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"Never give them a passing thought," …

This week, a Facebook friend (a designation with which I intend no derision) asked me who I wrote for, by which I interpreted him to mean, who do I imagine reading my stuff. His question sparked quite a bit of old tinder because I never could find an answer to that seemingly perfectly uncontroversial question. I once again encountered what I consider for me to be a fundamentally unanswerable question, though it gets down on one knee and seemingly begs for a response, and a straightforward one at that. Certainly, if I write, an object of my efforts must be present, if only in my mind. There isn't and I don't.

I realize that by admitting this omission, I might be violating a first principle of marketing: Thou Shalt Have A Target Market, except I'm not marketing, but writing.
Whose expectations do I try to satisfy besides mine? Well, perhaps The Muse's, but I sometimes miss that mark, too. I admit that I'm lousy at predicting anyone's reaction to anything I write. I might have been born without that extra sense that would enable me to read anonymous future readers' minds to derive their expectations and also the perhaps learned ability to write in ways that should satisfy those expectations. I recognize these as severe personal shortcomings, but here I am. When I took my degree in marketing (yes, I have a degree in marketing), nobody really explained how it was that anyone determined in advance what anyone else might want. I figured everyone engaged in some unseeable form of wishful thinking or performed tautological surveying to derive their elusive target. Mostly, it seemed that companies just sort of backed into some market space and declared it theirs.

I have never successfully completed a book proposal, primarily because even publishers, who really should know better, ask this same question. Excuse me for not thinking about who might read my stuff while writing it. I once saw an interview with a senior designer working for the high end audio manufacturer Bang and Olufsen. He insisted that the customer never, ever knows what they want and that asking them what they want and designing to that expectation was a guaranteed recipe for mediocrity. Better, he proposed, to blow their minds with products they'd never imagined they might want.

Fortunately, I lack the means to poll my prospective future readers, let alone identify them. Even if I could, I imagine my perfect reader to be, like me, the sort of person that misrepresents their preferences on all surveys as a matter of ethical imperative. I believe that there are some who possess the ability to intuitively anticipate which configurations of words might satisfy some demographic, whether Young Adult or whatever. These writings seem formulaic because they are. I even find some of them quite readable.

Truth told, I hardly consider myself to be a writer. Not because I don't write, but because of all the ancillary components I can't seem to understand how to learn how to do. I admit to being my own worst editor, but since I'm the only editor I have, I am also my own best editor. Partly because I can't answer the Whom? question, I don't really ever expect to have another book published. I do have what my dear friend Franklin Taggert calls 'an Audience.' An audience differs from my target market because it only includes those who have previously stumbled upon my writing and left some trace of appreciation behind. I might not have ever understood how to pre-identify these people, but it don't take many smarts to figure out how to notice when I'm noticed. Of course this Audience represents only a portion of those who read and perhaps appreciated my writing, but so it seems to go. Even once I identify who's been following my writings, I still can't figure out what they expect of me or how I might go about crafting anything to meet those expectations. That's not how these relationships work.

I am my own first audience. The Muse stands in as representative of my broader audience, though she's hardly impassive, which is a very good, perhaps essential thing. She can be scathing but also loving. This past week, a relative got hacked. The hack produced a fake YouTube video entitled "F^@k You, David Schmaltz", which claimed to be viewed over fifteen hundred times. I received a message from him with the fake video link attached. He sent an apology an hour later, but for that hour, I thought myself finally inhabiting notoriety, albeit the notorious kind. I swelled up a little inside thinking I must be doing something right if I have my very own hate group out there, but it was for naught.

Dear Reader: I do not know who you are. I cannot read your mind. I don't really care what you want me to write or expect me to write because I can't know either of those aspirations. It's fine with me if you've just stumbled into my writing. I hope you'll enjoy it. If not, I apologize (sort of). I figure it's nobody's fault if somebody doesn't like something. People like what they like. I read an utterly banal novel last week. I could not put down the damned thing. Written by a multiple title NYTimes Best Selling Author, the story was absurd, the characters absolutely unbelievable, even the continuity hopped all over the place through vague reference way forward and way back and sometimes nowhere in between. The author was a retired advertising executive who seemed to have mastered the questionable art of writing just this kind of book, this latest one probably headed toward the Best Seller lists, too. I'm not that kind of writer and don't aspire to become one.

I'm pretty convinced that I'm not writing for money. I used to write for money, but even then, I wrote what I wrote without ever once successfully envisioning what any reader might expect of me. I once asked Phillip Kerr, author of the famed Berlin Noir series, how he envisioned what his readers expected of him. He looked at me dumbly as if I'd asked after how many angels dance on the head of the typical pin. "Never give them a passing thought," he replied in his clipped Posh accent.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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