"You need to know exactly who your reader is."
I said this to a group of people yesterday and I was emphatic, but this morning I am less so. Lots of questions have been chasing each other around my head overnight. Who ARE my readers? Do they change with each book? And if not, am I stuck writing for them and only them for all eternity? can I switch genre or age group whenever I wish? Is genre just something made up by marketing departments to make it easier to find what you want in a bookshop?
My emphatic statement about knowing your reader was directed at a group of students at a local school. I visit schools all the time and this one in particular has played host to my workshops more often than most (as well as having characters, like Hamlet above, painted all along the corridor of their English department!). But yesterday was different, because I got to spend 2 hours in the company of A Level students instead of my core readership of years 7 and 8.
I love years 7 and 8, don't get me wrong. But sometimes I crave a more challenging audience and more sophisticated questions than "do you earn lots of money?" or "are you famous?".
The first hour with my sophisticated audience was mostly me 'performing', telling my story, explaining my journey to publication, while they sat in rigid rows. But after a short break I insisted we arranged the chairs more informally. My experience of teaching in art schools has given me a preference for discussion lesson formats, where everyone's opinions are valued, not just the 'performer' standing at the front.
In this new configuration their question became more informal too, which was great. I really had to think about my answers, what I honestly thought about writing routines and how to edit and actually get work published. Then someone asked whether editors ever ask me to write for a different or wider audience.
"No," I said. "It doesn't really work that way. You need to know exactly who your reader is," I said. "You write for that reader and if the book appeals to a wider audience, that's a bonus."
I had assumed the question was naive, a question from someone who doesn't quite understand how publishing works. But now I'm not so sure. It was a question that actually required a more considered response.
This brilliant blog post from Marcus Sedgwick
got me thinking about genre and why I write the books I write. Now I'd like to go back to that student and change my answer. (Perhaps she'll find her way to this blog and read it) my new answer is
I WRITE THE BOOKS THAT I WANT TO READ.