Will Readers Like Your Work? (Answer: Who The Hell Knows?)

It took ten years for me to set my current work in progress to writing. Back in college I wrote the initial chapters for it, wasn’t feeling it, and filed it away.

Over the years I wrote short stories, my first book, and over a hundred and fifty blog posts. All the while the idea for this story was knocking around in my head. Every so often while out on a run or sitting on the meditation cushion, I’d tinker around with the idea, set it aside, and come back and tinker with it some more.

I had an idea of what I wanted it to be, but the idea wasn’t fully formed. It was like the plum pudding model of the atom before the discovery of the atomic nucleus. In this theory electrons were thought to kind of float around a positively charged center without anything concrete holding it together. My ideas for the story oozed around without anything holding them together.

And then one day, I discovered this story’s nucleus, a character who brought it all together. Within days, the idea became clearer than it had ever been. It has since evolved, and every day I’m closer to making it what it needs to be.

On my online writing community group, I see a question pop up every so often, a community member asking others to vet a story idea. The writer offers a summary of an idea they have and whether it’s something that readers will be interested in.

The question, “Will readers like this?” is irrelevant. Sometimes readers like stories across different genres. Sometimes they need a different story even if they don’t know what that looks like yet. Sometimes they need a story they haven’t be told as much as they need the story they’ve read a hundred times already.

The answer every single time is unequivocally, “Who the hell knows, so why don’t you try to find out?”

First of all, let’s just get this out of the way. When I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference in 2016, publishing experts said that they had no idea why audiences responded to certain narratives, and they couldn’t predict what trends were coming down the road.

Secondly, it’s so subjective. The books that I want to throw across the room are the most popular of our time, so what the hell do I know?

So you don’t know how people are going to respond to it. Will that stop you from writing it?

Writing a book is a daunting journey, one that will try to break you with every step. You have to make a ton of sacrifices and give so much of yourself to get the thing done. If even you doubt the idea, if even you – it’s creator – doesn’t believe in the work, then you’re not going to make it.

Instead, replace it with another question: Do you really want to write this story? Is your heart in it? Is it a puddle of electrons without their center, or have you found your nucleus?

The story should be eating at you. It should be clamoring to get out. Your problem shouldn’t be whether people will like it but whether you get it on paper before it starts to gnaw at your bones.

I don’t know what will happen, whether this story will mean anything to anybody. And the truth is that none of us knows what will happen when it comes to our work. But I do know that I believe in the story. I know it needed a decade to evolve, and I know that it’s ready to be brought to life.

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Photo from Unsplash by Joel Filipe

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