The obvious answer is readers, but that’s not entirely true at least at the beginning of a writer becoming a writer.
Initially, when getting published is still a dream, writers write for themselves. Some write the book(s) they want to read. Some re-write work by other writers or write fanfic, primarily to learn their craft and how to tell a story or write a poem. Sometimes the desire to write springs from wanting a better outcome for a favoured character or remaining dissatisfied with an ending so a writer writes their version.
For a writer to develop, playing in someone else’s sandpit with characters and plots created by someone else becomes limiting and a write moves on to write using their own characters and plots. An awareness develops through that writing is only part of a writer’s identity. For a writer to continue writing, they need readers and a circle of family and/or close friends won’t do.
Essentially there are two routes to a readership, either through a traditional publisher or through self-publishing. There are advantages and disadvantages to each route, but, in order to be successful, the writer needs to consider their readership. Traditional publishers have a pretty good idea of who buys their books and who is reading the writing they publish.
In order to get accepted by a traditional publisher, writers have to find the publisher who caters for the type of writing they do. That means researching what publishers currently offer and working out the best fit for their own work. In turn, the writer finds themselves writing with that publisher’s readership in mind.
In self-publishing, a writer has more freedom to publish what they want to write. However, that comes at a cost of having to do the research and marketing themselves. Even though self-publishing e-books is relatively low cost (time and formatting skills the biggest cost factors), it doesn’t mean the writer can’t afford not to sell any books. This still means the writer’s work has to appeal to someone, even if it’s a niche audience that’s not cost effective enough for the traditional publishing model to cater for.
Ultimately, whichever route to publication is taken, the writer still has to find a readership. This is the writer’s compromise: writing what they want to write and then tailoring it for a readership. For some writers, the readership is part of the research and plotting that takes place before writing, so the book is written with the readership firmly in mind. For others, the writing comes first and readership is part of the consideration in the editing process.
This compromise isn’t necessarily negative. Not writing in a way that attracts a readership, can leave a writer unread and unpublished. There’s no reason why a novel targeted at a ‘lightweight’ or genre audience can’t tackle important topics and no reason why a highbrow novel can’t include genre elements or the occasional light-hearted scene. The need to find a readership at least makes the writer consider the readability of their work.
By Emma Lee