFF novelists’ dads.

. . . .

So I basically ignored the issue. And I kept going. But all the while I was getting closer and closer to that final hurdle of seeking publication. And, let’s face it, publishers are seeking sales—ergo readers.

Which brought me to the culmination of the dilemma. If I acknowledged that I crave the unique communion that occurs between storytellers and readers—and honestly, I’ve come to long for it—I was going to need readers. I could ignore it no longer.

. . . .

I first came across BookTube the way I imagine most people do: as a reader, looking for books to read. It didn’t take me long to find a few favorite vloggers. Or to recognize the value and breadth of what was being offered. Of course there are book reviews and new book previews, but there’s oh-so-much more. There are deep dives into genre, and series, and characters. And author interviews, and emotional reactions, and viewer prompts, and on and on.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

In PG’s experience, most successful authors have a strong connection with and a deep, nuanced understanding of their readers.

In some cases, the author is quite similar to her/his typical reader, in other cases, the author may be dissimilar, but possesses a nuanced grasp of the reader and what he/she is interested in.

That said, PG hasn’t met every successful author (yet) and he could be missing something.

1 thought on “Regarding Readership—My New Take”

  1. My take is that I write and hope to find readers that like what I write.

    As for understanding my readers, as a former psychologist I’m not convinced one can understand people one hasn’t assessed, and even then there are limits on what you understand because how we all interpret living our lives.

    I may be over thinking this.

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