Do you know who you write for?

Kids can teach us a lot about our writing.

In honor of National Poetry Month, my Dear Daughter is in the midst of her poetry unit for English.  She has to create a poetry book consisting of selected poems from different authors with different themes. 

I pointed her in the direction of Lewis Carroll.  She immediately loved the ease of copying The Crocodile’s eight sentences.  She waffled over the Jabberwocky, and in the end, refused to write it down. 

“It’s too long.” 

Instead, she flipped through Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and found the poems with the shortest lines.  Literally the least amount of words.  Yet she handwrote several monster sized poems with thirty plus lines each.  Those were on friendship.

The patriotic poems were each four sentences long (the shortest number of lines possible for this project).  She used up both  her short poems on these, with another four needing at least eight lines and the remaining having to be ten or more.

The moral of this project is actually pretty simple.  Know thy audience. 

Shel’s whimsy was no longer important enough for her to copy more than a handful of his words.  Patriotism (which I used to think she had in abundance) was relegated the lowliest of positions. 

The monster poems?  Friendship and love. 

Those were the themes that had her scouring poem after poem and book after book in search of the perfect stanza. 

Know thy audience (and their tastes). 

Without me paying attention, she somehow moved past the middle grade novels with bullies and mysteries and wry humor, and is firmly entrenched in relationships.  She is the quintessential YA reader, regardless of my perception that she’s still waaaay to young to fall in that category. 

Writer, know thy audience. 

It is a deadly trap to assume that what we started writing about–and who we started writing for–are still one and the same.  Trends change.  Tastes change.  Certainly, novel writing as a whole has changed. 

Manuscript length, content and stye are not constants in the publishing arena.  Even genres are fluid and reflect the nuances of society.

If we are to survive in this new environment, we must embrace these changes as readily as a mother watching her kids grow. 

We may not like it.  We may wish to slow time down for our own ease and comfort.  But in the end, we simply cannot continue to write statically.  If we try, we may find ourselves relegated to the lowliest category possible.  The place that garners no more than four lines’ worth of a reader’s time.

I used to think of myself as being an astute writer in terms of audience.  In light of DD’s project I may have to revisit the idea.  Because, like it or not, the element that changes the most in the publishing industry is readership. 

Do you feel like you have a handle on your intended audience?  How do you keep up with their changing tastes/maturity/interests and the fluctuating lines that define the genre you write in?  Do you have any stellar tips to share to help the rest of stay ahead of the game?

As always, your input and commentary are as much a part of my blog as my own posts.  I appreciate hearing from each of you and learning from your experiences.

14 responses to “Do you know who you write for?

  1. Great post. It begs the question, do we get tired of favorite authors because we’ve grown, or because they have and in a different direction? I know I sometimes feel like authors keep rehashing the same stories, but I wonder if that’s really true or if it’s just a perception issue?

    Maybe I’m just too philosophical for Thursday afternoon when the sweeper remains unused. ;D

    • Victoria,

      You have raised a good point. I used to love a certain author. In fact, I cut my teeth on her mystery/suspense novels back in the fourth grade. I still remember hiding the book because I knew my teacher wouldn’t like me reading it. Anyway, I read every book she wrote until I was in my late twenties. One day I woke up and thought–“Hmmm. Same story. Same style. Same ol’ same ol'” and I haven’t read anything from her since.

      It makes me kind of sad and I know that some day I will reread a book or two of hers. Until then, I still have fond memories of that first sneaky peek into the world.

  2. Great question – kids change so QUICKLY! It’s amazing how one day they’re reading Roald Dahl, the next, they can’t put down Christopher Pike.

    I think teaching helps keep me in touch – as does having kids of my own. 🙂

    • Oooh, I haven’t read Christopher Pike in a long time. I shall go search through my boxes until I find a favorite. Thanks for the reminder.

      Yes, Jemi, working with kids (and owning them) is a definite bonus in keeping up with your audience. It’s a little wierd when it’s your own kids who grow, though!

  3. This was a well written, thought provoking post. And a subject I don’t think is touched on too often (or at all). I will definitely have to give it some thought. You have brought up excellent points. Thanks Cat. 🙂

  4. its hard to keep a handle on your audience but they always appreciate genuine stories first.

    • e6n1,

      You are so right. Mary Kole just posted on this the other day. Asking whether experience was the important factor in whether an author could write about a topic or not. Her conclusion really is that authentic, genuine stories are what matter most–regardless of who tells them. Good point.

  5. Thought provoking post! I remember my 10th grade poetry notebook – it introduced me to a lot of poets/poems that I wouldn’t have read otherwise.
    At least some things stay the same! 🙂

    • Yes, the poetry unit is a forever project. Though I actually moved during my 8th grade year and so never got that in middle school. This move somehow got me out of typing, home ec and wood shop as well. I also missed the social studies section that focused on our home state. I’m quite undereducated about Minnesota as a whole because of it.

      I do remember my college course on poetry, though.

  6. Great subject! It is hard to keep up with the kiddos and the latest and greatest. I read like the pages are on fire. That seems to help some. I also like to visit blogs that review YA books (especially those done by the younger bloggers). That helps me keep up with some books that are sleeper hits or at least ones that aren’t receiving tons of press. Other than that I talk to my kiddo and his friends some (which you know he just loves). 🙂

    • Lisa,

      I have a group of my daughter’s friends who are all readers. Everytime I put on my taxi hat and drive them around, we compare notes on books, recommend new ones and swap. It’s actually a great way to keep in touch with my audience in real time. It is just harder to accept when your kid crosses that line : )

  7. Cat, thanks for the vote of confidence… but really the only things I have mastered are Hamburger Helper, making my bed (usually), and embarrassing myself on a regular basis. Writing falls somewhere below preparing my taxes! 🙂

    • Oh, I’ve read enough of your writing to know an untruth when I hear one. Either that or you make the meanest Hamburger Helper in the universe, have the best made bed in the world and come out of tax season with the numbers in your favor!

      You don’t give yourself enough credit.

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