Never Ignore Your
once read an article/editorial from Jeff Rivers, an expert
in writing query letters in the late, great Dan Poynter’s
newsletter. It was titled “What I Learned from Janet
Evanovich: Write for your Audience.” It is hard
to argue with experts like Jeff and Janet. But I do disagree-or
at least mostly disagree, especially when it comes to
like Evanovich and James Patterson have done very well
for themselves and for their readers by “Writing
for Your Audience.” And maybe they followed their
hearts and gathered their audience along the way. When
that’s the case, it is a risk to take a path going
in a different direction from the one an audience expects.
John Grisham did that with A
Painted House and his courtroom drama readers weren’t
much taken with it.
I was, though.
I became a stronger
fan of his work. And it’s my theory that Painted
House was the novel that had been lying inside his
little writers’ soul all the time. That it brought
him pleasure to write it. Maybe that it kept his writing
passion alive. Maybe that brought more readers into his
circle of avid fans.
So, maybe sticking
to your audience’s tastes too long is also a risk.
Or maybe starting out with a project designed only to
please others and not your creative self would doom you
to be a short-lived author. Maybe an author needs to occasionally
open new door and let the beam of passion light the work
they are doing.
I do a bit of
acting and learned that new actors should learn to give
to the director not what they think he or she wants, but
to give of themselves—to give what they feel is
best to give. But life has thrown me mixed messages. When
I was a retailer, I certainly learned that one couldn’t
“buy for oneself” when it came to selecting
merchandise for my store. When I did, I very often brought
whatever I bought home because my customers wouldn’t
But back to writing!
That same balanced note is a good one for writers to follow,
too. They must keep their audience in mind. As an example,
they must trust their audience to be readers. They, after
all, have been reading their whole lives. So we authors
don’t want to insult them. And certainly authors
should do the research necessary to avoid writing the
same book someone else has written.
is another side of the coin and here it is:
When you write
for yourself, your audience will follow. Do not mistake
this for advice that writers go off willy-nilly with no
training in craft, no awareness of rules (which we may
then choose to break). But we must love what we do to
be successful. Find your voice and your passion. Keep
at it. Keep learning more about both writing and the publishing
industry as a whole. Market your work. Do all that and
an audience will find you. Your audience will find you.
You can do that
once and you can do it all over again if you don’t
mind risk. Risk of getting less income than you’re
used to getting with whatever you wrote when you garnered
that first audience. Risk of teeing off some of your original
authors who came to you with preconceived expectations.
eternal optimist. I believe we can balance the two philosophies.
But I also see some real danger for the author (or beginning
writer who still feels uncomfortable calling herself an
“author”) who denies his or her dream and
considers only what she figures someone else wants of
Tips and Tidbits
(Each month in this box, Carolyn
lists a Tidbit that will help authors write or promote
better. She will also include a Tip to help readers
find a treasure among long-neglected books or a
sapphire among the newly-published.)
Tidbit: Everyone is a writer these
days. They write on social networks. They
blog. They may even write books. My multi
The Frugal Editor will help them with
all the grammar and formatting that their
English teacher never taught them. Or all
the things that have changed since their English
teacher gave them an A. The Frugal Editor
is now in its second edition in paper or as
an e-book. It’s been reformatted, updated,
My newest book is a full book of
poetry. Jim Cox, Editor-in-Chief of Wisconsin
Bookwatch says, “[Carolyn Howard-Johnson
is] an exceptionally skilled wordsmith, her
poetry will linger in the mind and memory long
after the book itself has been finished and
set back upon the shelf. Very highly recommended
for community and academic library Contemporary
American Poetry collections . . .” Find
Echoes at amazon.com
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Howard-Johnson is a multi award-winning novelist, poet
and author of the HowToDoItFrugally series of
how-to books. She occasionally teaches classes for the
renowned UCLA Extension Writers' Program.
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