I ask this question of my students all the time. Like ALL the time. I teach freshman composition, and my first question when we begin our writing projects is “think of who your audience is–not only those you intend this writing for, but who might see this that you don’t intend to see it?”
My students often tell me the same responses: “my friends,” “those who agree with me,” “my family,” “those who go through this same thing as me,” and (my personal fave) “everyone.” And to these responses, especially my fave one, I always say: “but who is that?” Rarely, if ever, can they respond beyond a shrug and the furrowing of eyebrows that evoke “I’m thinking” and “I have no f—ing idea.”
Sometimes I wonder if we instructors of composition and writing courses are asking the impossible question, and if it’s okay. Is it okay to not know? Is it okay to just assume that in this day-and-age, with Facebook and Twitter as melting pots of articles, memes, and links to anything online, our audience for just about anything we say, do, and write these days could be seen by just about anyone and everyone.
This being said, it is still worth contemplating (and, quite honestly, a major requirement) just who our intended audiences are, and who our unintended audiences could be, when we try and enter the traditional and indie publishing worlds. As I write query letters to agents and marketing plans to independent publishers, I have to identify potential audiences.
Well, I ask myself, just who would read my book? People who have lost pregnancies (or know someone who has)? Probably. People who have ever struggled with mental health issues (or who know others who have)? Probably. People who have complex, loving relationships with their parental figures, from childhood to adulthood–the very people who raised them and supported them through difficult times? Probably. People who are currently parents to small children, medium children, teenage children, adult children (any children, really)? Probably. People who are raising (or have raised) children with some sort of disability? Probably. People who have had prematurely born babies? Probably. People who are just curious, empathetic, human voyeurs who want to learn and understand other humans better? Probably. And what about those in the literary world who may have read some excerpt essays from this book of mine in literary journals, those interested in new and emerging literary writers? Probably (hopefully!).
So when I stopped asking the questions about my audience to evaluate the answer, I didn’t land too far from my students’ response of “everyone.” Crap. I just became a freshman composition student.
So the conundrum continues as I write to the publishing world, begging just one set of eyes to see the potential in my work that I see. Unlike my writing students, I have to look to the business side of writing to, perhaps, really find what my audience would be (at least, to those trying to sell my work, I need to identify who out there is willing to part with their money for my words).
I usually ask my students to identify their audience before they begin writing. Who are they writing for? Who do they want to see their message?
But when I write, I don’t consciously decide on an audience. I write for me, for my eyes, and–for what my wonderful mentor, TaraShea Nesbit, identified in her recent piece “TaraShea Nesbit on Reckoning with Ghosts, and Returning to the Same Story, Again and Again” on lithub.com–for what haunts me. That which lives inside me from the past that needs a place to go.
So, how do I answer this question? I can honestly say, I don’t know. And the more I contemplate this question, the harder it becomes. Perhaps this is an instance when I should learn from my students, and respond “everyone” not because I don’t want to think about the question too hard, but respond “everyone” because I’ve thought too hard.
Want to see some of my essays and excerpts from my current book project? Check out the publications page on lauragaddis.com!