You do not become an author simply because you want to have a good time. Being an author is a job, and it comes with certain responsibilities. They vary in importance and some of them are more important for fiction or non-fiction authors. But they are there, and if you’re not living up to them then the ugly truth is you are failing as an author. Obviously, it’s important for the aspiring author to know what they are.
If you’ve done any writing at all, you probably have some idea of what these responsibilities are already. Watch your grammar, mind your punctuation and know your story. But the more ways you see them, the more ways you can think of them, the more they will shape your writing and the better your writing will be. So what’s the first, most important duty of the author? Is it to clean, flowing prose? Good grammar and punctuation? No, the first duty of the author is to your audience.
Writing is a part of the art of communication. When you are writing you must be aware of the person or people who are reading, if they cannot understand you then you have failed to communicate. Therefore you must be mindful of your audience if you hope to succeed. Don’t get so caught up in your story that it runs away from you, it’s very unlikely your audience will be able to follow all the places it takes you unless you take the time to carefully mark the path. In short, know your audience.
So, who is your audience?
Well, as contradictory as it may seem, the author’s first audience is themselves. Yes, I’ve just said that it’s important not to get too wrapped up in your own story but, at the same time, the person who has to be most invested in understanding and enjoying your writing must be you. If you don’t buy into what you’re writing 100%, no one else will buy in at all. What’s important is to look at your story through the eyes of the reader. You need to set aside everything you already know about the story you are writing and look at it as if you’d never heard of anything in it before. Learn to put aside your author’s perspective and see if you can enjoy what you’ve written on it’s own merits.
The second audience is the people who share an interest in what you’re writing about. They are your most importance, core audience, they are the ones who will read your story and then want to share it with others. While self editing is the first hurdle for your story, you will need feedback from this part of your audience before you can call your story complete. Can they follow your ideas? Do they enjoy your story? Is there some barrier to understanding that needs to be removed? You can’t evaluate these things yourself, you’re not objective enough nor do you really count as a large enough sampling to be useful. You need feedback from your core audience if you hope to communicate with them.
The third audience is the people who are in the “mainstream”, a mythological group of people who include pretty much everyone who’s not a part of your core audience. While “mainstream” supposedly refers to popular culture, the fact is it’s really too varied to count for much. It’s just changing too fast and doing different things for different people, trying to target it would be like trying to hit all the heads on a hydra with a single toothpick. Some people from the general public will love your work, some will hate it and the vast majority will most likely view it with a certain amount of apathy (if the majority loves it, you’ve crossed over into the rarefied atmosphere of the smash hit, and I’d love to hear how it’s done). Regardless, while it’s important to try and make sure the “mainstream” can understand what you’ve written, you cannot chase after their approval of stories or themes. If you do, your writing will have no identity and will never find a following.
Obviously, there’s a lot more to knowing your audience than what I’ve written. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to codify in one or two short articles. You have to read a lot of what your audience loves, you have to know some members of your audience personally and spend a lot of time with them. An author can’t just sit in a chair 24/7 and write then expect to be successful. He has to be out with his audience, as well. Fortunately, you’re probably going to like the people you meet, since your first audience is yourself and thus your second audience is likely to share interests with you.
So get up and go out for a bit, get to know your audience. Then, the next time you sit down, ask how your stories and theirs can link up. You may find your writing improves for it.