Who’s Your Audience? A Profile of John Reed

As part of our profile series on the Riggio: Writing and Democracy community, 12th Street asked John Reed, New School faculty member, “Who’s your audience?” His response was both frank in content and compelling in form.  


Audience Equations for Myself (and/or anyone who is interested (in terms of a something intended for publication)):

Draft 0: Taking notes, not sure what it is, experimenting, etc.

Audience = self. (No rules, no boundaries, no structure, no worries. Not all projects have this draft; if you can, begin at “draft 1″)

Draft 1: A draft is defined as a whole unto itself: it can be read through and it more or less makes sense; a writer usually gets about five of these before the project loses focus.

Audience = self – meddling self. (Give yourself the freedom to do as you please: don’t rearrange the scenes before you have the draft; don’t revise your first chapter over and over again; don’t second guess yourself. Bukowski’s epitaph was, “Don’t try.”)

Draft 2: Scenes and Paragraphs.  Draft 1, you were concerned with getting the chapters in orders; now you’re managing scenes and paragraphs.

Audience = self – ego (cut material that isn’t working out, no matter how attached you are to it) + some rough sense of market and word count. (This is the draft where you can begin to think about length and demographic; to do so before this will very likely damage the work.)

Draft 3: Paragraphs and sentences. (If you get micro before this draft, you’ll likely be overly invested in stuff that will need to change; i.e., you spent three months on chapter three only to realize it’s actually set on Jupiter, not Io.)

Audience = self – ego + critical self (this is the time for some remove in order to line edit) + market/word count (continue to hedge in your chosen direction) + “ideal readers.” (If you have “readers,” this is the place to begin to think about them. That said, it’s a bad idea to write for one specific person, especially if that someone is (a) a friend or (b) a family member or (c) a lover, as they have undue influence and may or may not help move your project to publication—or whatever your end goal is.  An overly impactful edit at this time can: close off the project to future edits; give agents and editors the impression that the work is closed off to future edits, which it is; and forever take the project away from the author, who has given up his/her own vision. The best “reader” situation is a set of readers, and the best environment is somewhat impersonal, i.e., a workshop run by someone who knows what he/she is doing).

Draft 4: Sentences and words.

Audience = critical self (at this point, you should be line editing, and you as a force should be largely removed from the process) + agent/editor. (If you have an agent, this is where you listen to them. But be cautious: Unless an agent has direct market experience as an editor, he/she has a subjective experience of editorial.  If you guess what a specific agent might think, you’re very likely to mess up your manuscript; and likewise, if your agent guesses what a specific editor might think, you’re very likely to mess up your manuscript.  If you have a good editor at this point, you’re in the ideal situation; allow yourself to be challenged by your editor.)

Draft 5: Words, tiny glitches.

Audience = capricious copyeditor self (last chance, anything annoying must go) + copyeditor/factchecker. (You need a copyeditor and a factchecker; if you don’t have that arranged, arrange it).

John Reed is the author of Snowball’s Chance, A Still Small Voice, The
Whole, All The World’s A Grave: A New Play by William Shakespeare, and
Tales of Woe.  More at JohnReed.org