Saturday, February 19, 2011

Defining Your Audience

I recently read an article on that man-on-man novels were becoming very hot, sales wise that is. The reason is because straight, married women are now the genre’s top fans, and they are buying in droves. The article when on to pontificate on why women are thronging to MM romance novels, but I don’t think anyone really knows for sure.

Along with this trend of women readers, is the equally surprising number of straight, married women who are writing gay romance or MM novels. It often seems to me that gay and lesbian writers are now a minority in the lgbt genre. Please don’t take my meaning wrong; I welcome women writers and readers. This trend has given MM romance novels a huge boost over the last five or six years. I’m very grateful. I’ve read the work of several phenomenally talented women writers who are pushing the gay genre in new directions and attracting hoards of new readers.

This trend, however, poses questions for all writers in the lgbt genre: who is my audience, who do I gear my stories to? One of the first things a writer does when s/he approaches a new story is to determine who the intended audience will be. That simple choice will determine how the writer will approach the story—what kind of characters to include, what voice to use, how much sex, how much violence, and even if it should have a happily-ever-after ending or not.

As a reviewer with many lgbt books coming my way for reviews, I’ve seen a change in the last few years, a leaning towards women readers. Not only more romantic situations and fantasy stories, but also more graphic sex, many more sex scenes, more happily-ever-after endings, just to name a few of the more obvious changes. I believe that the genre is changing, quickly, to gear itself to a broader audience, and to become more mainstream. I have no negative issues with this change. A broader readership is great for all, both writers and readers.

Reading this article has given me pause to question my intended readership. When I first began to write seriously with the intent of being published back in 2002, I had a clear picture of who I was writing for and why. Back then I had read very few novels that featured strong gay characters, and the ones that did always had a tragic ending for the gay characters. I wanted to change that. I wanted to give the lgbt community novels with serious, positive, admirable, gay characters, and have them win what they desired in the end. Thus, my audience was the gay community, readers like myself who wanted more positive role models from gay literature.

In analyzing my current feelings on the subject, I’ve come to see that a subtle shift has taken place within my attitude of writing. I still write my novels with serious, positive, admirable, gay characters, and I usually have them win what they desire, or at least what’s best for them, in the end. But I’ve come to understand more clearly who my audience is. I don’t write for straight women, and I no longer write specifically for the lgbt community. What I’ve come to realize is that I now write for myself. My audience is me.

That may sound overly self-centered and selfish, but I like to think it has more to do about maturing as a writer. By writing for myself, I think I set a much higher standard. If the work pleases me, then I hope others will find enjoyment in my stories as well. For me, this attitude insures that my writing stays true for me, for my benchmark of what an Alan Chin story should be, rather than adding more graphic sex or changing the ending to appeal to more readers.

For me, writing was never about making money or selling heaps of books (although I wouldn’t complain if that were the case.) It is all about telling unforgettable stories about unforgettable gay characters. A good friend and colleague, Victor Banis, once said of me, Alan doesn’t choose his stories, his stories choose him. I’ve taken that to mean my stories come from deep in my heart, not my head.

I see nothing wrong with giving your reading public what they have come to expect or desire, but I’m beginning to wonder how many authors write for themselves, capture their stories as they see them, rather than pandering to a particular audience for more sales. I also wonder if we, the glbt community, will lose something important to our culture if our writers begin writing with a different audience in mind. Only time will tell.


Erastes said...

I was disappointed that the article stressed ONCE AGAIN "look at these wimmins writing this stuff LOL" when we were told it wasn't going to be angled in that way. Sigh. Plus once again they got their facts wrong and represented myself and Alex as being straight--myself MARRIED and staright for gawd's sake.

However--I would say that the minute you start "aiming " your fiction as anyone, you are on a slippery slope which isnt a good path. You should always, always write for yourself; if someone else likes your writing--which you know they do--then thats a bonus.

I watched a programme last year about Mills & Boon and they were very clear. They said they can always tell when they get a manuscript that is cynically written in a way that the author thinks fits in with the M&B/HQN "market" and they rarely accept anything like that.

Gay men are picking up gay romance books with increasing regularity--they will probably never be the largest of the demographic, simply because there are more straight women in the world than there are gay men--but the majority of the emails I get thanking me for my books are from gay men.

don't change a freckle of what you are doing, Alan. The moment you change, and try and anticipate what people WANT, or try to write to please other people, you'll end up pleasing less people, and one of them will probably be you.

just my two cents.

AlanChinWriter said...

Thanks for great information and support, Erastes.

I think you are spot on when you say the minute you start writing to please a particular audience, the writing suffers and less people will enjoy it. Althought from what I've seen, so many writers do just that. It took me years to realize I write for me, and I beleive I became a better writer for realizing it.

I can see that in your stories as well, if nothing other than the confidence your stories project.

Thanks again.