Sure, Write for Yourself—But Know Your Reader When It Comes Time to Sell

At writing conferences and industry events, agents and editors alike are fond of saying you should write what’s in your heart, or what you most want to write. Don’t pay attention to trends or what sells, they say. Write your story, even if it’s out of style.

While that may be sound advice if you’re focused on the creative process, once the writing is done, if you haven’t the faintest clue about your readership, you’ll run in circles trying to market and promote your work. Of course, you can rely on a publisher or a marketing professional to do the work for you, but that can be risky as well as expensive—and not always an option.

Even you didn’t consciously have a reader in mind while writing your book, you’ll have to research or identify one once it’s on the market. But ideally, your concept of your target reader (or to start, the genre you’re working in—which equals a findable audience) should be clear from the start. In my latest column for Publishers Weekly, I discuss: No Clear Readership, No Clear Sales.

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Posted in Marketing & Promotion.

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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Jack Mulcahy

Dear Jane: OK, I suppose I’m “going in circles.” For the past 30+ years, I have had a saga in my head that consumes all my creative abilities, even much of my life. I have completed the first draft of a novel (appx. 60K words) set in the saga’s reality, and have had some short stories from the saga published in some mostly small markets, but the most I have ever received from any story is $50.00 (apiece, for exactly two). At this point, I am wondering if I’m trying to sell the wrong item entirely (like the character from… Read more »

Jack Mulcahy

Thanks for replying, Jane. Just to close a loose end, I submitted the first draft to two editors, and received varying feedback. The first one had harely anything critical to say, so I considered her comments useless. The second had a great deal to say about how I could improve it. At first, that seemed valuable. But she kind f got wrapped around the axle because she didn’t agree with the premise the novel rested on. I think she didn’t get what I wanted to say, because she kept arguing why the antagonist country couldn’t get away with its setup.

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