Mark Terry

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Who Do You Write For?

January 9, 2007
I started reading one of my birthday gifts, a very long novel by a famous bestselling author and screenwriter who everybody's heard of. I'm having a very, very hard time getting into this book. And I'm wondering: is he writing this for critics?

There's been some talk on blogs lately about thinking about "your ideal reader." I'm sort of clueless in this respect. Some people's spouses are their ideal readers, but my wife, as far as I know, hasn't read any of my books. In fact, mysteries and thrillers are generally not her cup of tea, although she likes Tony Hillerman. She's much more likely to read a presidential biography or something historical if she's not reading Time or Smithsonian cover to cover.

I tend to write for my agent, because if she doesn't like it she won't try to sell it.

Now, this writer, who everybody knows, has had a long and not always happy relationship with critics. He's enormously popular, practically has a cult following, and the critics, in general, have been raving about the book in question, which deals with the death of a famous author from the point of view of his wife. Maybe it's the topic, but I'm having a hard time getting past the idea that this author isn't writing for his typical fans, but as an attempt to appease the critics who have often dealt terribly unfairly with him.

I think it's a bad idea, actually.

The more you get published, the more it seems you want to please agents and editors, perhaps even more than readers. After all, they hold the keys to the kingdom.

I think you need to please yourself, actually. I'm far more likely to have success with a book that I wrote to entertain myself rather than to meet anybody else's expectations. If I write the kind of book I might pick up in the airport to kill time, I'm usually doing pretty well.

Anyway, just a few thoughts.

Mark Terry


Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Since Mary and I co-write and she can change stuff she doesn't like, I guess first I have to write for Mary!

If we're writing a Byzantine book, then I write, also, for our editor at Poisoned Pen Press, Barbara Peters. She's the only one it has to please and she knows what her readers want so she kind of stands in for them.

Otherwise, I write for myself. I just don't think there's much point in trying to suss out what agents, publishers etc in the abstract want.

As to this writing for critics business...why would Stephen want to do that? I can't really grasp it. However, I think writers in general -- and I include myself -- have a weird tendency to try to write for those who don't like what we do when we should ignore them and write for readers who do like what we do. (provided there are some, of course)

1:43 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Yeah, I'm not sure if it's just my opinion of "Lisey's Story" or the frame of mind I was in. The first 20 pages or so seem terribly internal and descriptive without much going on and I was really struggling with it. And it was far more "poetic" writing than I typically associate with SK, so I had to wonder.

And to unpublished writers I'm very inclined to say, (and this is brutal) that since the odds are so much against you (hell, they're against the rest of us, too), then like Rick Nelson, "If you can't please everybody, just please yourself."

2:39 PM  
Blogger Aimless Writer said...

I think I know the book you mean. Unfortunately I agree. I think at the point he is in his career he basically writes for himself. Why would he do it for any other reason? Unless there's some financial issues we're unaware of he could probably never write another word and never worry. His earlier books were much better paced then the stuff in the last few years. He was always one of my favorites.
I write for myself and I think my problem (when I get published) is that my writing is a bit scattered and I write in many different genres. Its kinda scary to think I'm going to have to pic one. I do know there are time I have to stop myself from rambling in certain places however if I was SK I'd have the opportunity to ramble if I wanted!
I write for me but then bend it to fit publication. Although I still don't have that nailed yet...its coming.

3:06 PM  
Anonymous spyscribbler said...

I can't really say, but I haven't picked it up since I read the first fifty pages or so. That's not saying much, because the last two months have been my worst reading months, ever. I'm reading at a snail's pace!

I know I don't write for me, though. If I did, I'd just close my eyes and 'watch' the story.

Oh, and I always followed the old standby that tells you not to write that semi-autobiographical novel. After a few years, I did. It seemed to have much more reader reaction than any other.

So some days it just feels like everything is a shot in the dark, really.

3:35 PM  

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