This is, for me, an important piece of ICL (Internet Content Lore) that needs to be discussed a bit. I’ll break it into two parts: “Know they audience” and “Develop thy audience”.
“Know thy audience”
In certain types of content, it will be necessary to know who will most probably be reading your material. Examples of types that come to mind include:
- Sales copy
- Testimonial copy
- Health / lifestyle copy
- How to copy
In these, and other similar types of writing, having a clear idea of the potential user can help a writer in choosing vocabulary, language, style and even formatting to use.
- Sales copy is meant to get a particular person interested in purchasing the product or service. If you’re selling multicolored running shoes, you can pretty well guess that you won’t be writing to octogenarians in wheelchairs.
- Testimonials will also be directed at a particular audience: business management software testimonials won’t be directed to adolescent gamers.
- Writing about losing weight won’t be of particular interest to skinny people and traveling to Afghanistan might not appeal to red-blooded Americans.
- How to build a bird house will probably attract those people who like instructions and working with their hands over reading about the philosophical aspects of housing birds in the cooler months.
In these so-called niches, the writer will probably have to bend to unwritten mores and expectations, especially if he / she is writing for pennies. Key words will trump creative language. Dr Seuss will trump complex sentence construction. If these are where you are currently writing, then you would do best to profile your potential readers and keep that profile on your desk to refer to when writing.
“Develop thy audience”
Charles Dickens wrote a lot of his longer works in serial fashion. He probably knew that those following his stories were those who could afford to purchase the weekly installments. He probably also knew that a lot of people would not have access to his stories, either because of economics or illiteracy. In either case, Dickens wrote being both true to his potential audience and to his own particular style of story telling.
Today, probably thousands of people still read Dickens. Many of these modern audience members probably did not fall into Dickens’ concept of potential audience. They would include:
- Me (Dickens is the reason I began writing)
- High school English class students (assigned to read “Tale of Two Cities” or “Great Expectations”)
- College English Literature students (because they like to read this stuff)
- Any good writer (because there is so much to be learned from Dickens!)
There will be a type of writing for Internet that is not aimed at a particular audience, but will rather accumulate audience, or develop an audience. In this type of writing, you, the writer, will have worked hard on developing a style without worrying particularly if anyone will catch on. When people do begin catching on, you may begin to see who that audience is, mainly because you were the first member of that audience.
I am not saying that you should simply write what you want and ignore those who consume your work. If you are the only one reading it, that’s not getting you far. On the other hand, if you have consciously worked upon a style that suits your message and you make an effort to slowly accumulate readers, you’ll find that no amount of anticipating those readers would have made your style any different.
Take the prolific Steven King. He might have gotten “lucky” with his first published novel, which certainly appealed to a specific audience, both because of the story, and the story telling. His second novel, though, was the first of those big, thick, complex stories that he has written several of. Perhaps the same audience, but I believe that “’Salem’s Lot” was King writing for himself and counting on the audience liking it. With “The Shining” he outdid himself. The rest is literary history.
There is such variety both in King’s writing and the potential audience, that I personally doubt that he worries too much about who is going to read his material. He has earned the right to write whatever he wants, both because of, and despite an assumed audience. I think he left the work of audience itself to his publishers.
So, there is the opportunity available to some of us as content creators to simply be true to ourselves. We might not be able to monetize our writing as successfully as others. Our audience might be limited to friends and family and half-a-dozen Internet users who happened upon us. On the other hand, though, we will be true to our own standards and be constantly challenging ourselves to build upon those standards, again because of and despite an assumed audience.