Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Research Your Readers

Research is a vital part of the writing process.  Few writers have ever swung any battle axes in the middle of medieval melees, and even fewer have stowed away on an alien cruise ship.  Far fetched and silly examples aside, every writer has to do their research at some point during the writing process.  I've run countless hours of research over things like the design considerations for building a castle, to theoretical propulsion drives for space travel, to pondering why a sniper might favor a Dragunov SVD over a Barret XM500.  What some writers may overlook during the course of the creative aspect of their research is the need to delve into an even more critical and very practical topic: the reader.  

While some of the best writing may very well come from writing for its own sake, the chances for writer-reader disconnect abound if there's no understanding about the people who are most likely to read your book.  The key thing here is determining just who is most likely to read your book.  There's been some interesting research released from the Pew Research Center back in April 2012, as well as earlier this year.  When viewed in concert with each other, the data supports what we all already know: that e-readership is on the rise.  With that in mind, the 2012 report (a four part series) yields a lot of useful data that provides some very valuable insight on who is more likely to engage in e-reading (whether via e-reader, tablet, cell phone or computers).  Certainly, if e-reading is still going up in 2014, than there's a good chance that the other figures from Pew's study are on a similar upward trend.  This is vital information to an author when trying to determine the audience for their work.  

Another reason why it's worth researching who's reading what is to avoid stereotyping your audience.  For example, some outside of the video gaming world might not be aware nearly half of all gamers are female, based on a 2014 study by the Entertainment Software Association.  If the power houses behind the video game industry don't want to risk offending its half of it's consumer base, neither do you.  Besides, you might even be surprised at what you find the deeper you delve.  A 2013 report from Pew also sheds light on reader demographics by gender/age/race/education/income and provides figures for print, e-book and audio book reading habits.  Further internet research can even provide useful information on readers by genre.  While I'm not a romance writer, it's still useful for authors like myself to know that men make up a little less than twenty percent of the market for romance novels.  

The point is that the information is out there and it's worth reading to get a better sense of who may be interested in your work.  Having an understanding of this, and thereby a better understanding of your audience, may help forge better connections between you and your readers.   

Sunday, September 14, 2014

When Walking Away Is Good For You And Good For Your Book

It's been a while since my last post.  In that time, a lot has happened that's taken me away from my work on the next two books.  As the firm and its clients have been happy with my work, my level of responsibility has increased and to the point where I'm now training other attorneys.  On the homefront, I've got a tweenager turning into a teenager with all of the usual accompanying hormone fed angst that's juxtaposed next to a two year old who is eerily independent.  Back to school has been get the idea.  Fortunately, I'm not in this alone.  My wife has been an absolute rockstar on too many things to list here.  And besides, this is supposed to be a writing blog, right?  I figure that, by now, you're wondering where this is all going.  Fair enough.

The past thirty day break from writing has been agonizing and rewarding at the same time.  The agony part is obvious: I've been incredibly anxious, feeling as though my writing dreams/goals were falling by the wayside; there's been an emptiness like I had lost a piece of my soul; and there are moments where I was afraid that I was going to lose every single reader or fan forever.  Any one of these would be terrrible nightmares for a writer to endure.  I was constantly worried about all three.

Yet over the course of those same thirty days, some really great things have occurred.  I've gotten to experience the joys and frustrations of potty training a toddler.  It's a uniquely parental experience to feel pride over your child's first time being able to do something that we take for granted every day. Not to mention the fact that you save ridiculous amounts of money by not buying diapers.  I also got a raise.  I didn't even have to bring up the subject, let along negotiate the amount.  I got to watch my oldest try to surf and do reasonably well for her first time out.  I would have missed out on all of these things had I shut myself in the office, banging away on the keyboard and to the exclusion of everything else going on in my life.  

To be sure, the past thirty days weren't all rosy.  Some are a bit too personal to share here, others just can't be mentioned due to attorney-client.  Regardless, the good and bad end up becoming valuable lessons and experiences that continue to help shape me as a writer.  Being able to recall what it felt like to watch either of my girls accomplish something new/difficult for the first time is invaluable to my writing and the stories that I'm crafting.  Likewise, working hard and being rewarded helps to reinforce my beliefs that hard work does pay off, if you're patient.  My point is that all of these events, good and bad, have added something to my life that is important to all writers: experience. 

When we're telling a story, we are writing about the lives of other people.  We are sharing with the reader the emotional highs and lows of our characters.  Most of us will never live the kind of lives of our characters, yet that doesn't mean that we can't pull from our own experiences to describe what our heroes and villains are feeling.  

Additionally, the time away from Savannah Keller and Sean Valdes has given me the opportunity to take a more objective look at the story.  Like any writing project, sometimes you have to walk away and come back and look at it with fresh eyes.  Now it's time for me to get back to work on my current projects and put the lessons from the past thirty days to good use. 

How do your life experiences shape your stories and characters?