There are those who might disagree, but I’ve learned that as a writer you’re always learning. Some lessons you learn over and over, and some you pick up once and never forget. Then there are those lessons that fit someplace in the middle. I’m in a number of writing groups–invaluable assets for new and established writers alike–and something came out of tonight’s meeting that is an old lesson but one worth listening to again. For those writers who intend to become paid authors, you have to be willing to listen to critiques of your work by readers who wouldn’t necessarily read your genre or style of writing.
The question is, WHY? There’s a phrase in marketing called “market-share.” It means figuring out how much of the existing total market are you able to tie into with your product, and writing, whether you like it or not, is a product, plain and simple. This evening, one of my readers questioned the personality of my main character. It’s a sci-fi private detective story where the main character is an alien ex-government assassin who has no compunction about gutting villains like pigs. After reading the first two chapters, which she said she enjoyed, she added that she would probably put the book down in a bookstore because me comes across as a psychopath.
There are two ways to tackle such critiques. The first is to merely say that in the genre I’m writing in and based on my original target audience, I could keep him exactly as is. In fact, one of the other readers said just that. However, I’m in the business of writing–or at least I’m trying to be. What she said made sense if my objective is to have as broad a reading base as I possibly can. To this end, I took what she said and came up with a couple of additional sentences I can put in and provide the rationale necessary to justify the character’s behavior and make him more palatable to a wider audience without sacrificing the overall personality or storyline.
When you’re writing for a commercial market, you have to think in terms of your readers and gleaning as many of them from the marketplace as you possibly can. I plan on being able to quit my day job and writing full time as quickly as possible. That means getting as many readers and quickly as possible. What that means is that I have to listen to people who want more or different angles to my characters, plots and settings and deliberately expand them as much as possible without sacrificing my own sense of style and where I want the story to go.
I recommend this to any writer who wants to get paid to write. Think of it like a business where the customer is always right. Cater to their needs, and they’ll reward you with book sales. The more people you can cater to, the greater your sales and market-share are going to be.
Food for thought.