DC posted a strange tweet today regarding one of their comics, seeming to double down on the “we’re going to make comics without action that is just signaling identity politics” that’s spreading through the comic industry like cancer. It made me think about writing to your audience, and the trouble the comic industry is having with doing just that, which is causing a good portion of their sales woes. As a lot of people here are interested in writing, I figured it’d be best to break down where your duty to your audience begins if you want to maintain/grow them, rather than turn them away.
For years, it was browbeat into me “strong female lead strong female lead strong female lead” to get published. This is true. If you want a contract with the dwindling number of New York publishers over the last 20 years, you have to do that — but as a male writer, it would be an uphill battle because they also then demand more “authentic” voices as if men can’t write females, even when they demand the females in their content act more like men.
As I was working to try to get published in this regard, I wrote my first three novels with, of course, strong female leads. You probably read them in Star Realms: Rescue Run and For Steam And Country. And you’ll see another in The Stars Entwined. Though, since my first books came out, I gained a substantive audience in the thousands, a large amount of my readers have seen how books in the last 20 years told them, as men, that they are overrepresented and they must read strong female leads! Every book has subsequently become such, saturating the market, and becoming stale to people who read science fiction.
While most of my readers (including my female readers) told me I write strong female leads very well, they let me know that they didn’t feel catered to in the content, and I took that in mind. The extremist identity politics folk love to use the phrase “not all stories have to be for YOU”, in an attempt to browbeat readers into reading something they don’t like or find fun, but I find this phrase is useful in another context, for authors.
I love kick ass chicks. It wasn’t hard for me to write them because that’s always what I wanted to visualize. My favorite DC character is Stephanie Brown — Spoiler, my favorite Marvel was the MC2 Spider-Girl. When I played WoW, I played a blood elf female because I wanted to look at that when I was spending hours a day — and not the backside of some dude. So I was naturally predisposed in my imagination to do similar to my favorites. But my audience demands something different.
In The Stars Entwined I adjusted my original book in edits to boost the resourcefulness of the male lead (there’s 2 leads that co-star) so I could give my audience more of what they wanted. Showing that kind of nod to your audience is a good thing–because it lets them know you care about them, which is the most important part of building a brand. I personally really like having a couple of perspective characters so people can identify a bit better with them for a broader market, so I maintained that in this book without sacrificing what my readers want, and will have similar in the next book I come out with. Since I wrote the next one after I found my audience and I’m aware of them, I made some adjustments to my writing. I made the dude character more of a fighter, and have him be much more predominantly a strong male lead. My audience wants that, I’ll deliver. It’s the sensible thing to do for my business.
And that’s what being a content creator is about. If you want sustained business, you keep your soul certainly, because authenticity is important as well, but push your content so that the readers get what they want. I’ve done similar on my blog — I used to do periodic posts about baseball, my audience didn’t like that, so I stopped doing it. I’m similarly moving comic reviews off this site to Bounding Into Comics because the people who come here often don’t want the comic reviews. It’s sensible business to make sure the content is directed at the people who are supporting me. These stories don’t all have to be for ME…but they do all have to be for YOU, my reader.
What Marvel/DC and the big publishers miss, is that they don’t just have a variety of stories, they only have one story, which they push out on repeat. The same identity politics garbage where it not only isn’t what the readers want, but it actively puts a middle finger to the readers they have, and tells them they’re not wanted, we want another group to read us. And as they’re finding was they get nichier with what they publish, those readers aren’t out there and can’t sustain them. Instead of trying to refocus their content on what they want, they actually use these instances as gimmicks to try to get people talking about these books that no one would be talking about otherwise, enraging their audience to get temporary sales boosts, which hurts them over the long run.
For newer writers, this is hard. You haven’t identified your audience or your own voice. Definitely experiment from that perspective, but you’ll quickly see what people like and what people don’t as you publish and put more out there. Keep it in mind as you progress, and always be telling your audience you love them. That’s how you keep people around to build your brand and expand it.
If you like how I tailor my stories, you’ll love The Stars Entwined. It’s got a lot of something for everyone, and it’s the story I’m most proud of having written so far. Check it out, releasing in one week on March 20th! You can pre-order here.