Recently at a panel, someone asked how I envisioned my audience. And I was like, well, when I write I’m envisioning a reader who’s just like me! But…realistically, I know that my reader isn’t going to be me. And I don’t mean that in the sense most writers do, where it’s like, you’re writing for an audience larger than people like you. I mean that people like me probably won’t read my book.
I mean, thirty year old guys don’t read YA novels. And if they do, they definitely don’t read contemporary YA novels about conniving teenage girls. Even teenage guys don’t read those sorts of novels.
Realistically, my novel is going to be read mostly by girls and women who’re between the ages of 15 and 35. Which is great. Jonathan Franzen once made a stink, after his selection by Oprah, when he said he was afraid (I’m paraphrasing) that this would turn off male readers (who he obviously really wanted to reach).
I’m pretty agnostic on the sex of my readers. I honestly don’t care. I like women. I’m dating one. Most of my friends are women. And in my professional life too, it’s all women. I go to YA writer events and there’ll be thirty people, and I’m the only man. Which, again, is not bad (or even awkward), it’s just a thing. So I don’t care what percentage of my readership is male. To me, readers are readers.
But it is something I think about. My readership is different from me. It’s like when I’m writing, I always think, “How will this read to a white person?” Similarly, I think, “How will this read to a woman?” I can’t say exactly how this affects the work, but I’m sure it does.
Another question I get asked is, “Why does your novel have a female protagonist? Did you ever consider writing it with a male protagonist?” And the answer is that I didn’t. My protagonist sprang fully formed into my head. And then people will get all mystical and be like, “Well..I suppose that’s just what the story wanted to be.”
But no, I don’t believe that. Because even if the answer is rooted in the unconscious, I do think there’s a reason that Reshma is female. On the most literal level, it’s because the antecedents for this character–two teenage plagiarists who made national news–were both female. But on a more symbolic and sociocultural level, I think it’s because there’s something about the theme of perfection that ties in very well with how our society conceives of women. There are guys who want to be perfect, but I don’t think that’s part of the masculine ideal in the same way. For women, it really feels like perfection is a necessity. You need to be beautiful and intelligent and successful and nice and popular and beloved–You need all those things.
But at the same time you’re punished for wanting to be perfect. People will call you artificial or robotic. And if you try to project an image of perfection and subsequently fail, then there’s a certain glee in the public reaction. We have this desire for women to be flawless, but we also hate and fear the women who succeed (example: the ocean of hatred that people feel for Gwyneth Paltrow). So yes, I think she’s female for a reason.
Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, I was going to say something profound about most of my readers being female. Mmmm…I don’t think I have a takeaway point here. Sorry.