I recently read the book The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist by Thomas McCormack. Although the book was aimed primarily at editors, I found a lot of thought provoking material as a writer. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote from the book:
“[A writer] must realize that he doesn’t have to—and indeed cannot—capture the hearts of every possible reader out there. No matter who the writer, his ideal intended audience is only a small fraction of all the living readers. Name the most widely read authors you can think of—from Shakespeare, Austen, and Dickens to Robert Waller, Stephen King, and J. K. Rowling—and the immense majority of book-buyers out there actively decline to read them.”
Not just aren’t particularly interested in reading that author, but actively decline reading them. Huh.
I suppose there are some people who might find this disheartening, but I found this quote to be very freeing. I can’t please everyone. It’s not going to happen. Not ever. No matter what I write, I will never please everyone with the stories I’m telling.
So I don’t have to try.
Instead of trying to please everyone or chasing the market, McCormack suggests that writers: “Write what you are comfortable with.”
Instead of trying to write a book that you think everyone will buy, write what you love. Write what brings you joy. Write something you actually enjoy working on.
I find that constantly thinking about all the people who aren’t going to like what I write is discouraging and depressing and makes it hard to actually put words on paper. Because there are lots of people who won’t like what I write.
But there are lots of people who don’t like Dickens or Austen or even Rowling, so I’m in good company.
In the end, it’s all subjective.
I recently heard Larry Correia warn writers to be very careful whose opinion and feedback they trusted. He said that if he’d read a draft of Twilight in one of his creative writing classes, he would have trashed it, and he would have been wrong.
Many people have strong opinions about Twilight, but it’s hard to deny that it resonated powerfully with a lot of readers. The readers who were the ideal audience for that book.
So instead of trying to write a story for people everyone, try to focus on your ideal audience. The ones who get what you’re writing and want to read your kind of story. Write for them. Don’t worry about the rest of the readers, the ones with a different sensibility. You can’t please everyone, so make sure you please the most important person.
Write for you.
Jenilyn Collings loves to read and is always looking for books that will make her laugh. She is currently working on an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She enjoys watching Korean dramas, BBC period pieces, and thinks Avatar: the Last Airbender is the best show ever made.