Saturday 21 November 2009


I have always believed that we should write for readers, if we want to be published. Actually, no, I haven't always believed that: I used to believe I should write for myself. But then I realised that it was this selfishness, this solipsism, this narcissism, that was stopping me becoming published for all those horrible years. Now, I have absolutely no problem marrying the twin aims of writing what I want while thinking always of the readers.

So, it's nice to see someone else agreeing.

This is not about selling out; it's not about diminishing our art for the cause of commercialism. I still write a literary brand of teenage fiction (for teenagers who will probably grow up loving adult literary fiction), make no compromises that I'm at all disappointed about and am still writing from the heart. But I have my eyes and ears open to my readers' reactions while I'm writing. It's just like talking to someone: if you rabbit on or wax lyrical and lose your listener, that's not communication - that's lecturing.

So, think of your reader (whoever you want your reader to be) and you may well find yourself being published. Remember: agents and publishers are readers too.


Jo Treggiari said...

I certainly made an effort to write my last manuscript bearing in mind the short-attention span of most young readers. I ended every chapter on a high point and I kept the story line very clear and direct throughout, and the action taut. I pared it down quite a lot.
It was hard at first- my plots tend to be convoluted, and I usually have more characters, but once I settled into the flow, I really enjoyed it. And although I can't make an announcement yet, this new approach has worked out really well for me and my agent.

Nicola Morgan said...

Oooh, impending announcements - I like those! Let us know!

Derek said...

Absolutely. Readers so often get left out of these publishing discussions.

Marisa Birns said...

So true!

Though I am not sure I believe that readers -- young or young at heart -- have short attention spans and need pared down formulaic stories.

Readers will read a good story. No matter what.

What readers won't read are writers, as you've said in post, who are writing words that are music only to their ears.

Catherine Hughes said...

I am inspired my children - most especially by the teenage daughter who started all of this novel-writing business when she introduced me to NaNoWriMo and insisted I could do it.

I write the books I know that she wants to read - but in them, I manage to get the messages I want her to hear across. There is a little of what I've learned in my life in everything I write.

I also tend to put myself inside her head - as best I can - when I write. To notice things about my characters and world that she would notice. To approach things in the way that she would approach them. So, hopefully, as she is a fairly typical teen, I get the right 'angle' with which to attract many other teens to my writing.

That's my theory, anyway. Let's hope it works.

Nicola Morgan said...

Re paring stories down for children - there are many different types of market for children and yes, they do often require what we would describe as a pared down story. They certainly need the flannel removed (and some adult readers would be grateful for that too!) Teenagers are somewhat different though. Depends really what we mean by paring down - stripping back to the core, yes; simplifying, not necessarily; writing down, never.

Jo didn't mention "formulaic" (as I'm sure she'd want to make clear!) Actually, although I couldn't write formulaic (note that I say couldn't, not wouldn't, though i probably wouldn't either!), there is room for those for both adults and young readers who want them. Think Mills and Boon - very popular, very valid escapism or whatever reasons different people read for.

Catherine - I'm sure you know this already, but be very cautious about those "messages". For teenagers, I would never recommend writing a story with a message, though messages may be read into them. Readers are incredibly sensitive to being taught anything in a book. Story and voice are everything. What we all may learn from stories must be subliminal.

Writing for children and teenagers has some extra tricky aspects. Getting the voice right is the hardest thing, because you have to get it right for adults and for younger people at the same time. We all were kids once, but that doesn't mean we can write for them - though that's so often the first thing writers turn to, because they think it's easy. They soon find it isn't!

Catherine Hughes said...

Oh no, they are definitely not overt.

I might have one character whose experiences cause her to learn something (very small) I've learned. Or another whose behaviour has consequences she doesn't expect but which I would, from an adult standpoint.

Definitely no 'Thou shalt's (I'm not that kind of mother anyway, being of the view that they should make their own mistakes and I'll be there to come crying to.)

I think perhaps the strongest message in my writing is that those who think they are alone usually aren't as alone as they thought they were. Tends to be a recurring theme.....

David John Griffin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David John Griffin said...

I totally agree, one must write for our prospective readers. I guess big problems arise when a writer does this only, forgetting that he/she must also write for themselves as well. It's a fine balance, I think.

Perhaps some new writers will set out to write "commercially" (send your answers on a postcard ;-) thereby losing some honesty and truth of heart which is needed, I'm sure.

