Listen To Your Readers, Not The “Experts”
Of all the rules, this could very well be the hardest one to learn and—more to the point—follow.
We all want the approval of someone we consider to be an expert of some sort or another. That expert might be a teacher, a respected or admired peer, a critic, or even a particular publisher. It might even be someone else in an entirely unrelated field, but it will always be someone that we see as important to us.
Most people see successful writers as arrogant. I don’t get that confusion. We ARE arrogant. I really don’t care if I hurt someone’s feelings, though I will never deliberately hurt someone. If the truth hurts their feelings, that is not my concern. The fact is that the truth can hurt. I’m about as politically incorrect as you can get. I think that 99% of the people in the world take life far too seriously and are looking for ways to assert their right to have everything sugar coated for them. As Sergeant Hulka said, “Lighten up, Francis.” In short, the only person I need to impress is me.
And yet even I sometimes catch myself wondering how someone will react to one of my actions.
The simple fact is that we all, as authors, must do what the little voices in our heads tell us to do and shut out those who would force us to compromise our individuality.
This in no way contradicts Rule Number Twenty-Two…I am not talking so much about what we write as opposed to how we write. In a word, voice.
One very common definition is:
“The author’s voice is the style in which a story is presented, including, among other things, the syntax, diction, person, and dialogue.”
Each writer has their own voice. Mine is different from yours. Yours is different from, say, Stephen King’s. Stephen’s is different from Niven’s. You get the idea. No two writers will have the same voice.
Generally speaking, your voice is made up of a staggeringly large number of things…your past, your present, your education, your experiences, your dreams, your nightmares, people you know, people you admire, the time and place in which you live, books you have read, books you have written, and a myriad of other things all go in to the forming of your voice. Looking at this, it’s clear why no two writers will have the same voice…after all, no two people have all of these things in common.
We are all individuals.
And it is your voice that all of the experts—no matter why they are in that category—will want you to change.
And it is this change that you must resist.
In a nutshell, an expert will want you to change so your voice is more like theirs. Think about it…we all believe our voice is the best one out there, and the experts are no exception to this rule. So, since they have the best voice, you would be better off to make your voice more like theirs.
Your voice is the best for you. Your voice is the only thing that sets you apart from all of the other writers out there. It is your voice that the readers like and plop down their hard-earned cash for.
People, ignore the experts…there are but a few of them and they aren’t buying your books anyway.
Listen to your readers…there are literally billions of them and they ARE buying your books.
Read the letters (paper and email) from your readers. Take to heart the things they say, especially if you get more than two letters saying essentially the same thing.
Watch the many mailing lists on the Internet for what your readers are saying there.
Watch blogs where readers post and pay attention to how they react to things, especially about your books.
When you do a signing or other personal appearance, talk to the readers. Besides, taking the extra time to talk to the readers will piss off your agent/representative…you know: Time is Money.
In other words, stay in touch with your readers. Be active…or more correctly, be proactive.
I wish I could give you some concrete examples, but I can’t because the number of variables and variations are far too great. I’ll just say that you will know when the readers like something and when they don’t like something.
Trust me…you’ll know.
And never forget to ignore the experts. Never read reviews…all that will do is piss you off. Never ask another writer how to word something…that will blend your voice with theirs. Never ask an English major how to word something…you’ll end up sounding like a text book. Automatically reject any re-writes by an editor…they have no clue how to write and even less idea of what your voice is.
(Let me clarify that last bit…if a good editor finds a problem, they will never offer a rewrite. They will simply say that the section needs to be rewritten and leave that up to you. If the editor does offer a rewrite, trash it and rewrite the section yourself, in your voice.)
Always remember that it is the readers who are paying you, and listen to your boss.