Drawing The Audience In

That’s a big part of what a writer wants to do, right? Whether it’s television, screenplays, novels, poetry or even an advertisement aimed at a particular audience, you want to make sure that the reader is reading or the watcher is watching.

I’ve read that you want to have a compelling first page if you’re writing a book. Maybe even the first paragraph needs to enthrall the reader so that they keep reading. Whether we like it or not, the reader (audience) has other choices they can make with their time. So you are competing with other books and not just other books, but other activities. When television first came on to the scene radio saw some of it’s audience move to the new medium.

A few months ago I was reading Mark Twain’s autobiography which he made sure was released 100 years after his death. In it he talks about his public speaking and even back then there was competition. His big advantage was his fame and talent, which includes his perceived talent. I don’t mean to imply that he was less talented than so many people perceived him to be. He was a giant, in my opinion.

However, if you put yourself in the shoes of other speakers of that day, you would see Mark Twain as competition in some cases. Certainly this was true for public speaking engagements. When radio came to fruition there were public speakers who took advantage of radio to spread their fame and increase their income.

Many artists don’t like to talk about money and I believe that you don’t want it to be an overriding factor in what you create, but it’s not completely unimportant.

Mark Twain knew this when he negotiated how much he got paid per word or per speaking engagement. However, he wrote and spoke his truth to his audience. I doubt very much that he did any thinking about how he might change “Huckleberry Finn” so that more people would buy it.

You can also say that marketing was barely even in its infancy back then. So does that make a big difference today?

As far as artistic integrity goes, I would say no. But, it doesn’t hurt to begin to understand who you are writing for. Who are you writing for?

This isn’t a primer. Just some things to think about.

As far as money and Twain goes, he did his fair share of newspaper writing and I think he thought of his work as his job.

My head is aching right now so I’ve lost exactly where I’m going with this exercise.

Oh, yeah…drawing the audience in. I don’t purport to even suppose that what I’m writing to day is a great or even good example of this. Unfortunately for you, the reader, this is a writing exercise for me first. Hopefully there will be some nuggets among this detritus.

What I guess I’m saying is that drawing the audience in is so that they’ll be interested in your story. You want them interested so they’ll read more. You have a better chance of having a wider audience that way and therefore, more success monetarily.

But not everyone is Mark Twain. For one, there are writers who are scared to death of public speaking. For another, it’s a different world now with so many more choices.

Hollywood has found that out over the last 20 years or so. Did you know that video games are bigger than movies now? I don’t know the exact dollar amount of books sold, but I’ll bet that movies are bigger than books in terms of dollars and probably audience numbers.

When I was reading Joe Ezsterhas a couple years ago he mentioned how much more money you are paid for each word when you write a screenplay versus a novel. It’s an order of magnitude higher. Ten times the amount or more from Hollywood for a nice little 120 page screenplay versus a small book with the same number of words. Sometimes a hundred times as much, if memory serves.

No matter which you choose, you have to please or attract the audience to a certain extent.

Does this mean you have to compromise your art? I guess that depends on how strictly you define “compromising your art”.

If you are considering the type of reader you want to attract, is that in itself a type of compromise?

I don’t think so.

Consider young adult fiction like “The Hunger Games”. I read all three books and enjoyed them. I enjoyed them even more than I expected. What I found was that there were certain lines that they didn’t cross. There might have been descriptions of making out a little, but I don’t remember actual descriptions or even allusions to sexual intercourse. In my experience you will find that in novels (sometimes or oftentimes) that are aimed at adults as opposed to young adults.

I’ve even noticed that some people will be careful to say that young adult fiction is not aimed at a particular age group, but it’s a particular style of writing. My guess is that they want to widen the audience to someone like me. When I first heard of The Hunger Games I actually waited to see what my wife thought and then my teenage nephew and my 21 yr old son. After they all gave the books very high marks I decided to take the plunge and I don’t remember exactly how quickly I read them, but it seems like I was fairly busy and ended up reading all three books in four or five weeks. For me, during a busy time, that’s a lot of books.

So it seems that the young adult fiction writers would like to eat their cake and have it, too! (That’s actually the proper phrase – you can Google it!) They want to reach both “adults” and “young adults” if possible. If they write a book with extra elements like the aforementioned sexual intercourse scenes or even allusions, they cut out a potential part of the audience. If they don’t include those then more people feel comfortable recommending those books to young adults as well as their more mature friends.

Some people would call that selling out. Not me.

If you really feel that your content requires certain scenes that many would not be ok with for younger, less mature (possibly) readers, then I guess cutting them might be compromising your art. That’s your decision.

Some people felt that putting “The Sopranos” on A&E meant that they weren’t being true to the story. All I know is that I watched it on HBO. Game of Thrones might have been possible on some other network, but now that it’s on HBO, the sexual content is more explicit than I’m finding in the book. Of course, I’m just reading the first book now and that could change. There are definitely things that are mentioned in the book or implied and then there are much more explicit scenes on HBO. Was this so the book could more readily appeal to the HBO audience or the perceived likes of that audience? That’s not to say that there aren’t any explicit scenes in the book that were left out or cut down for HBO, but how much did HBO change the books to appeal to their audience? We shall see. It’s fair to say that I’m reading the books BECAUSE I watched the show.

Last summer I went to a panel at Comic-Con with George R.R. Martin on it. He wasn’t the only reason I went to that panel on immortality in fiction, but I did get a little more of a charge out of because I knew of some of his work. And that’s because of HBO. Believe it or not, I don’t think I had heard of him in a way that stuck prior to this show. I may have heard the name and not made a real connection to what he wrote some years before, but I wasn’t drawn in.

HBO did that initially and then Comic-Con and now his actual book.

Maybe drawing in a big audience is more complicated. But you have to get their attention somehow so that they will continue on. Are you still reading this?

(If you are using WordPress please beware. Even though it’s usually really great I am adding this to help you if you run into the problem that I did just now. Use your back button if you have to! I pressed publish and then all of a sudden it wanted me to login!! I did so and found that the draft that was saved was maybe a quarter of what I had written. I hit the back button a few times to get there and thank goodness, there it was. I published and for some reason it left out the title. So I’m adding this commentary and the title as I hit the final published version. Hopefully!)

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2 responses

  1. Yes, actually, I read the whole post! I hope I can hook people in the first couple of paragraphs, but you never can tell what’s going to attract or turn away readers sometimes. I’m a big Stephen King fan when it comes to his books, but the movies just don’t cut it for me. maybe because I like to use my imagination, but then I loved the Harry Potter movies and the Lord of the Rings trilogy and yet never read the books. In fact my youngest son handed me the first book for Harry Potter and said, “Mom you’ve seen the movie, you’ve got to read the book, and I tried, I really did, but she just couldn’t hook me in the first chapter.
    Great post as always!

  2. Thank you, Karen! I haven’t read Harry Potter except little bits that I read with my son years ago. I really enjoyed the movies, though. Also, Lord of the Rings which are some of my favorite movies.

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