Find your audience by being a lighthouse…

By January 4, 2016


Lighthouse Laurence Simon

Photo credit: Laurence Simon. Used under the following licence

I have always been fascinated by the sea. I can’t really explain why. It’s been often suggested that the British have a natural affinity to the water, being an island nation. That hypothesis falls away when I consider that as far as I know, none of my equally-British friends share my marine enthusiasm. Anyway, I hate swimming. It’s not water per se that holds my interest but specifically the ocean. There is just something about the coast, the combination of sights, the sound of gulls and crashing waves, the smell of seaweed and salt that stirs something deep within.

Whilst on holiday on the coast last year, in a small independent book shop, a particular cover caught my eye. It depicted an ocean in rich blue tugging at yellow sand. I picked it up. It was The Wave Watcher’s Companion by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. Until that point I had confined my love of the maritime to walking along the beach on holiday and putting the odd model ship on my study shelf. It never occurred to me that there were other people who shared this relatively obscure minority interest.

After reading Wave Watcher’s, an internet search led me to other watery tomes including Down To The Sea In Ships by Horatio Clare and my personal favourite, Rose George’s excellent book, Deep Sea And Foreign Going. Why am I telling you this? To make the point that whatever you are interested in, whatever fires your passion, you are not alone and there will be others out there who have written about it or need it to be written about.

At a writing talk recently a fellow writer asked the panel what they thought the coming trends would be for the new year so he could write something in line with them. The immediate reaction was that this was totally the wrong way to go about writing. If you are able to see a trend and write something excellent to fit into it, that is a very rare talent and you will do very well. However, most writers, in my experience, write best when they care about the subject. The only way to make your writing its best is to write what you want and trust that the the people who need to read it will find it.

Consider the alternative. You deduce that, say, teen fantasy is going to be ‘big’ in the coming months. You don’t read teen fantasy and aren’t interested but you knock up a quick novella and send it in. How good do you think that work will be? More importantly, how much joy will the writing process bring you? The same applies to the numerous writing competitions each year. It is far better to be selective and enter only the ones which chime with your passion and your very best work than to blanket attack them all with mediocrity.

The authors cited above must surely have known that their books about the ocean were not mass market fodder. Yet they wrote them anyway and their work found me and others like me. It is not your job, as a writer, to please everyone or make everyone love you. It’s certainly not your job to scrabble around trying to predict what the next trend will be. It is your job to say what you need to say to the people who need to hear it said. Put out your best, most passionate work, and it will be a beacon to your natural audience.

To use a sea-based quote from the author Anne Lamott – “Lighthouses don’t go running all over the island looking for boats to save. They just stand there, shining”.

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