open books, grass

Creating and Fulfilling Expectations: Books as Products or Works of Art

The book as product: specific word count, story arc, number and types of characters, type of ending, and a cover suited to the genre. It may help its author make a living. Or it may not.

The book as work of art: whatever gives the writer the feeling of having a hand on the lever of creation. It may or may not become a “classic.” A posthumous one.

This is what happens when I’ve been reading too many “how to do it right” posts for writers. (Snarky aside: Judging by the vast amounts of advice we need, we writers are self-indulgent, impractical airheads, fumbling our way through the real world.)

The author of a recent such post expressed acute distress (“I almost cried!”) when a writer admitted they didn’t know the target audience for their book.

OK, all you writers hiding behind your computer screens, is this you? You don’t write your novels for a defined demographic? Well, I suppose YA authors do, but what about the rest of us? I certainly don’t. I feel a ghostly reader peering over my shoulder as I write, but I don’t know anything about them except they’re reading my book and I owe them a good experience.

I write from a need to embody in written language the stories churning in my brain. That’s what makes me sit down and crank out the words, not a market survey that indicates a taste for a specific type of novel in a particular slice of the population.

“What if they find out that … ?” and “Let me tell you how it happened. There was this thing–” These are the sources of story. Not market studies.

Many indie authors see their writing and publishing as a business. Authors with contracts to traditional publishers are nudged to deliver the correct book-shaped products with cover images accurately labelling their genres. Products must be packaged to match customer needs and expectations. That’s totally fine and logical.

Trouble is, not every writer thinks of the books they write as “products,” even if they publish them using the same platforms as do businesslike, marketing-oriented indies. Today, publishing takes many forms.

As they prepare to publish, writers may find it helpful to examine their intentions and expectations. In private, in secret if necessary. Do you want to sell a million copies? Be #1 on some list? Connect with a few readers, a secret society of people like you? Achieve perfection? Become famous? Just be able to call yourself a “published author”? Produce a printed book you can hold in your hands and post pictures of on social media? Every writer fits into one of these categories, or the infinity of spaces between them.

As in other areas of life, it helps to know what you want and act accordingly, with your expectations set to “realistic.” Then you can read and absorb only the advice that’s relevant to you, and cheerfully ignore the rest.

Despite all the expert advice, there are many indies who don’t conform, whose books straddle genres, or mix them up, or don’t belong to any genre at all. What about all those off-beat or zany cover images? (Airheads, right?) From experience I can say those books aren’t all terrible and worthless. Some are excellent, but prospective readers have to be adventurous and take a chance. Think farmers’ market or craft fair, not big box store. Spend a dollar or three and maybe discover a new and wonderful reading experience.

Until the end of July you can do just that at the Smashwords Store. The Summer/Winter Sale continues until July 31st. My books may be found here.

32 comments

  1. This is an excellent post and I agree with all you say, Audrey. I write for myself. Obviously I hope people will derive pleasure from my poetry (and I am delighted when they do), however that is the icing on the cake for me and not why I compose poetry. I have a full-time job so I’m not dependent on my writing for income. Perhaps if I where my perspective might be other than it is. As an aside, I sometimes see books/posts on how to write and/or blog by people who have, so far as I can ascertain published little (or anything) of substance other than works on how to write! Best – Kevin

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you, Kevin. It’s true that the situation is much different for writers who earn their living from their writing. I’m glad to see more options for everyone who writes to get their creations out in the world.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think of my books as both art and products. But I would never consider writing based on what some abstract “market” supposedly wants. The only reader that I can truly write for is myself, because I’m the only one whose head I can get inside and understand. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t take into account what other readers say about my books. With each one, I learn something from the reaction, and make an effort to use those lessons in the next book. I write for myself, but I try to be increasingly tough to please. 🙂

    As far as my intentions and expectations from writing, I really don’t have any. All I know is that I have a lot of fun doing it.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I think I know who I write for or (to be more grammatical) for whom I write. I write for the mature mind, no matter what chronological age is involved. I also write for people with a relatively high degree of education. I have no idea how to write for the YA crowd or even for younger children for that matter. And I belong to the school of people hoping to write a posthumous classic, since it’s highly unlikely I’ll achieve that status while I’m alive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s possible to envision one’s ideal reader, but for me that doesn’t translate to a defined group I can “target” (hate that word!) in a marketing plan. I suspect there is a large group of writers who may be called the “Future Posthumous School.” 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Terrific post, Audrey, and I am so on the same page. My books come to me sui generis, pretty much, so to try to find a way to shoehorn them into marketing categories is to ruin them. I just wish more people would plunk down 99 cents for a sui generis ebook!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So agree with you about all the advice being touted out there. I remember that post about the author not knowing their target audience. I write about things that matter to me, in the genres I enjoy reading. Plain and simple. Marketing gurus want to complicate things with algorithm talk and tips on cracking the BookBub ad system, for example. If it’s that complicated that one has to write a book about how to do this stuff, it’s more complicated than it should be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It could be that some of the advice is directed toward a specific type of author. That’s why it’s important to decide what our goals are, and to be comfortable with them. And trying to understand the advice about algorithms and ads would take all the fun out of it for me. Great comment, Debra. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post! Couldn’t agree more. I’ve always been very irritated by the question, “Who are your readers?” How on earth should I know? I write the kind of books that I like to read and I have no idea who else will like them. I’ve read piles and piles of instruction books over the years, but quit wasting my time some years ago and no longer read any. Nor articles. When I get really irritated I mutter things like, “if you can’t write your own fiction, make money by telling other people how to do it!”

    Of course I write to be read. Fortunately, I have a few readers who like what I write. It’s enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve noticed that in many cases, the folks providing advice on the internet to writers also provide a variety of writer services. And I don’t think it’s possible to become a good writer by reading “how to write” books. Reading almost everything else — lots of reading — that’s where the real learning happens, by osmosis. Like you, I’m happy to know there are some people out there who read my stuff and like it. Thanks for your comment, Lea!

      Like

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