What you want vs. what readers want

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space battle

If this is what audiences want… why not give it to ’em?

In my present attempt to find any promotional opportunities I’ve yet to pursue, one of the things I find myself returning to often is whether my initial failure was in writing books based on the science fiction I loved and wanted to read, as opposed to writing the sci-fi my potential audience wants to read.

“Give ’em what they want” is a regular mantra in entertainment, and most of the best entertainers seem to be great at giving the audience what they demand.  Certainly movie blockbusters are based on this simple formula: If audiences want fast cars, sexy bodies, big explosions, loud rock music and incredibly simple plots, let’s stuff those things into a 2-hour movie and watch the greenbacks roll in.  So far (though this movie season has demonstrated that even this formula may be running thin), the method has been successful for them.  Other media have proven similarly successful at the formula, for instance, books based on familiar characters like Harry Potter, Jack Ryan, Bella Swan or Lisbeth Salander.

Many aspiring and independent writers have caught on to the formula, and have written series featuring recurring characters, because their readers want more stories with those characters.  I’ve done it myself with the Kestral series, and it has been one of my most successful sets of books.  But by the time I wrote the third book, and contemplated a fourth, I’d had to ask myself: Am I writing these stories because I want to… or because readers want me to?  And why is that difference significant? Continue reading