The Fragmented Audience
We’re wrapping up a two-week concentration on staying true to yourself and your audience here on the YA Muses blog, and this is something that I’ve battled with for the last few years as I’ve actively pursued publication in the children’s book industry...
The truth is that I want to write everything, in every genre of children’s literature, and to have audiences of varied ages and interests. But for the last decade, I’ve worked hard to cultivate a “brand” as a particular type of professional writer (travel, wildlife, adventure), while typing away on children’s book manuscripts that sometimes (but don’t always) have anything to do with the other slice of my writing life. Someone once told me to capitalize on my existing brand and write books that fit in with it, because I already have a little niche and audience and people who might potentially buy my book(s). If I want to sell a book, not just write a book, than I should use what I’ve already written as a springboard. From a sales & marketing standpoint, I can understand that perspective... Does my ambition to write all sorts of things for all ages fragment my so-called audience? Writing a chapter book adventure series about a young traveling girl who studies animals in the wild could be fun, and perhaps more fitting with my little identity – but right now, that idea doesn’t feel fresh to me. I’m not inspired to write it. Maybe it would sell, maybe it wouldn’t, and maybe it would, in theory, be a better match for my career than some other things I’m working on right now. But I write from a place of passion and at this time in my life, I want to purse other ideas in my manuscripts. Sometimes animals find their way onto the page, but it’s not because I’ve forced them – It’s because they were prowling along the escape key, or sniffing at the power cord, and suddenly they’ve pounced into the narrative by their own doing.
But I can't help but wonder sometimes if I’m stretching myself too thin (or too big?) with these life goals and not only confusing myself and potential agents or publishers, but my (hopefully) one-day audience. If I’m one type of writer, can I successfully be another? Why am I fragmenting my audience into little slices of readership – Should I be attempting to grow a particular fan base or something? Is it too ambitious to want to publish a picture book and a middle grade and a YA novel – from thrillers to fantasies to contemporary to horror? Who exactly is my audience then? And if, God-willing, I debut with one thing, will anyone want to buy my next thing, even if it’s completely different? All my readers won't – or might not? – fit into the smooth skin of this whole career pomegranate. WHO IS MY AUDIENCE? Help!
I find comfort in the fact that countless successful writers have pursued their own topics of passion and wrote books that spanned genres and audiences. It’s okay to want to write lots of different things and reach different kinds of people. Maybe I won’t achieve this overnight (or, let’s be real, get published at all), but I can try. I loved how Bret phrased it in his blog post this week: “Forget all but one person... and whisper your story to them. Urgently.” I’m one of five kids – number four – and that person I write for has always been my younger sister. No matter what creative project I’m working on the time, she’s always that person at her varying stages of youth.
Who is my audience? I don’t really know – That audience shifts, and grows, and changes with each project I’m working on. In reality, today it might be one person, and tomorrow another, but in my head, it’s always my little sister, at age five, and age ten, and age sixteen, while I’m putting pen to page.
Here’s what I hope for: That as I’m writing, I stay true to the fabric of each character and his or her particular story, and that that is what fuses a connection with a reader. Will I ever truly have a collective readership for my published work one day? Is it okay to have a fragmented audience? I think so… I think it’s about tapping into the truth of the specific work and considering the audience in each respective creative piece. The same argument could be made not only in terms of audience and genre, but for craft technique and execution. When I heard that writer Stephanie Perkins was writing a slasher novel – not a light, funny, contemporary YA romance – my first emotion wasn't disappointment, but intrigue. I thought, "Whoa! I can't wait to see what she does with that!" Sure, not every reader is going to enjoy every book written by an author… But a book's audience isn't always the same as a writer's fan base. A writer's passion and authenticity must be at the project's core – That’ll be what speaks to readers, not a stale piece written because we thought "they" (readers, editors, agents, other writers, family) expected it. So maybe one day I’ll write a book that is more quote-unquote “in-line” with what people might expect of me, but right now I’m challenging myself with totally different ideas. So I’m giving myself the permission to stretch beyond my comfort zone, and the challenge to dream big, and hopefully there’s a reader (or two… or three…) out there who will join me for the ride.