As is typical of just about anything, some Georgetown authors disagree about audience. Although a fair number would nod at the suggestion in yesterday’s post that a sophisticated understanding and appreciation of audience is one key to writing an essential book, there’s at least one dissenting view. A case can be made (and has been made) for writing to please yourself, with no concern for either audience or critics. Some highly successful authors do this, without caring how they are perceived, or received. The result? When it works well, this can yield smart, honest, memorable writing. Now that I’ve heard this other viewpoint, I’m torn. My nurture-nature wants to think about audience, but this different approach seems to have much wisdom in it as well.
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Authors come to Booklab with all sorts of different notions about audience. The most common early thought is that the book is “for everyone,” when in fact audiences for books are almost always rather specific, and frustratingly challenging to suss out. Some interesting authors spend creative energy thinking about audience more pointedly (women or men? under 30 or mostly midlife and older? various ages but specific life experiences, such as military service or a shared faith?), and we offer specific tools to enhance that, but there can be even more to it than demographics.
The most amazing authors who have taught me much are those who place themselves in different relationships to their audiences. Everyday authors craft a “me up, you down,” asking “Who will buy and/or read this book and make me famous?” Rare and wonderful authors sit a little lower and place their readers a bit higher, asking “Whom do I serve? How will this be used? Whose needs can I meet and how fully? Why would a reader come to me versus (or in addition to) all the other choices out there, and how do I fulfill that role?”
A book written purely for promotion, attention, or wealth can succeed. But a book crafted with a defined audience’s needs in mind and heart is one that also stands a chance of going beyond immediate success into the realm of the essential.