Because this blog on audiences opens with a classical reference, I chose for the title image the Greek theater in the ancient city of Epidaurus. Credit: greekfestival.gr.
Audiences: Ancient Wisdom
Aristotle is famous for saying: Audiences are made not found (Rhetoric, 4th century B.C.). He means that, both in real life and on the stage, we make our audiences by how we approach people and how we communicate.
Similarly, we novel writers make our audiences. When:
i) readers connect with the characters we create
ii) the dialogues we imagine are captivating to read
iii) our descriptions and visual images keep our readers reading
iv) our writing works at the sentence-paragraph-chapter-story level.
For Aristotle our audiences do not pre-exist the appearance of our work. They are not simply there, awaiting our arrival.
Audiences: Present Day
Austin Kleon in Show Your Work! (2014) has a different idea. He quotes Dan Harmon who says:”Find your voice, shout it from the rooftops, and keep doing it until the people that are looking for you find you.”
Hm … until the people that are looking for me find me? Not sure anyone is actively looking for me before they know me.
But I do agree with the idea of finding your voice, shouting it from the rooftops, and keeping at it until … whenever.
And I can imagine that audience-making possibilities in Ancient Greece were likely more limited than those prevailing today. Many rooftops now exist from which we can shout.
In the event your audience is looking for you, I can recommend Kleon’s book and his tips for being findable in this age of social media and the internet:
Audiences: Who Do You Need To Please?
You are your first audience.
If you’re not writing something that pleases you, then the following is true: if you never find an audience for it, you will have pleased nobody.
If you’ve written something that pleases you, then the next thing you need to find is a second person your work pleases. Most likely it will be someone whose opinion you trust to be true. Ideally it would be a literary agent or an acquiring editor, especially when you’re starting out. If you find one enthusiastic reader outside yourself, then you can surely find two, then three and so on.
And, pertinently, pleasing yourself first is the pathway to finding your voice. After that, as mentioned above, you can shout it from the rooftops.
Audiences: Lucky is ….
Lucky is the writer whose voice ( = writing tastes and preferences) resonates with the widest possible audience.
These authors are writing stories that please themselves first. And it just so happens these stories also please a lot a readers. As I say: Lucky them.
Read bestselling authors. Identify the features you think make them popular. Then do your own thing in your own voice.
An old writer’s adage goes like this: If you’re not keeping up with the marketplace, you are sure not to be published.
I do like to know what’s going on in the marketplace. Then I do my thing my way.
Audiences: Who Is Mine? Who Is Yours?
Years ago an editor at Warner Books who bought five books of mine told me that my characters were out of the ordinary. She contrasted my work with that of another of her writers, Dorothy Garlock, whose characters were more like the people next door. She was not praising or disparaging either of us. She was simply noticing differences.
Over the years I have come to understand my audience to be readers who want to experience what I experience when I write a story. Just like every other writer in the world, my experience is informed by my life. I teach linguistics at a prestigious university. I travel the world. I love learning new languages. I like pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. The risks I take in life come out in my narrative choices.
My readers want the emotional boost that comes from me offering new parts of the world to them. They enjoy reading about characters and circumstances outside of their immediate experience.
Now notice: I enjoy reading a great story about the girl or boy next door as much as I do one about extraordinary people and events. My writing preferences don’t dictate the whole of my reading preferences.
First, recognize the difference between your reading and writing preferences. Then, identify what you have uniquely to offer a potential audience.
See also: All My Writing Tips
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen