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For whom should the author write?

[poll id=”208″]

Keishon, avidbookreader.com, linked to a discussion at copyblogger which debated whether the theorem that talented authors write badly when they are trying to express an idea and conversely write well when they are trying to touch an audience.

Now, the qualification in the copyblogger post is the term “talented” which can have a whole gamut of interpretations. But setting aside that term, should the author be writing for the reader or writing for herself? Unlike many of the commenters at the copyblogger forum, I believe an author should write for herself.

Interestingly, I think that there is a big difference between “writing for the market” and writing to touch an audience. The commenters, to me, are discussing creating an emotional connection with the readers (which I think is very important, thinking back to the post by Chloe and why she reads). So I’d ask you when voting that you think about the poll in terms of the development of a relationship with the reader through writing and not writing to the market.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

30 Comments

  1. A
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 11:27:43

    I believe an author should write for herself.

    *thumbs up*

  2. Danielle Yockman
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 11:46:11

    Most writers are readers first. If you are going to write well you must write what you love. So, you must write for yourself, but I think in doing so you automatically write for the readers. Maybe not all readers, but some subset of readers.

  3. SabrinaDarby
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 11:46:11

    I think we’re talking about the difference between writing and communication, and obviously the best books are going to be ones that are “a good story well told.” And the best authors will be those with the skill to do so. So, while I think this question is a great response to the avalanche of debate going on on the internet right now, and the conflict that seems to be between readers and writers, as a reader and as a writer, I hope to be able to tell the stories I want to tell in a way that makes them mean something to another reader.

    As a reader, I think what the audience wants is to be entertained, and to be emotionally touched, and preferably both within the same book.

    Simple to say, not so simple to do, but that’s why as authors we rewrite and edit, and listen to the comments our readers say, and read the reviews that sites like DA post. Feedback is the most important way to gauge if we are doing our job well.

  4. Tee
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 11:52:51

    Here we go again–only two choices. I think the answer is in between. She should write for herself; but at the same time, she needs to keep in mind the kind of readers she wants to connect with. If she’s purely writing for enjoyment and not for some profit, then by all means put anything out there that pleases her. However, if she desires to sell books and get some financial benefit from that, then she needs to keep an eye on what her possible constituents want. She also needs to be aware of who she wants to attract, because for sure it’s not going to be everyone.

    But I think true success comes when an author is able to combine the two — write for herself, as well as her readers. Lucky the one who isn’t concerned about how many readers she attracts; but without readers, she probably wouldn’t be writing very long. A perfect Catch-22.

  5. Jim Duncan
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 11:58:15

    In some ways I think it should be both. You have to write the story that you feel passionate about writing. To do otherwise will have a story that falls flat. Within that context, one can write in ways that connect with readers in as an emotional way as possible. Easier said than done of course, but these are two distinct elements. I’ve tried before to develop stories that I thought were geared more toward market and what audiences would want and found that I then have issues connecting with the story. So, ultimately one has to write for oneself and just write it with as much skill at your disposal.

  6. LauraB
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 12:12:28

    Yes, the writer has to write for their own gratification. There must be something in the process that motivates; otherwise, it’s too difficult to sustain the rejections that are bound to happen.

    HOWEVER, writers who only write for themselves or only imagine themselves as the audience are missing the point of the process, which is to communicate ideas, stories, emotions and the like to others. You don’t have to pander (that creates really bad books by in large), but you should have a notion of for whom you’re ideally writing. One of the reasons why genre is so important is that it forms a shorthand for the reader so they can then engage in what the writer says and how the author may be doing something different and exciting. We all love stories that take a path we know well and branch from it. Of course there is overkill and what was once fresh becomes hackneyed and cliche (viz. urban fantasy). In these situations, I don’t think the writer is necessarily writing for the audience, but for the paycheck they can get by capitalizing on fads and bandwagons.

  7. veinglory
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 12:25:30

    I think that this is a classic false dichotomy. A published book is an attempt to communicate–it has to blend both.

  8. Jennifer Leeland
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 12:38:00

    I didn’t answer the poll.
    I have to do both. If I “write to the market” and not for myself, I’m miserable and consequently, so are readers of the crap I put out.
    If I “write what I want”, then I often fail to give a reader what THEY want.
    The truth is, I write what moves me AND I write for an audience.
    It’s a balance.
    I’ve stubbornly written “what I want” and readers don’t buy.
    I’ve “written to the market” and hated the book.
    But mostly what I write is a blend of the two. Sometimes, I write what I want and I’m surprised when it’s successful. LOL.
    Didn’t we have this discussion about an author killing off a popular character–whether she should have jerked her readers around like that or whether she had the creative freedom to do just as she wished?
    OH right. Karin Slaughter.
    http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2007/07/19/beyond-reach-by-karin-slaughter/#more-2687

  9. Melissa
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 12:38:56

    I write for myself.

    I revise for my readers.

  10. A
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 12:43:17

    @veinglory:

    I think that this is a classic false dichotomy.

    veinglory, hey!

    My opinion: I don’t perceive the argument as a false dichotomy. Obviously, an author writing with professional publication in mind must be aware of readers. I still think, in terms of hierarchy/importance, author satisfaction tops the list.

    Why? Several reasons. It’s hard to support the creative process with work one doesn’t care about personally. It shows up in the final product, no matter how well-crafted.

    It’s also dificult to promote work to which one feels no genuine connection and enthusiasm. If you don’t love your book and don’t think it’s worth reading/buying, how do you “sell” your work (to your publisher, editor, readers?)

  11. Mireya
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 12:52:49

    The choices are black and white. That doesn’t suit my perspective so I didn’t vote. An author was a reader first. A good author is someone that knows how to do one… without overlooking the other.

  12. Jennifer Estep
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 12:57:48

    I think you have to write for yourself first and foremost. Because if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, if you’re not having fun writing your story, then it’s going to show in your book — and agents/editors/readers will pick up on it. And hey, it’s much easier to keep your butt in the chair and write that 100,000-word book if you like what you’re doing in the first place.

    As far as writing for the audience goes, I think genre authors have certain obligations to readers. If I’m writing a romance, there’s going to be a happy ending. If I’m writing a mystery, it’s going to be solved by the end of the book. And so on and so forth.

    But I don’t think you really can write to the audience, though, just because everyone is so diverse with their own likes/dislikes/pet peeves/etc. You’d drive yourself crazy if you tried.

  13. LauraB
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 13:03:44

    @Melissa: Well, put. :)

  14. Jane O
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 13:24:09

    It all depends on what you mean.
    If the author is writing for herself, does that mean she is writing as therapy and no one can criticize it “because that’s how I feel“? Or does it mean the author is trying to write the kind of book she would like to read?
    If the author is trying to focus on the reader, does that mean she is trying to write a paranormal (just an example) because that’s what the sales department said is selling even though she despises paranormals? Or does it mean she is trying to write something that will communicate what she intends to the reader?

  15. anon
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 13:42:40

    I write for my own entertainment. Response from readers has been modest but mostly positive. After my second book was published, I was caught up briefly in the time-sucking misery that is book promotion. Wishing for more readers, I also considered trying to write something with wider appeal or with at least more ingredients of the sort that make certain books so popular. Then I got over myself and knew I’d rather be spending my disposable hours writing what I wanted to write, and if the end result went out to a hundred readers instead of a thousand, I could live contentedly with that.

    Telling myself stories is, from earliest memory, my salvation and a coping mechanism that has helped me through weary or stressful times. I don’t want to change the way I tell stories in order to please anyone else. Revision, yes, is in part for the readers I do have. But it’s also for me, because I need to make the words say exactly what I want them to say, so when I re-read the book, I have all the joy of being in that world again, just as I envisioned it.

  16. JennaJ
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 13:50:02

    The audience knows when the author’s heart just isn’t in it, and conversely, when an author is passionate about a story that passion passes on to the reader.

    That’s not to say you should pass off your werewolf story as a zombie romance, because the person who bought it for a zombie romance will just be annoyed that it’s not what they expected. But if you write a really good werewolf story and sell it as a werewolf story, people who like werewolf stories will probably like it. If you write a zombie romance because that’s what’s hot but you hate zombie romances, readers of zombie romance will wonder why you bothered.

    When an author writes what she’s passionate about and finds readers who are passionate about the same thing, that’s heaven.

  17. Melissa
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 13:58:40

    However, having said that, the one book I hate more than any shifted gears midway. The author decided that instead of continuing with the love story she had built from page one she would introduce a new character and essentially oust the one I had considered the heroine up until this point. The rest of the series was spent punishing heroine #1 and trying to demonstrate how fantastic heroine #2 is.

    As a writer I understood that sometimes a character throws you for a loop and I’ve had to fight to get my own back into line without destroying the story, but this was just too much. She pretty much admitted that the only reason she kept the character alive was because she loved torturing her, and expected me as the reader to immediately get behind this new character she had introduced (who was about as unlikeable as they come as far as heroines go – Mary Sue all the way.) This series went on for five more books.

    As a reader, I was furious. There was no reason given to me, the reader, to justify why the character was made to suffer other than “I felt like it,” and even that was done externally from the book. The old heroine just kept on suffering and suffering while the hero and this new heroine just kept screwing and screwing.

  18. Another Jessica
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 14:38:49

    @Melissa: Which book/series was that, if I may ask?

    Actually, you reminded me of a trilogy by Kathy Tyers that I first read years ago. The first two books were out and the final book had gotten lost in publishing land. There was an emotionally and physically wrenching ending to book two, where it seemed as if the hero would be permanently crippled. I was very much looking forward to reading about the hero and heroine dealing with this, or with him somehow recovering. When the series was republished in its entirety a few years ago, the author had apparently become “born-again” and she revised the series to have a religious message. I started in on book three (since I thought I had read the first two books in the series), and it started with the hero first accepting that his injuries were his fault (for hubris, apparently) and that he must use his faith to learn to accept them. What faith? There was no religion in the books I had read. She had taken two straightforward space opera sf books and rewritten them into “inspy” sf. Why didn’t she just write new books? Argh.

    That was a sort of long-winded answer — while an author should write to please herself, she should also keep her audience in mind. She should at least let her readers know if she is going to change genres mid-series, or completely rewrite characters/books/series halfway through.

  19. Throwmearope
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 14:49:24

    Dorothy L. Sayers is one of my favorite mystery authors. After she made enough money on Lord Peter to support the family, she turned to writing liturgical commentary (which is what she always wanted to write).

    As a fan, I think that that sucked, frankly. She had every right to do what she wanted, but me, I wanted more Lord Peter.

  20. veinglory
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 15:10:43

    @A I think it is a false dichotomy because each published author must be able to consider both aspects. You may be ‘self’ oriented, I happen to be ‘audience’ oriented–the only universal is that all published authors need to encompass the needs of both.

  21. Sherry Thomas
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 15:31:09

    Heh, I write for my editor.

    She says jump and I ask how high.

    (I should perhaps elaborate a little on this. I’m the kind of writer who need time to see the error of my ways. And I have never finished a first draft that doesn’t have tons of problems. Give me a few years and I might see the problems. But when there is not that luxury of time–as in it’s six months from publication date when I turn in my first draft–my editor tells me what I’m doing wrong and I rewrite the whole thing accordingly.)

    The results, so far, have made me happy. (Although when the first revision letter comes it’s always a Mylanta day.)

