Are you planning on writing your memoir, hiding it in a locked drawer, and then burning it on your deathbed? In that case, your memoir is definitely between you and you, and there’s no reason for you to read this article.
However, if you plan on letting anyone else read your finished memoir – whether it’s family members, or any stranger who happens to buy a copy – then this article is for you.
When you write a memoir (or anything else, for that matter), you’re writing to someone. No, not in quite the same way you’d write a letter or an e-mail. But there’s going to be someone on the other end of your message: your reader.
If you’re hoping to make a huge splash with your memoir, then you’ll obviously want your memoir to have many readers. Those readers, collectively, are your audience.
Regardless of what you’re writing – whether it’s a magazine article, an academic essay, or a memoir — it’s important to keep your readers in mind.
There’s a good chance you’ve written for a specific audience before but didn’t realize it.
Here’s an example. Say you’re on vacation in Mexico. You promised postcards to everyone you know. One day you’re reclining on a cushioned lounge beneath a grass umbrella, just ten feet from a gentle lick of turquoise surf. You’re leaning your forearms on a book in your lap and shuffling a stack of glossy postcards. You take the pen out from behind your ear and begin to write:
The resort is beautiful. You’d love the lunch buffet. It reminds me of the spread on your 60th birthday cruise. Weather has been perfect. Miss you and can’t wait to see you. I have a pretty souvenir for you!
Next, you choose a fresh card and begin scribbling a note to your best friend and former college roommate:
Too bad you’re missing this orgy of loose women and free-flowing booze, you loser. Haven’t been sober since I landed! See ya for Joe’s Superbowl party on the 12th.
And finally, you write that obligatory postcard to the office, which will inevitably be posted on the break room refrigerator for your boss and all to see:
Enjoying a break in sunny Mexico. Thanks to everyone who worked so hard on the Davis deal last month. Hope you’re all enjoying those normal hours again! Looking forward to sharing a box of spicy Mexican chocolate when I return.
You wouldn’t write the same way – or mention all the same things – to everyone you wrote to.
The tone you use in writing to your mother (affectionate, thoughtful) will be vastly different from the tone you use with your college buddy (informal, sarcastic). That tone will change slightly again when you address your boss and co-workers (friendly, polite).
Likewise, you’ll choose different words to address different people. For mom: “beautiful”, “perfect”, “pretty”. For the best friend: “barfbag”, “orgy”, “loser”. And finally, for the workplace: “enjoying”, “thanks”, “sharing”.
Additionally, the content of your story will change to suit the reader. Regardless of whom you speak to, you’re talking about the same trip to Mexico. However, you’ll be selective about what you share about that experience, depending on whom you’re addressing. You told your mom about things that would be important to her: “The resort is beautiful.” “You’d love the lunch buffet.” “I miss you and can’t wait to see you.” You leave out the part about the women and drinking.
But when it’s time to address your buddy, you don’t bother mentioning the weather or the lunch buffet – he wouldn’t care about that. Instead, you mention “loose women” and “free-flowing booze,” plus the upcoming “Superbowl party on the 12th.”
Your co-workers hear about “sunny Mexico,” and you promise to bring them some “spicy Mexican chocolate”. You’re courteous and keep things professional.
That’s how you gear your writing toward a specific audience.
Now, if I ask you whom you want the audience for your memoir to be, you might say, “Everybody! I want everyone in the world to buy my memoir.” But that’s not going to happen. You might sell your memoir to a lot of people – but who are they? Or maybe more importantly, who do you want them to be?
When you write for an audience of “everyone”, you risk writing something dull, watered-down and uninteresting. Your writing will be more engaging if you write to a specific group of people. Knowing your audience has two big benefits.
First, it helps you write better. Instead of writing a bland manuscript for “everyone,” you’ll feel freer to write in specifics. Second, having a clear picture of your audience helps you develop a sales and marketing strategy.
Let me also make it clear that even if you have a specific audience in mind, that doesn’t mean someone outside of that audience won’t read and enjoy your book, but having a narrow focus in mind when you’re writing is crucial.
Decide ahead of time exactly to whom you’re writing. You’ll write a better book.
Kim Brittingham is the author of Read My Hips: How I Learned to Ditch Dieting, Love My Body and Live Large, and Write That Memoir Right Now.