You Can’t Choose Your Fans

Parkpop 2008 - The girl in the crowd by Haags Uitburo from FlickrI’ve been noticing that a lot of writers I talk to all seem to have the same hurdle: They have a hard time selling their work to others.

Now, on the one hand, this makes perfect sense to me. I have a difficult time summarizing my books or telling people in casual conversation what they’re about.

But that’s more about coming up with an elevator pitch, and that’s not what I’m getting at here.

No, I’m talking more about the mindset new authors have of deciding ahead of time who is going to like or hate their work.

At first I think one’s audience is a very specific thing. I’ve spoken on here a few times about how impossible I believe it is for the human mind to visualize or grasp large numbers, like a huge crowd. Instead I believe we substitute in a random group of people, and that’s a crowd in our mind. But even the most random people you can come up with aren’t very random. They’re probably people you know and people who have similar backgrounds. Meanwhile, an actual crowd of people will be totally freaking random with some of them thinking things you can’t possibly imagine because they’re so outside of yourself.

But we only have that starter crowd in our heads, and that comes to be identified as our audience, a very specific thing…at least early on. And so the brain, in all its stupidity, defines our audience using this horrible metric we made up. This can cause you to assume with near-absolute surety that Person A would never be a fan or that Person B couldn’t possibly like your book, all because they don’t fit into your definition of your audience.

And so we come to yet another reason for me to give out my absolute bottom-line piece of writing advice: Write more. Finish things. Get them out there.

Why?

Because the reactions people will have will surprise you.

There have been two instances of writing in my history that have utterly baffled me in their reception.

The first was the short story “You’re Allowed to Order Take Out.” The second was Kyo’s section from Probability Angels.

Both of these pieces of writing I finished, published online (I was working under extreme deadlines so I didn’t have a lot of time to sit and ponder them) and then sat back and said, “Well. That didn’t turn out at all how I wanted it. There’s really nothing there. Nobody is going to like this, especially Person X.”

What were the responses?

They were absolute shocks and went against everything I expected.

“You’re Allowed to Order Take Out” was called a “perfect short story” and I’ve been told that I connected emotionally with my readers in that story in ways that I had never done before.

And Kyo’s section from Probability Angels was deemed: “One of the best written bits of historical fiction” that Person X had ever read.

I should add that both of those pieces have become personal favorites of mine.

See, the more words you get out there the more varied an audience you’ll come to see. And the more varied an audience you come to see, the better chance you have of remembering that life, people, and your own writing can surprise you sometimes.

You shouldn’t decide ahead of time who will like and not like your work.

You should let your readers decide that.

You should just shut up and write.