When I was learning the craft, what I needed was comment. Any comment. Broad, scattershot, full of nuggets both on and off the mark that I could cherrypick or collate against each other to figure out what I was doing that worked, or didn't work, for whom and why.
Now, things are different. I know what works and why. My concern comes down to making it work as well as possible for the majority of readers, and that's a whole different ball of wax.
For that, I need readers who are in sympathy with what I want to accomplish (if they want to read a book that's not the book I'm writing, it's less useful than it used to be, because I'm now more aware of all the other books I could be writing when I choose to write this one, and why I've chosen not to write them.)
300 is a major league batting average
This grows out of a conversation msagara, leahbobet, and I had in Toronto.
On your best day, you will miss 66% of readers.
On an average day, you will miss 75%.
On a bad day, you'll miss them all.
There is such a thing as target audience. It doesn't work the way I used to think it did, in that when one is writing, there is a target audience for one's work, and they are the people whom one reaches with the least effort.
The way it does work is this; there are readers who are potentially in sympathy with what one is trying to do. They are the target audience. Or, in other words, it's almost no use writing a romance to readers like me; we don't like romances. You may pick me up as collateral damage, if you write the right sort of romance (I also don't much like humor, but I like David Sedaris, etc--), but I'm not the reader you should be aiming for if you want to reach an audience that will appreciate your work.
Likewise, I'm a genre writer. I want to reach as much of the potential audience for my fiction as I can without compromising the integrity of the work I want to do. Which means that most of long work will have surface layers that are adventure/thriller/mystery plots. But because I personally find adventure/thriller/mystery plots without an underpinning of character, idea, and theme a little tiresome, I'll let the book develop those layers as well. The hardest work, for me, is actually in making that surface plot strong, because my primary focus and my primary emotional satisfaction lies in the character development. The intuitive level, as it were.
But it's got to have the external plot, as well.
Which is a surface that will also alienate some readers. Okay, so that's one trade off of potential audience for target audience. Is it still the book I want to write? Well, sure, or I wouldn't be writing it. Because I can do the character work around the framework of the adventure plot, and make both stronger.
So, finding a target audience there gives me, actually, a stronger book--a book that works on more levels--as well as, theoretically, improving my sales.
I talk a lot about the Shakespearean ability to write to groundlings and galleries simultaneously, and the concept of obscurity as a literary virtue. The thing is, obscurity can accomplish things that transparency can't. There's ways that "The Waste Land" can work, because of its unapologetic obscurity, that "Mending Wall" can't work, because of its unapologetic transparency.
Doesn't make one better than the other, or more limited than the other, or more literature than the other. It just aims them in different directions.
(Which is not to say that there isn't trash out there. Because yes, Virginia, there is trash. There are books that don't even realize they have the possibility of ambition. Ob. Disclaimer: In a nod to sounding less pretentious than I actually am, I'll even admit that some people consider my work to fall into that category. They may even be right, but if I believed them, I'd be acknowledging a wasted life, and really, that's too much like work.)
So anyway, how do these two things (target audience and knowing less than I used to know) tie together? Well, really, they're the same thing. Or, more precisely--
I need editors now more than before because now I *know* what every sentence I write is for. "This is a sentence that inclues some emotional distress, and advances the plot in this way. This is a sentence that generates tension, and tells the reader what the cause of the emotional distress is."
And when I go back and look at it, I think, "That second sentence is superfluous, because the reader who is reading for the emotional level of the book is not a careless reader. He does not skim, the way the reader who is reading for the action plot may skim, and he does not care to be led by the nose. These readers will prefer it to be left implicit why he's upset."
And I cut the second sentence.
And I send the chapter off to my wise readers, and they say, "Is he upset because he thinks so and so has a crush on him?" And I say, "No, he's upset because the war is going badly."
And I find another way to try to clue the reader in to why he's upset, while still leaving a certain amount of ambiguity and openness to interpretation and letting the reader feel like he's observing what's going on rather than being told (which is a trick in itself, because in life, people observe wrong all the damned time, and in literature, readers can't be permitted to observe wrong too often, or they throw the book across the room), because readers really don't like to be led by the nose.
Or, at least, large parts of my target audience don't.
It's a hell of a trick. Thank god for editors.