  22. Nonny
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 16:21:23

    I voted that the author needs to write for herself, because I think that’s what’s first and foremost important. I’ve known other writers that decided to write, say, erotic but hated it. Even if the author is skilled enough for it to not overtly show, writing stuff you hate constantly is just asking for burnout.

    At the same point, I think that if you’re writing professionally, market needs to be a consideration. Maybe the book you love isn’t viable for the current market, but you have this other one that you’re also interested in writing that is very viable — maybe you should be working on that one first.

    Even still, sometimes it’s necessary to take that time for yourself and write that book that you’re convinced won’t sell. Never know, it might surprise you. :)

  23. A
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 16:43:54

    Nonny, I suspect every author has a story (or even a cache of stories) s/he doesn’t even consider submitting “due to market concerns.” But somehow, we cannot help writing and enjoying them. : )

  24. Anthea Lawson
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 16:56:16

    Anyone can write for themselves alone. But I don’t think you all want to read my rambling journals and old poetry. ;)

    However, as an author, I am ALWAYS aware that the reader is an important part of the process. I write what I love and what I’d want to read, but if I can’t communicate that well on the page, if I can’t speak to readers, then something is lost.

    I think an author can deliver stories readers will want to read, which is a very different thing than ‘following the market,’ AND that authors can stay true to their writing passions.

  25. Laura Kinsale
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 18:37:05

    Poll: Should you get married for yourself or for your spouse? ;)

    In the end, I write neither for myself, nor for the readers, but for the book itself. Each book is an entity, a whole (with flaws of course) but what drives me is the creation of that entity.

    Market, readers, my own tastes and experiences and beliefs and interests, all play a role, in various measures, in creating something out of nothing. Certainly there is always the sense that this “something” will create an experience for other people, and that is an integral part of what it is. But when a book is really going to work–it makes its own demands.

    There’s no book that everyone will love, so it seems most important to me to create a book that has a life of its own. In my experience, by doing that, SOMEONE will love it. Not everyone and maybe not even a lot of people. But because its an authentic entity, it finds the readers who can relate to it.

  26. Suze
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 19:23:56

    Hey, Laura Kinsale, did anyone ever tell you that you have a way with words? :) Spot-on.

  27. Sami
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 21:03:04

    by Melissa November 5th, 2009 at 12:38 pm
    I write for myself.

    I revise for my readers.

    Ditto :)

  28. K. Z. Snow
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 15:52:49

    Isn’t an author who writes solely for him/herself called a diarist? Like somebody who has sex with him/herself is called a masturbator?

    I mean, come on. Writing is a form of communication, after all. Any serious writer who claims to be heedless of market demands — as conveyed through agents, publishers, editors, reviewers, bestseller lists, reader feedback, etc. — is being disingenuous. If I write a book that tanks, I won’t be inclined to write another like it — no matter how much I love the thing.

    What’s most important is finding a happy medium: writing something you enjoy that also has some chance of finding an audience. Otherwise, crack open that journal.

  29. Nonny
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 15:57:53

    @K.Z.

    Writers only write for publication? WTF? What does that make all the people who write but don’t want to publish? Or the people that write and prefer to post it online for free? Are they not writers too?

    Not everyone wants to publish, and listing a whole bunch of reasons that make someone a “serious” writer that only reference publishing is… as you worded it, pretty disingenuous. You can be serious about your writing without being publication-oriented.

  30. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 20:43:50

    it’s hard for me to weigh in on this one as a reader, first and foremost, just because there’s too much writer in me, and the writer in me knows that if I’m bored with the story or if the story isn’t coming out as it’s meant to be, then the story is going to fall flat for readers.

    I write the stories as they play out for me and sometimes that may take the story down a road a reader doesn’t like. But if I’m not telling the story as I see it in my head, I’m not going to please readers because my heart won’t be in it and that really shows.

    But I don’t think it’s impossible to do both, especially not with romance. In the end, the characters want what we, as romance readers and writers, want. To be happy…to have that HEA, either traditional or not, with the person they love.

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