Thursday, March 25, 2010

Knowing the audience

Two days before the New Year, we had a "End of the Year" party in office. Everyone had to bring a single present, which would be gifted to a person chosen at random. The price range had been specified, but we were told we could pick up something more expensive if we wanted to.

I normally take my time over buying presents, so never deluded myself into believing it would be easy. But I don't think I ever realised just how hard it could be to buy something for a person you know nothing about.

Most of the girls in office like the accessories I wear. If I knew for sure that the recipient would be a female, I could have bought something that most people would have liked. But what if the name I drew out happened to be male?

I could have bought a funky cap but what if the message just didn't gell with the recipient? In my social circle, curios are always a safe bet, but they just will not work as gifts inan organisation where many of the programme staff live in slum communities where seven members of a family squeeze into an area less than that of my bedroom.

Books are always safe gifts, but how can you buy a book for a person you know nothing about- English or Hindi, funny or realistic, fiction or non-fiction, spiritual or irreverent - no, books were out. What then?

I finally settled on a coffee mug. A chunky thing, with a picture of a koala bear. It was a gift that said nothing, meant nothing, but which would work for practically every recipient. When I knew who was getting the gift, I was glad I did not choose any of the other half a dozen things I thought of, but equally, I was sad that the gift would not be as perfect as the other gifts I could have given the same person.

Isn't it the same with almost everything else? When you know who your reader is, isn't it easier to write for him/ her?

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Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Such an important point--we've got to know whom we're writing for. When we do, we can target our plot to them so much easier (and sell the thing, too!)

Love your new headshot!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Debra She Who Seeks said...

LOL! We now have a "no mugs" rule for our office party because one year virtually everyone brought a gift mug for the exchange! You're right -- it is the perfect "one size fits all" gift. But how many mugs can a person really use?

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Elizabeth - thanks, Elizabeth. It's cropped for a larger picture, but at least I know that it is possible for me to look halfway decent :-)

@ Debra - I, for one, can never have enough. Both my hubby and I are addicted to tea (4 cups a day on an average), and I am really lazy about washing up, so a dozen mugs will be more than welcome.

Ann Elle Altman said...

It's very important. I'm fortunate that my genre readership is small and specific. They are looking for certain thing, I know because I read it too, and I try to give it to them.

Great post.

Helen Ginger said...

You made your point well! (And I wasn't even expecting it to relate to writing.)

There just aren't many things that could be used (and welcomed) by anyone.

Straight From Hel

dipali said...

What you say is so true! I hate having to buy gifts for people whom I don't know. I also hate most of the stuff that people who don't know me well insist on giving us:(
It is probably easier to assess the probable characteristics of your target readership!

Watery Tart said...

It's SO TRUE! If it needs to be acceptible to everyone, it is hardly EVER PERFECT for anyone... best to just accept we are going to offend a few and get on with the brilliance, eh? teehee

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Gift cards! I am big on gift cards. Food is always good, too - a basket of different goodies, so in case the person doesn't eat peanuts or chocolate, there's other things they can eat.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Ug - office parties with the gifts for the anonymous someone. I'm sure I would have bought a mug too.

I'm following a great writer's advice which was "I write what I think I would like and my friends would like and hopefully others join in the party."

I'm trying.

Michele Emrath said...

Know your audience. I don't know if there is a more important fact in writing. This is a great metaphor, but also a bit sad! To think you put so much thought into it, and then settled on such a mundane gift--and that was the successful one!


Linda said...

Great post and I love coffee mugs too--I use some of my favorites as pen holders (all over my house). I drink out of the mundane ones LOL.

Thanks for the comments about characters on my blog; this post touches a bit on making the character fit the reader like I will do for my friend...and as for your character, she discovers the secret life brought about in her personality with every different wig she wears????

Jan Morrison said...

Great post! In my playwriting life I would argue with my writing partner about how important it was not to write down to the audience. Not to think that they won't get all the allusions or pick up on the witticisms. When I have people over for dinner I will ask if they have any food restrictions AND then within those boundaries I cook what I like to eat. We have to know our audience and we have to be as authentic as anything with our own passion. Last night, at a writer's group that I facilitated, one of the writers said she'd just read a historical fiction that disappointed because she was sure that the author didn't believe their own premise. How sad is that?

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Ann - isn't it great that you are a part of your own audience?

@ Helen - thank you. It is so hard to think in a vaccume, isn't it?

@ dipali - I love buying gifts, but only for people I know. And I love receiving gifts from people who have made an effort.
and much easier to assess your readership, specially if you are a part of it yourself.

@ Tami - I wish I had thought of that when shopping for the gift. But, the person who eventually got the gift would not have liked any of the things I thought of. But if I had known it was going to go to him, I would have known just what to buy.

@ Diane - I must remember that for next time. Food would have been safe, wouldn't it?

@ Elspeth - :-) not too many options, unfortunately. And your advice makes sense.

@ Michele - the perfect mix, I guess, would be if you give your audience what they want, and also something which you know they should have, so they are stretched, while still happy.

@ Linda - I use coffee mugs as pen holders too. And spoon holders, and plant holders, and assorted holders. But then, I am that person who for a long time used to pick up a mug from every city she visited.
And why did I never think of wigs?

@ Jan - That's a really important point - I hate to be spoken down to, and would hate to do that to my reader. Personally, I like being stretched within my limits, and that is what I would like to give my reader - a lot of what they like, but a little something that makes them think.
And it is so sad about the historical fiction - why did the author even bother to write the book if she didn't believe it? Seems like such a waste of effort.


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