Working The Audience: A Very Useful Writing Trick

On the StageI am a little bit of a helpless romantic.

For those who read my novel A Jane Austen Daydream that is not at all surprising. And before I met my wife I thought of my writing as a gateway to the heart.

I was one of those fools that bought into the lie of the romantic novels and the romantic comedy films. You see this plot twist all the time! That grand gesture that makes a person reconsider another in a different light. Oh, it is a great idea in a story, but we all know, honestly, it goes against how people are wired in the real world.

Short stories with hidden messages (and not so hidden ones), books, and I still squirm to remember the poetry. I have admitted a lot of embarrassing stuff on this site, but this is one of those few memories I still want to crawl into a cave and live out my remaining days because of. Yup, just the hint of it makes me want to become a hermit.

I, Scott Southard, was the creator of bad love poems. And I have sent them, strategically left them around, and even mailed them once anonymously in the hope that it would make another stop and see me as hotter (as some kind of light rock classic kicks on in the background like in a bad movie). In the end it never worked… and, by the way, the recipient of the anonymous love poems didn’t even figure out they were from me until I said something! Ouch!

All those bad memories aside, there is something to be said for the importance of an audience. I’m not just talking about the readers all writers dream to have, I mean that more enigmatic dream of a reader. The one we hope will find our work, the one in the back of our mind that drives the creation forward. They demand the story. What many don’t realize is that dream reader can be a tool, and can help over many different steps in the creative process if used right. Just be sure to leave the poetry at home…

Focus!

When I begin a story, I am usually overwhelmed by ideas. It is a great feeling and I will fill yellow notepads in my ineligible scribble (I even have trouble reading it sometimes) with notes and little bits of quotes and character points.

From that rush, I move onto organizing, planning. Usually, I will work out an outline for a while, sneaking ideas into the outline much like a great literary puzzle. However, I never do this part alone.

During that mad rush, I will sometimes start to imagine a reader for the work.  What would they expect and what would they be surprised by? Sometimes this may be a person I know (a little bit or well) or it might be a generalization of a certain kind of reader. Let me give you an example of one useful reader.

My Problem With DoorsWhen I wrote my novel My Problem With Doors, I had a reader in mind that was a combination of two types. My Problem With Doors is a time travel adventure built around some deeper modern introspection. Jacob is lost in time, and doors don’t work for him like they do for the rest of us. You see, for him there is a chance when he steps through any door that he will disappear, end up in a different land and time. And, sadly, he has been lost since he was a toddler. So for a book like that I had a mental reader and he was a weird combination of pulp adventures and post-modern literature.

That mental reader liked Vonnegut, but also enjoyed Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs. They might sometimes read Stephen King during summer holidays, but would also enjoy John Barth and whatever ever is honored by the Booker prize that year. They are the reader curious to see what new leaps are being made in the artform, but still like to be entertained.

With that reader’s assistance, I was able to focus in on what I needed to do in the story and with the character of Jacob. Yes, I had adventures with pirates and battles with Jack the Ripper, but I also had a character who was dealing with loss and a lot of regret. My reader helped me to walk that line.

Looking back, I don’t think the book would have been as well developed if I didn’t latch on to that reader and use him to help focus the development of it.

Query!

I’d be the first to argue against how segmented out literary marketplace has become. We are overwhelmed by genres, and then subgenres… and subgenres of those subgenres. We have so carefully gerrymandered the book market that it is amazing that any groundbreaking art is being done anywhere.

So, the last thing I want to be seen doing is limiting a person’s creativity. (Do what inspires you first!) However, when you are ready to query agents and publishers, you need to develop your reader more.

Literary agencies and publishers are businesses, and while you may have written the great American novel, an agency or publisher needs to have an idea how to sell the work (or that they even can sell it). It’s almost sad to say, but in our world the writing of the query letter may be more important than the actual book. A book can be rewritten, edited, but nothing changes a first impression.

