Before writing this post, I pretty much knew my audience since it's normal for just about everyone to pick up a pen and begin writing. A recent survey states that half the U.S. population feels they have at least one novel in them. Many of those surveyed, however, never dream that what they begin writing might never be completed. But we who have taken the trip can testify that when the muse strikes and begins whispering in our ear, words stumble over themselves to get onto pages until suddenly, as if by magic, a completed novel emerges. Sometime after that the question arises, "Now that it's written, what the hell do I do with it?"
Many arriving at this juncture find that the joy of completion overshadows everything. Experts, however, ask that during the writing process, shouldn't the hobbyist have thought who might read the finished product when it was completed?
Conventional wisdom and writer's advice columns state that when the novel's finishing touches are being applied, it's time to start looking for an agent and if that fails then search for a publisher and if that search fails, go back for an agent anew because their editorial needs might have changed in the interim. The vicious agent-publisher-agent-publisher cycle might therefore oscillate on and on and on because conventional wisdom states that writers should never give up.
It seems, however, that most never consider why the novel failed to grab anyone's attention in the first place. It possibly was the writing, If I only knew how to better craft a novel, then I would have found an agent, publisher, yadda, yadda, etc.
If the problem isn't the writing, then what else could it be? Finding that answer might require thinking outside the box (or the how-to book). The question remains, who might read this novel so painfully crafted, AFTER it's written. Was an audience considered before the writing began?
If you finished your novel before thinking about who might read it, it's now time to think about the reader; who might your book appeal? You should narrow instead of widen your focus. What kind of reader would love my book and can I possibly get them to write a review?
What I find most disturbing is that writers don't think or care about. When asked, most writers will say when they type the last word, they will immediately begin searching for an agent. Readers very seldom enter the discussion. Agents and editors are most important because they will get people published. But what happens afterward is seldom given much thought. Conventional wisdom is that if my husband, wife, neighbor, class, critique group, etc liked it, then readers will love it.
If a reading audience is not considered, the final product is often a conglomeration of genres with a word-count somewhere in the 100,000 plus word range. These novels normally have little or no structure and are normally penned in 1st person or written so it's very obvious the main character is the author. On top of that, most will have story and language problems because in the early stages of writing, most new writers know little about editing or revision. The reason many end up being passed over by agents is because of this idea that anyone can write fairly well by sixth grade, so beginners wrongly assume that anyone can craft a publishable novel. Not so. If you don't believe this, ask any successful author.
Although this truth sounds really harsh, it's not meant to be. It's just that there are so many queries and writing samples that speak so loudly of this that it's difficult to ignore what's happening and not be saddened by the failures wrought by a process of writing without experience or plan. If a person sits down to write without preparation and never considers who might read their creation, then failure is where the process usually ends. A disclaimer should state, however, that luck or a gifted individual with personality and/or superior marketing technique occasionally comes along to upset the statistics. Sometimes the unprepared author can connect with readers even though all odds are stacked against it happening. We've all heard the stories, but one must still consider that when luck and personality strikes, it makes headlines. Failure rarely makes the front page.
What every writer must understand is once you begin your quest for publication, you must look at your book as a product and writing professionally is a business. Once this is digested, there is the question of competition; is my product as good as or better than the millions of similar products out there? Also, if you were planning to sell your work, do you know to who your customer is? Yes your customers are readers, but what kind? Think beyond your local audience as these readers might be enthusiastic until money is mentioned. If you're just writing for writing's sake, then you're probably going to end up with something that doesn't fit anywhere and face unnecessary frustration trying to sell it. You can always self-publish, but readers probably won't be able to find your book—unless you can target them. The best way to better assure success is to have a plan. Think beyond agents and editors. In other words, ask yourself who will read and pay real money for my book AFTER it's written? What is it? Can it be categorized? Can I isolate its reading audience? Is that market saturated? Complicated? Yes it is. if it were easy, everyone would be able to craft a NYT best-seller.