Over the weekend I read a book by another Christian dystopian author named Angela R.Watts. The book is called The Divided Nation and is the first of a series called The Infidel Books. I’d been watching this book for a while as it made its way around Goodreads, reading review, visiting the author’s blog and website and learning about her mission. All authors should have a mission. There needs to be something bigger under the stories you tell that you want to reach the world with. Watts has a well-defined mission, and that’s what attracted me to her book.
Having a mission can help you overcome what might be the biggest hurdle of being a writer. That’s the question of who you’re speaking to—The Great Audience Question.
A lot of times, authors go in thinking finding an audience is simple. I did this, for sure. There’s a market for dystopia, right? Christian dystopia is a growing thing, isn’t it? What young Christian reader isn’t tired of the same-old same-old in Christian fiction. People will flock to my work.
Yeah. No. Finding your audience is complicated, and it’s complicated for everyone. There are way too many kinds of people in the world who are interested in way too many kinds of books for way too many different reasons. I discovered, pretty quickly that—though Christian dystopia is a growing thing, it’s still pretty fringe among readers. You get out on the street and start talking to Christian readers, and half of them (mostly the older half) don’t even know what dystopia is.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been standing in a Church lobby with a table of books and the conversation goes: “So, you write science-fiction, huh?”
*chuckles, walks away*
Then there’s the younger set. Dystopia is kind of a YA genre anyway. But is Dronefall really YA? Guys, I actually still don’t know for certain. In a lot of ways, it breaks too many norms. It certainly doesn’t involve much in the way of coming-of-age, romance, or any of the more recognizable “teen issues” most YA is expected to include. How off the beaten track is too far?
I started this post out by mentioning Angela R. Watts’ Divided Nation on purpose, because I believe it is another case of a slight conflict between what audiences might expect and what they get. If you’ve heard anything about The Infidel Books, you probably know the series is described as “gritty.” It includes some mild swearing and a lot of content a good percentage of the Christian readership prefers not to deal with in fiction. Because of this, the author seems to be trying to market the books as secular fiction, not intended for a Christian audience.
There’s a problem with this, though. Divided Nation is definitely Christian. I can’t imagine a non-Christian reading through it comfortably. So, we have another case where a book seems to be sitting in an uncomfortable place between potential audiences. So, who is the book for?
This will likely be a problem for any artist who steps outside of what’s expected and does something unique. The moment you step outside of expectations, you take a risk. You have to ask yourself “is this risk really worth taking? Do I really love this elements enough to possibly throw my readers for a loop by including them?” For me, the answer is yes. I love my genre and the way I’ve decided to subvert expectations with my plot and characters. I think, if people will give my work a chance, they might find they enjoy it too.
I think that’s how you have to approach audience expectations. Figure out what they are. Evaluate them. Decide what you can get away with and then go forward in faith. In the end, if you have a mission, it’s your call to follow it. Even if no one comes with you.