Sunday, July 28, 2013

Who Do You Picture Reading What You Write?

Embedded in all the news this month about JK Rowling’s secret identity as a crime writer is the story of her previous submission rounds—with book one of Harry Potter’s saga.  Most of the articles make passing mention of the fact that, in 1996, the lightening bolt scarred protagonist failed to excite between six and twelve publishers (reports vary) before the book was purchased by Bloomsbury with an advance of £2,500.   

What the stories haven’t mention is the very best part of the Bloomsbury acquisition process. Rowling’s agent (who only signed her because his assistant liked Rowling’s illustrations and pulled her manuscript out of the trash) sent the partial ms to the chairman of Bloomsbury, trading on a personal favor.

Did he read it? Nope. But he did bring it home, where his eight year-old daughter slipped it off his desk, devoured it in one night and begged (BEGGED!) her dad to publish it so she could read more.

I would like to hug that little girl Alice (I have a feeling her dad since has. I hope he bought her a pony too.) For me, this story is a powerful reminder of who kidlit is for, first and foremost.  

It’s for kids.

Simple, right? Except it’s not so simple. Publisher’s Weekly published a study last September that claimed 55% of YA books were purchased and read by adults, with the largest segment aged 30-44 (a demographic I also fit within).

I write MG and I’m fairly clear on my target audience of tween girls. When I write, I imagine my reader as the amazingly self-confident, lanky, eleven-year-old girl who arrives at my kids’ bus stop every morning with her face in a book. Last year she worked her way through Meg Cabot’s entire catalog and I knew we were soul sisters (not surprisingly, she considers me “crazy bus stop mom who won’t stop squee-ing about book boyfriends”).  Aside from her, on occasion I’ll write a line or add a reference that I just know one of my CP’s will adore and I’ll imagine them reading and commenting (I have one who highlights favorite funny lines with a green highlighter and I admit the quest for more green highlights has upped my game big time.) But most of the time it’s Bus Stop Girl.

Now that I’m venturing into YA territory, I’m having a harder time picturing my intended reader. Is it my teenaged babysitter or is it my best friend? (Seriously, people, this is not the same person, especially since my babysitter really doesn’t get my obsession with ABC Family. Besides, my best friend is the girl at the bus stop. She just doesn’t know it yet.)

I’m curious: Do you picture your ultimate reader as you write?  If so, is it a kid? A Twitter friend? A CP? An editor? And how does that imaginary reader influence the words you write?


  1. I write MG and I just picture kids along the lines of my late elementary school self~ kids who still like to climb trees and read books high up in the branches, but who are also awakening to questions and the social changes that come with growing up. As for YA, it's a little funny to think that over half of YA books are read by adults, but I'm one of that 55% :) I think we're all a little nostalgic for certain times in our lives.

  2. Okay, okay, you caught me. I secretly picture my son's future high school girlfriends.


  3. I just finished writing and illustrating a beginning reader, but I picture moms and schoolteachers reading it, which is good because beginning readers don't always have a lot of money :-) Great post, I hadn't thought about this before.

  4. This is so interesting to see. Aimee- I love picturing your son's future girlfriends:)

  5. I have to confess that I have two people I picture. One is the 15 year old girl who stayed at the resort where I work, who spent the whole holiday lying on a sunbed reading, and spent an entire night when I was working telling me about the amazing book she'd just finished (I think it was Hunger Games)in great and enthusiastic detail. And then I picture my best friend, who reads exactly the same kinds of books as me, and is always quick to decide which character is her 'book boyfriend' for that series. It works for me because then I have an idea of the YA audience reading it, but also I know what little jokes or slightly more adult comments/lines my friend will laugh at.

    1. I love the idea of picturing both and putting some adult humor/references in too- kind of like Pixar movies. I have to admit I do the same! Thanks for the comment...