One of the themes that I have picked up on recently while doing some research on promotional work is that an author should identify their audience and tailor their writing accordingly. I have to admit that this idea has never really convinced me. It seems to have been borrowed from the commercial market. I suppose that this okay if you want to be a commercial writer. If you are crafting text for travel magazines then obviously you must be able to write content that meets the readers’ expectations. However, does this apply to fiction?
Well, I can see how it might. If a writer values commercial success over originality then clearly, having an identified audience might make a good beginning. To do this, however, it seems to me that what you have to do is identify norms within any given genre, probably confirmed by books that have already proved themselves successful, and then creating a strict template to use as a basis for your writing. It will not guarantee success, but it might prove popular. The downside to me of this approach is that it necessitates compromise. Instead of setting the benchmark a writer using this method must follow previous benchmarks set by other authors.
Now, it may well be that because I do not see myself as a genre writer I just do not identify with this approach to book writing at all. If I took the time to identify the audience for each genre I have written in then I am not sure if I would have much time left for the writing. The point is, for me the story is the most important part of what I write. I am not a commercial author, I am a storyteller. I would like to think that my work is original rather than derivative. I remember reading this precept recently, I do not recall who wrote it but the truth of it has stayed with me:
No one was ever original by being the same.
I cannot help but think that by identifying an audience and then writing according to what appears to be popular for that audience that an author is, in essence, only being the same.
Of course, it could be argued that in daring to be original one runs the risk of not having an audience at all. I agree, that is a very real risk, and yet my books have found an audience. It is true that commercial success has not expressed itself in my bank account (yet), but then I set myself a very low target; to be read by one person who I did not know. Actually, when I set that target, some years ago now, it seemed like quite an aspiration. In fact, every time I see that another book has been sold, I still feel like I have achieved something worthwhile.
It might also be argued that what I am doing is evincing a lack of self-discipline. Certainly, writing to a format requires a certain degree of discipline, but I already do that. Most authors do. Any kind of good writing demands a discipline. It is a lonely occupation. Even flights of fancy, like the fantasy novel that I am currently working on, necessitate a disciplined approach. Like all my other books it has had a methodical approach. I have not changed my method of writing simply because the story belongs in another genre. The book had a rough first draft, major characters have back-stories, and I have built up a style-sheet, background notes, plot arc, and a second draft. What I have not done is looked at what is popular in the fantasy genre at the moment, which is because I want my book to be original. I am not writing a shallow version of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, I am writing something different.
When it comes down to it the real difference between writing to format and being original is that the latter means having the courage of your convictions. To write well in a story that is not aimed at any particular audience is to write with a belief in your