Let the Right Reader In

In Misery, Stephen King writes of an author who has literally become a captive of his audience, forced to write the next book in a series he no longer loves, about a character he no longer likes. Every working author can relate. Success in publishing guarantees you’ll stub your toe on this issue, and you too will have to decide how you serve your readers, on what schedule.

Some readers simply want you to push the right buttons in the right order. They find interest in slight variation, and it can be difficult to lead them from one small town setting to another, let alone to a different sub-genre. On the other hand, these readers are numerous and voracious, so it’s easy to build a following if you dedicate yourself to the task. However, because they expect an undifferentiated product, they’re more loyal to their favorite tropes than to particular authors. As such, they’re likely to subscribe to Kindle Unlimited and buy exclusively on Amazon.

On the other end of the spectrum are readers driven by uniqueness. They want stories they’ve never read, in styles they’ve never experienced, and they’re willing to pay a premium for it. They may prefer one or two high-level genres, but they nevertheless expect tropes to be subverted, reinvented, and occasionally eviscerated. While less common, these readers will evangelize any author who sufficiently impresses them. And they’ll happily follow such an author to Kickstarter, Patreon, Gumroad, or beyond. Though building a career on these innovation-seekers requires more upfront investment, once you do, you’ll have them for life.

While there is definitely a gradient of readers between the two extremes, the gradient is a valley. Most readers cluster to one side or the other, so your brand should clearly signal where you fall. This goes double for your books. Each one takes a long time to write, so better you spend that time on the right batch of readers. After all, if all goes as planned, you’ll be spending a long time with them—no kidnapping necessary.