For many writers, maybe even most, finding a readership is crucial. They write to entertain, which they cannot do without readers. Or they write to communicate, which they also cannot do without readers. Or they write to sell so they can continue to write, and for that, they need not only readers but customers — readers who are willing to buy books.
The lucky writers are those who write the books they love and the books they love just happen to be the books readers want to read and buy. The rest of us have a conundrum to deal with — do we write the books we need to write, regardless of what readers want, or do we try to write the books we think readers will read?
In discussion after discussion, writers put forth the idea that to get readers, one must write what readers want. And perhaps that is the smart and lucrative way to write, but it’s not the only way. Besides, if I look at the situation from my point of view as a reader, it seems a cheat. I want a story filtered through the writer’s life/voice, not something the author thinks I would like.
In my case, I have no choice — I can only write the stories that speak to me. Even if I wanted to write solely in the hopes of getting a large readership, I’m not sure I could do it. Readers can tell when they are being pandered to, though there are exceptions to this, most notably a couple of now very wealthy men who write romances for women. For some reason, most women don’t feel the manipulation of those books and so fall in love with the stories, while others, perhaps less interested in the romance genre, hate the feeling of someone trying to tug on their emotions by writing books they think women would like. To a certain extent, all books are manipulation — authors write in such a way to elicit emotional reactions from readers — but sometimes, like with these men, the tugs are quite apparent.
Writers who also read the genre they love know the nuances of the genre (assuming, for example, there are nuances in category romance) and so can more easily write to their readers tastes. But what if you can’t write genre fiction (or, more probably, can’t force yourself to write it)? You end up writing for yourself.
There might not be money to be made by writing for oneself, but there are other advantages. For one thing, you can make your writing as intelligent as you wish without having to worry about losing your audience. For another, there will always be one person who loves your work — you. And there is a third reason, perhaps the most important: We are so much more than we know, and writing is a way of communicating not just with readers, but with the unknown us. If we just write what we know we know, we are the poorer for it. And maybe, just maybe, by writing the book only we can write, we will end up writing something spectacular.