Considering Your Reader Is Not Coddling Them

chair table el salvador

Writing advice is so often contradictory. Take, for example, the advice to write only for yourself or in service of your vision. But just as often you’ll hear: write with an intended readership in mind.

Neither piece of advice is wrong; they’re just prioritizing different things. Writers who consider themselves “serious” (or literary) tend to emphasize genius and artistry, which can result in challenging or difficult work. Writers who make a living wage from their work tend to emphasize service to the reader.

Of course, there’s usually a middle way; it’s not an either-or proposition every time. I like Stanley Delgado’s essay in the latest Glimmer Train bulletin, There Was a Man in El Salvador Who Owned Four Dogs, where he discusses his grandmother’s method of storytelling. He noticed that she told the same stories differently to him than to his mother—different elements, different drama. He writes:

The man in El Salvador who owned four dogs … and what happens next was based on her audience. And I think it helps to do that, to consider an audience. My grandma’s is an extreme example, but it helps to remember that a story exists to connect one person to another, for however briefly. My mother wanted high drama, I wanted spookiness. Considering an audience—a reader, in my case—doesn’t mean that they are going to be coddled, either, not like in my grandma’s example; considering a reader, to me, simply means realizing the power and weight and authority of words.

Read Delgado’s entire essay.

Also in this month’s Glimmer Train bulletin:

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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[…] Jane Friedman: Considering Your Reader Is Not Coddling Them […]

Star Ostgard

Don’t writers consider their audience almost automatically, simply by choosing which genre they’re going to write in (including “literary”)? I don’t want to read a book that was written based on what the author “thinks” his/her audience wants. I might forgive a writer for such pandering in the first book – but with the second, it becomes irritating and even insulting in some cases. I’ve already decided, by picking up a book in that genre, the kind of story I want to read. I don’t want the author to write “my” story – I want them to pull me into… Read more »

Star Ostgard

I consider what I, as a reader, want from other writers, and try to give that to my readers. I know what kinds of stories I devour, and what kinds I read only to pass the time – that tells me, as a writer, what kind of story I want to write. I am the only audience whose reactions/wants I can accurately predict – and even I surprise myself at times! And that’s the real joy of being a reader – finding the surprise instead of the routine.

[…] “Writing advice is so often contradictory. Take, for example, the advice to write only for […]