Putting Limits on Your Readership will Harm Your Writing Career

Tweet by Johnny Marr of The Smiths telling David Cameron not to like The Smiths

David Cameron stop saying that you like The Smiths, no you don’t. I forbid you to like it.

Even if you ignore the arrogance of telling someone else what he does and doesn’t like, Johnny Marr’s tweet still doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Once something, a song, a poem, a story, a blog article, is in the public domain, the originator(s) can’t control who reads or listens to it.  Sure, you can stick guidance on, you can make it absolutely clear who your target audience is, but you can’t stop people seeing and sharing your work.

It baffles me as to why you would want to control your audience.  Surely David Cameron should be listening to The Smiths?  If he’s not listening to The Smiths, he’s not getting their message.  He might not seem to be the most likely Smiths’ fan but the fact he holds opposing political views doesn’t mean that he can’t be fan of the music.  Perhaps he may even have learnt something from it.  Politicians spend most of their time explaining their views and persuading people to agree with them.  If a politician only spoke to their own party membership, they wouldn’t win enough votes to get elected.  Politicians have to look at widening their audience and seeking out people who are not their natural fan base.  Politicians can’t afford to decide that only certain people are qualified to listen to them.  They need to educate people to vote for them and reach out to people with opposing views.

If a writer wants their poems and stories to be read, the writer has to seek out both their target audience and readers beyond that niche group.  It doesn’t matter that you’re not sympathetic to your readers’ political views, what matters is that you are being read.  Once you have readers, your work will survive.  Without readers, you will be just another struggling, unpublished writer.  Publishers need book sales, they don’t need a writer limiting the opportunity of selling their books by restricting their readership to certain qualified people.  Like, politicians, writers need to reach out to non readers and convert them.  If potential readers are given the impression they may not qualify to read your book, they won’t read it.  No one likes being told they’re not good enough.

If you want to have control over your audience, don’t publish or put your work in the public domain.  Keep it in a journal or create an invite-only forum on-line and show only those you want to show.  If you put work in the public domain, don’t get precious about who reads or listens to it.

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2 Responses to “Putting Limits on Your Readership will Harm Your Writing Career”

  1. Jayne Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly.
    John Gallas made this a focus of his poetry course this term.

  2. Sheenagh Pugh Says:

    I’d agree in this case, Emma. though I don’t suppose Marr was being totally serious.

    But it’s possible to change your mind about something you’ve written and decide you no longer want to be known as the author. In that case it is actually very difficult to take it our of the public domain once it’s been in. You can refuse permission to reproduce in print but taking your name off it online is harder. There’s a poem I no longer want to be associated with; I refuse permission to most anthologists but would feel mean turning down charities (except charities that fund research on animals; they can go to hell). So I let them use it but anonymously, not with my name on it. Some are ok with that but some are unhappy with it. And some who quote it on their blogs put my name with it despite being expressly told I’d rather they didn’t.


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