Sarah said...

I don't think writing for our readers is ever about selling out or dumbing down our work.

Good grief, we can recognize the difference in attitude at, say, a Christmas party. Some people can tell amazing stories, whether it's about traffic or work or crazy Aunt Maud. People listen to them because the story is interesting, but most of all, it's an invitation to join the teller in some way.

Then there are other folks who talk because they like the sound of their own voice and believe that everyone else should, too. Poor souls cornered by these talkers run away as soon as possible and then drown the memory of the conversation in spiked eggnog.

Our stories can be inviting or demanding. It all depends on what we focus on.

(Says the unpublished author who is still working on her MS.)

Gee, I hope that analogy made sense. If it doesn't, may I blame it on the combined effects of coffee and NoNo-ing?

Sarah said...

I meant NaNo-ing...

See? I really am rather punchy.

Susan at Stony River said...

I enjoyed this post. Thanks for the links!

I'd say the greatest gift blogging has given me is that very shift in mindset: as the blog's readership grew, I found myself writing to an audience of readers, instead of just amusing myself with it. My acceptance rate for fiction submissions is now nearly 40%; before, it was always around 15%, for years. Lots of food for thought in this.

Anonymous said...

I think if you start out writing for yourself, you need to learn to write for readers.

But if you start out writing for readers, you need to learn to write for yourself.


catdownunder said...

Oh, yes I understand that, for publication purposes, it is necessary to write something that readers want to read. So, you write what you want to write but you do it in such a way that readers want to read it? This sounds like trying to catch the tip of my tail!

Lauri said...

Who are you people? I once mentioned the fact that I write for a certain market at another blog and I got slapped down like I said chocolate should be banned. They thought I was compromising my art by thinking about market. And it was unanimous.

I have two complete novels that I wrote "from my heart" meandering as the muse pulled me along. They each have rejections in the double digits.

Now- thanks to my TV work- I plan a lot beforehand; including who I'm writing for. I don't believe in writing a book that will not be published. Done that, been there, have a t-shirt I resent.

I only just wrote a romance to a loose formula for a South African publisher. I still had a lot of room to flex my creative muscle. I saw nothing wrong with it. I did flinch at the first publisher who approached me who insisted the woman must be very "traditional". No no no. That I will not do. No selling of soul to that type of devil.

steeleweed said...

I write the sort of thing I like as light reading, realizing that not everyone will like it. Hopefully, enough will enjoy it to keep buying.
I also read a lot of serious 'literary' fiction. Will try to write some of that after retirement. Don't have time now.

Nicola Morgan said...

Proe - I like that.

David - I think the problem is with our reaction to the word "commercial". It's like "profit" - seen as somewhow wrong or inferior. I don't think we should think negatively about it. I think there's room for so many different sorts of writing and the main thing we each have to think about is what sort of reader we want to read our work, what we want to write that readers will actually want to read. When we find that "sweet spot" it can be an excellent blend of a rightly commerical outlook with an ability to write from the heart. But I think that when people choose to go down the 100% commercial route (eg perhaps writing to a "formula") that's also a valid choice.

Sarah - it did make sense! I also liked the idea of NoNo-ing!

Susan - "I'd say the greatest gift blogging has given me is that very shift in mindset: as the blog's readership grew, I found myself writing to an audience of readers, instead of just amusing myself with it. My acceptance rate for fiction submissions is now nearly 40%; before, it was always around 15%, for years. Lots of food for thought in this." Wow! VERY interesting! I may blog about this later.

Lauri - and I bet you have more publishing success than the people who shot you down.... Again, it's this habit many people have of deriding the "market" and yet being infuriated when the market rejects them. As you've discovered, it is possible to write from the heart and attend to the market. The readers, in other words. That's my outlook, too.

Jo Treggiari said...

Thanks Nicola for clarifying what I had written. I did not mean formulaic when I wrote 'pared down'. I merely meant that I thought about my readers and my plot which is much more action-filled than the story I usually write, and consequently I decided to write in a less descriptive style, using shorter sentences, moving from setting to setting quickly- all the techniques for increasing the pace. I wrote an adventure story and that requires a different approach.
I definitely have a problem with over-simplification. I think that is a patronizing way to write for younger readers. I find that most of them want substance over flashy style in the books they read.