Reflections of Writing for an Audience

15 Jun

               I just signed Rogue Healer: Magus’ Gambit with Champagne Books. I have a decent leg up on the series as I’m basically just preening Book 3 and because I cut so much stuff out of said book, I have more than a decent leg up on another title. Not The Next One, as the focus will shift away from Koth in Book 4, and focus instead on Una and Sajera, but honestly I’d be lying if I didn’t say I started it like a year ago. Just a few scenes, and my other goal is to get one of my science fiction novels to Champagne for year end so it doesn’t feel like all I’m doing is the series.

               This is mostly not about my more adult work (as in meant for a more mature audience) but thinking about writing for other people.

               The main problem I see when I join review groups or agree to review something, is often I’m not the intended audience. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a profile on people like *moi* but I seem to not care about the romance being in the forefront, and I’ve been lectured lately that I should be more empathetic. Enjoying science fiction and fantasy has become more widespread accepted, my guess because of the internet but this is about writing for a younger audience.

               When I took my first creative writing course at university, I didn’t really get it when my professor asked, “Who are you writing for?” He asked if we were writing for an audience or for ourselves, but I naively thought that there was a market for books I liked to read. Why wasn’t it both? “I’m writing the book I wish existed,” summed it up. Translation: I’m doing this for me, and other people will like it.

               Should like it. Could like it (maybe).

               Things changed when my sister started having kids. It wasn’t just books, as I became hyper critical of cartoons, video games, and whether or not things were appropriate for her kids. Little things – like “Hey yeah come do zumba with me on the wii.” And me going from not caring what the character was wearing to very much caring what she was wearing. I don’t normally read popular books when they’re popular, but I’m not ignorant of popular culture and I noticed retellings of stories, and what’s emphasized and what they do now as opposed to ‘back when I was a kid’ (I don’t really remember the 80’s in any great detail, but bright colors, cheap animation unless they were Disney for the most part) I started to think about the stories that her kids would grow up with, as well as the stories I wished existed when I was a kid.

               So although I didn’t have time to finish it until I got laid off, I came up with and eventually wrote Garnet and Silver. I didn’t aim it at my niece for when she was a baby and a toddler, but I wanted her to have an alternative to some of the media she’d be subjected to when she was older. I didn’t feel comfortable writing for a super young child, but when she graduated from picture books to early readers and then chapter books, I realized she enjoyed a lot of the same stuff I did when I was growing up. It wasn’t all the same – for the most part I don’t watch much animation meant for kids, but I drafted The Mermaid and the Unicorns basically thinking about the kind of story I would have liked when I was about 8 or 9, although it’s marketed towards 10-12 year olds. I drafted another novel aimed at a more male market prior to drafting Daphne’s tale, and I’m editing it now but it doesn’t really sparkle the way TMatU did.

               She’s since outgrown the original audience I envisioned the book for, but she has made a request for another book, about the puppeteers that appeared briefly in TMATU. Honestly, I was tempted to cut the puppets scene because it was a little intense, but I let her read it when she was age appropriate and it was her favourite part. Let’s just say that story’s coming along, but also that I’m not thinking so much of the 10 year old as the teenager giving me feedback and what she’d like to see in a story.

               My aunt has pointed out there’s a need for books aimed at boys the same age that I did TMatU, as the vast majority of books are aimed at girls (and she thinks if I had rebranded and put less focus on Mermaids, I could have gone with a little more gender neutral marketing because it’s not really a girly-girl book. Then I saw the cover and loved it so…) so I’m also drafting up another novel aimed at that 10-12 year old demographic; not so much aimed at boys but aimed at people who like star wars with a male protagonist. I have also written two steampunk adventure-mysteries, so if you’re noticing that I’m reading a lot more YA or even Middle Grade on Goodreads after I finish the Aurora ballot, that’s why.

               I think it’s more natural to want to write to an audience if you see a need for them, but I’ll be honest, my big issue when writing for younger readers was I quickly graduated from them. Don’t get me wrong: The Adventures of Frog and Toad are brilliant, and I remember being at Costco and seeing a boxed set for Narnia as a teenager, wanting it but feeling too embarrassed to pick it up. I wasn’t discerning in taste as a child, but I knew chapter books were better than books aimed at my demographic. I didn’t get all of what the ‘adult’ books were trying to say, and I thought it would be weird to write for a group I wasn’t familiar with.

               In truth, what it took was being invested in people who needed a product from that demographic. It’s like there’s always a need for low-level high interest reading material. Basically the problem with low-literacy rates is that adults who need to learn to read don’t also need to learn their colors or what sounds farm animals make. They need to practice on material that’s easy to read, and also holds interest. When they move on to chapter books, they want to read material of interest for their age group now, not stuff they would have found interesting when they were a child.

               The problem as I see it is that most aspiring writers have an idea what they want to do, and that may change over time, but they need to be invested in what they write. I was told that the two ways I’d make money as a writer was : 1) Write Romance 2) Write Non-fiction (Technical writing) and part of me wanted to bang off some romance novels for the $$$. The problem, one of my professors said, was that they’ll seem disingenuous. You have to want to do it. I don’t particularly like looking for romance novels. I’ve read some that are done brilliantly, but generally, it’s not my jam. Don’t get me wrong, there’s times where you want to abandon/burn every project, but I think in general her point stands. The best parodies are written by people who love the original work, because they know it beyond the superficial.

               Deciding out of the blue, “I want to write for children” without thinking about a child you know who has a want or a need, really that’s writing for yourself and using a child-friendly format. There’s nothing wrong with that; the book Go the F*** to Sleep was written for adults.

               That’s not to say you have to relearn everything from square one: Far from it. But it would be like me deciding to start writing westerns when I haven’t read any in probably ten years. It’ll take time to know what’s standard, what’s cliché, and what a modern audience wants. And I like watching westerns from time to time.

               This is getting a little long so I’ll do a part 2 when I talk a little bit about some of the choices I make and marketing.

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