So how do you use the audience in the query letter? The key is not to be subtle, but limit it to a few sentences. (You don’t want your work to be burdened by too much comparison to another’s work.) Consider these options:

  • What other books would this audience read?
  • What genre do they enjoy?
  • What would be their favorite book of all time?
  • What authors do they typically chose?

In many ways, that hazy reader that held your hand during the creation of the book is now becoming more solid and if you do it right the agent or publisher will see him/her too.

Market!

It is at this moment when you magically meet your reader.

They are no longer a shadow but they are flesh and blood. You can see them on Twitter, they review and read books on Good Reads, and they buy them on Amazon. They walk the shelves of your local library and bookstore. And, more importantly, you can actually talk to them!

Social media has changed the game of being a writer in major ways. Some authors are happy with just letting the publisher handle it, barely scratching the surface on what social media can do for their work. That is very old school and it does still work. But for those without that massive marketing power behind them, social media levels the field in some way. Here are some options where your imagined reader can help you:

fail-whaleOn Twitter you can do searches on people’s profiles and posts. Look for readers of similar books and authors, fans of a genre. When you find someone that sounds like your reader, follow them, they might do the same to you. And if you are lucky it might lead to conversation or a sale. If you are really, really lucky, they might enjoy your book so much that they might tell others of it.

Another option is to do a Google search for book blogs around your genre. There are hundreds and hundreds of book review sites out there! Reach out them, they might be interested in reading and reviewing your book. These reviews give you something to use for future marketing, while that review might generate immediate sales.

A third option is to do searches on Facebook. Look for pages on authors or genres or books similar to yours. Consider posting about your book or reaching out to the person who runs that page for a review.

Good Reads as a site is a little trickier. They frown on using recommendations of your own books (even though everyone does it), and many forums do not like authors posting about their own books. The trick is to work around these limitations and it begins with convincing other people who enjoyed your book or reviewed it on another site to consider Good Reads as well for posting. With enough reviews, traffic will come in time.

Your readers are out there and thanks to social media you can now find them all around the globe. It is a fascinating new world and I am intrigued to see what it does for books moving forward.

When I wrote A Jane Austen Daydream I knew there were a lot of possible readers out there for it. There were the Jane Austen readers, those who like romantic stories, literary readers, comedy readers, and even post-modern fiction fans (the book does have a very “new” twist in it). I knew they were possibly all out there, yes, but I didn’t focus on them.

No, I wrote the book for my wife.

She had just given birth to our first child and I wanted to do something special. And this was an idea she had been begging for me to write for years. So when I began work on it, I focused on her, almost imagining it being read to her… not by me but someone with a sophisticated and witty British accent. (Maybe Judi Dench?) It is that kind of a book.

In the end, I think the book was stronger for that focus. And when she opened the package containing the first draft of it during Christmas a few years ago, she actually had tears in her eyes. A victory for the helpless romantic…

You see, for that book she was the right audience.

A Jane Austen DaydreamIf you liked reading this post, why not check out one of my books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, A Jane Austen Daydream,  Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous DareMy Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or as an eBook on Google eBooks here.  Thanks for reading!

Need an editor? Dream of finishing that book but need some help? Learn about my editing services by visiting this page on my site. Or you can contact Rebecca T. Dickson and request to work with me by clicking the image below.

Rebecca T. Dickson, Editor

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2 responses

  1. Excellent post with brilliant ideas! Especially on how to use the networking sites to zero in on your potential readers. So true, often times writers end up trying to sell their work to other writers. Also, went by Amazon & read the sample pages of your book. We’re hooked!! Have added it to our must read. Beautiful~ That’s what we’re working on now. Twenty books by fellow authors we’ve promised to read & review. When we’ve purchased, read & reviewed yours, we will give you a heads up! Looking forward to a great read.

    • I think that is one of the problems with Twitter, the idea of selling to other authors. There is a trick there to break through the wall, but I think the answer is different for everyone. One thing that has worked for me well is having this blog. Many readers find me through it.

      I hope you enjoy the book! I look forward to hearing what you think.

      Cheers!

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