Is it Better to Write for Yourself or to Write for Readers?

For many writers, maybe even most, finding a readership is crucial. They write to entertain, which they cannot do without readers. Or they write to communicate, which they also cannot do without readers. Or they write to sell so they can continue to write, and for that, they need not only readers but customers — readers who are willing to buy books.

The lucky writers are those who write the books they love and the books they love just happen to be the books readers want to read and buy. The rest of us have a conundrum to deal with — do we write the books we need to write, regardless of what readers want, or do we try to write the books we think readers will read?

In discussion after discussion, writers put forth the idea that to get readers, one must write what readers want. And perhaps that is the smart and lucrative way to write, but it’s not the only way.  Besides, if I look at the situation from my point of view as a reader, it seems a cheat. I want a story filtered through the writer’s life/voice, not something the author thinks I would like.

In my case, I have no choice — I can only write the stories that speak to me. Even if I wanted to write solely in the hopes of getting a large readership, I’m not sure I could do it. Readers can tell when they are being pandered to, though there are exceptions to this, most notably a couple of now very wealthy men who write romances for women. For some reason, most women don’t feel the manipulation of those books and so fall in love with the stories, while others, perhaps less interested in the romance genre, hate the feeling of someone trying to tug on their emotions by writing books they think women would like. To a certain extent, all books are manipulation — authors write in such a way to elicit emotional reactions from readers — but sometimes, like with these men, the tugs are quite apparent.

Writers who also read the genre they love know the nuances of the genre (assuming, for example, there are nuances in category romance) and so can more easily write to their readers tastes. But what if you can’t write genre fiction (or, more probably, can’t force yourself to write it)? You end up writing for yourself.

There might not be money to be made by writing for oneself, but there are other advantages. For one thing, you can make your writing as intelligent as you wish without having to worry about losing your audience. For another, there will always be one person who loves your work — you. And there is a third reason, perhaps the most important: We are so much more than we know, and writing is a way of communicating not just with readers, but with the unknown us. If we just write what we know we know, we are the poorer for it. And maybe, just maybe, by writing the book only we can write, we will end up writing something spectacular.

8 Responses to “Is it Better to Write for Yourself or to Write for Readers?”

  1. Paulina Czarnecki Says:

    I generally write what I want, but I look out for copycat/cliche plotlines because eventually, I know SOMEONE will read my work… It’s a kind of compromise. 🙂

  2. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    Unless the writer is a machine he or she must begin a writing project writing for themselves. If I cannot please and entertain myself with my writing then I know full well that I will not be pleasing or entertaining any potential readers. All writers are readers anyway. It comes with the territory. To go off chasing a phantom readership in order to sell a whole heap of books to me is a waste of time and effort. For one thing you want be putting your best into the writing effort because you will be strictly writing for that mysterious other that might not even exist. As human beings we all connected in various ways and what tickles my fancy is sure to tickle someone else’s. An unhappy experience I may have will be reflected in some way in others. What I laugh at someone else will surely laugh at. Taking all this into account, I write for me to begin with and then look around to see how many people there are I can thus connect with. This is also the way I have of keeping my writing honest and energized. My thoughts at any rate.

  3. Keri Peardon Says:

    I do a mix of both. I write the stories I want to write, damn the “rules.” (E.g. a romance novel told completely from the man’s POV.) But, when I get reader feedback from my betas (I hate calling them that; they sound like aquarium fish), I take their likes and dislikes into consideration.

    Recently, a decision I made in my second book didn’t go down very well with my beta readers. I don’t want to change the situation entirely (sorry, not getting rid of the love triangle), but I’m going back in my edits to 1) slow down both relationships down, and 2) tone down the passion of the first relationship. The triangle stays, but the solution to the problem gets pushed off to the third book. This gives the readers more time to get used to the idea.

    I think it’s important to maintain a balance of what I want to happen and what readers expect to happen. You want to push without breaking.

  4. Carol Says:

    If I were to write a non-fiction book, it would be because there is a topic I know well, that I hope to share with a receptive audience. When proposing it to a potential publisher/agent, I would need to explain who that audience is so the book’s viability in the marketplace could be determined. I would be writing for that audience, but from my own POV and expertise.

    Fiction is literally a whole different world that is created within the author’s mind. There are probably as many readers with varying expectations as there are writers, and I like to think if a writer creates a genuinely good story, there will be receptive readers to welcome it. What makes a good story is open to interpretation, but for me, writing by calculation and craft with a “what do readers want” attitude, doesn’t result in one. Like being involved in creating any kind of art, I prefer to approach novel writing with a little reason and a lot of emotion.

    Of course, I may never get one of my novels published, so this is all just an unproven theory!

  5. joylene Says:

    I write primarily for myself, but I never forget somewhere out there is a reader. Remembering that keeps me honest.

  6. Kathy Says:

    It’s a crapshoot – the book I wrote for readers didn’t do as well as the book I wrote for myself, although that is no guarantee either. Sometimes, the two cross over like magic – you write for yourself and it also happens to touch readers.

  7. mickeyhoffman Says:

    I find that is true for painting, drawing, etc. It’s quite easy to duplicate the crap that sells but few artists can
    stomach doing that. I certainly wouldn’t do it. With writing, in novels, at any rate, there are more variations
    that are popular at the same time. For example, romance novels are all pretty much the same, but mystery
    novels come in many flavors and I think most writers know which ones will sell better and actually do tailor
    their work to fit. In fact, at writers’ conferences the literary agents will say things like, “You have to have a dead
    body before page ten or we don’t read any further.” It’s a lot easier for a writer to accommodate something
    like that –if you’re going to kill someone off anyway– than it is with an artwork to completely change one’s color palate
    or subject matter.

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