I don’t know for sure, but it feels like it.
Let me explain. I am, of course, talking about The Tree Of Rebels, a book that once seemed so simple in its concept and execution. I tend to write quite hard hitting, gritty stuff, and I decided (rightly or wrongly) that I wanted to write a book my children could read. Specifically, I was aiming it at my daughters, who were at the time 11 and 12 and devouring books like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner.
It wasn’t like I invented an idea to try to fit this genre and audience. I already had the idea for a dystopian future (one I am genuinely scared of). But I have to admit, this was the first time I ever sat down and tried to write a book knowing who the audience would potentially be.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with knowing your audience. Knowing your audience is key! How else will you know how to describe your book to potential readers? How will you know what categories to choose on Amazon etc? How will you know what cover and font to go for? All these things matter!
In fact, not knowing exactly who my audience were caused me no end of problems in the early days. You see, I didn’t know what kind of writer I was, because I had never really had to think about it before. The first two books I released, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and The Mess Of Me featured young adults as the main characters, but this was purely incidental. In fact, if anything, I didn’t consider myself a YA writer at all and even kind of rejected the idea. I didn’t want to pigeon hole myself, I guess. I wanted adults to like my books too. It wasn’t deliberate that my characters were all young; that’s just the way it worked out. Or so I thought.
Truth is, I didn’t really understand the YA market at that time. I hadn’t looked into, or researched it as a phenomena. Since then, I’m glad to say I have learnt a lot and come to terms with the fact, that although not exclusively a YA author, YA is what I do best, YA is in my heart and soul, and YA is undoubtedly what I tend to seek out for reading material. I just didn’t really connect the dots in the beginning.
Anyway, the point I am trying to make is this. It can be good to know your audience before, during and after you write a book. It would have made things a lot easier for me when releasing The Mess Of Me if I had got on board with this and fully embraced and accepted the YA market I was aiming at.
BUT I do feel that knowing who to aim The Tree Of Rebels at has had a negative impact on writing the book. It felt like there was someone looking over my shoulder the whole time, saying no, don’t do it like that, that’s not how you write this sort of book! Looking back, knowing which audience I was aiming at definitely changed the way I approached it, making it one of the most challenging books I’ve ever written. I mean, none of the others ever felt that difficult, you know? They just kind of, happened. It’s not the only thing I can blame it on, and anyone who reads this blog regularly will know how many issues I have had with the book including the ones talked about in Getting To Know Your Characters and Final Draft? Patience is the key…
I’ve done so many drafts now that I have lost count. I have sent it out to beta readers three times and received very, very detailed edits and critique. I originally wrote the damned thing on Wattpad, so I had feedback on the very first version as it happened, and then posted later versions on there too. Lots of people have been involved and all of them have been incredibly helpful. Before I started this latest draft my intention was to fill it in more, add some detail and meat about how these people exist, but then towards the end I realised there was still something major missing.
It hit me one day while talking to my daughter.
I wrote this book to please them, and to please a certain type of reader who likes a certain type of book. I have never ever done that before. All of my other books were written to please me. They were written to scratch an itch. They were written to get the noisy people out of my head and onto the page. They were written out of passion and necessity. There was no other reason to write them other than that I simply had to. I’ve never known at the time of writing, who would like this book. Even with my current work-in-progress Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature, I have absolutely no idea who this book would be aimed at or how I should even describe it! That for me, is familiar territory!
Of course, with my other books, on further drafts and edits I did begin to write and rewrite with my reader in mind. You have to! But they were not there in the beginning. It was just me.
So, how has this revelation helped me with The Tree Of rebels, you might ask? Is it totally ruined?
No, of course not. I still believe in the story and the characters. I have even started a sequel! But for now, I have decided to leave this book alone. Put it to one side and focus on something else. I have decided to forget who it was aimed at, and essentially write it again. I have decided to write it the way I write all my books. I have decided to let it be whatever it needs to be and to stop trying to sculpt it into something I think it should be. In other words, forget about the perceived audience…For now.
I have a feeling it is now going to become an altogether darker book. But this is good. And would you believe it, while walking the dogs the other day, I had further revelations. Extra characters and another storyline, an important one, to feed into the others. It might make it a longer book. There might be more cutting. I’ve written the ideas down and that’s it for now. I am still not going back there yet!
But when I do I will be rewriting it entirely and writing it for me.
What do you think? How do you write a book? With the audience already decided or with just yourself to please? Is anyone in your head when you write that first draft or do you really have no idea what sort of reader would enjoy it? Please feel free to comment!