Finding My Audience

My novel has two main characters—Hiroshi, a Japanese boy who emigrates to the United States, and Susan, his American cousin who has forgotten her Japanese side.

When I started writing my debut novel five years ago, I was writing for all the Hirsohis and Susans who had ever come through my classroom door—who struggled with language, culture and defining themselves. I was writing for the 10-year-old me, who had moved from an Air Force base in Germany to Texas (talk about culture shock…). I was writing for any kid who has ever felt different.

Then I joined a critique group, and something shifted. Now when I wrote, I pictured how my critique partners might react to this scene or that snippet of dialogue. As I revised and revved up for the agent quest, I tried imagining what agents would think of my title, my chapter endings, my prose. Would they keep reading? Would they request the full manuscript?

Then I signed with Erin, and the manuscript went out on submission. Now it was the editors I was hoping to impress. When the consensus was “too quiet for today’s market,” I never thought to replace the word “market” with “kids.” Kids? What kids?

When Erin and I finally decided that a massive revision/rewrite was in order, I reconnected with my inner 10-year-old. I dusted off my memories of the Hiroshis and Susans who had long since left my classroom. I read excerpts to my own children as I revised, and I paid attention to their reactions. And in the end, this is the manuscript that finally sold.

When I got The Call, I told my students the happy news. My classroom is full of 4th grade Hiroshis and Susans—they are all immigrants or children of immigrants. I told them what the story was about, and immediately Hira’s hand shot up. Hira came to the U.S. from Pakistan two years ago. She is quiet, smart, and a voracious reader.

“Mrs. Lorenzi, I have a connection,” she said.

A connection? Already? And it’s not even a book yet! I thought.

“I know just how Hiroshi felt,” Hira said.  “You know, when he felt different. Because he couldn’t speak English, and neither could I when I first came here. But now I can. And I think Hiroshi will, too.”

Of all the grateful, giddy moments since getting The Call, this one moved me the most.  A child had made a connection to my story. It was an amazing feeling. And I am humbled to think that other kids might also connect with my characters one day.

When I receive my revision letter, I will certainly be revising with my editor, Emily, in mind. I’ll strive to answer her questions and fix what needs fixing and make the manuscript as strong as it can be. And in my mind’s eye, Hira will be sitting right next to her. I’ll be revising for both of them—one who will champion my book, and one who will see herself in its pages.

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11 Comments

Filed under Editing and Revising

11 responses to “Finding My Audience

  1. Cynthia Levinson

    Why is it that so many of the posts on this blog make me teary? I guess because even the stories about our stories touch us. I can picture Hira waving her arm in the air because she “connects.” (Natalie, what a wonderful skill you’re teaching your students! Decoding, while necessary, isn’t all there is to reading.)

    I also resonate with your discussion of audiences. Writers are told to hone in on our audience but, as you point out, in the writing process, we have many. You’re right: readers are our ultimate destination.

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  2. Mike Jung

    Wow Natalie, does it get any better than that? It’s wonderful that hearing about your story didn’t just spark a connection with Hira, but also led her to feel empathy and hope for your character, then step forward and articulate those feelings to beautifully! You and your students all deserve a big dollop of credit for making such a great moment possible. 🙂

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  3. Wow! Thank you so much for this! Beautiful reminder of why we write – for those Connections! And how cool to help kids see that they’re not alone. Priceless. Here’s to all the Hiras out there who are going to fall in love with your book!

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  4. Yay!!! I love that: A connection and it’s not even a book yet! Here’s to many more amazing feelings to come…

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  5. I think you have hit on something so important here, Natalie. So many writers (myself included) find themselves so desperate to just get through the door, make a sale, get an editor or agent to notice their work that they get wrapped up in the marketing side of who we write for. Thank you for the reminder of the real bottom line!
    I know I have sometimes found myself worrying that my quiet, sweet little historical novels are going to be too quiet for kids today, that they will only have appeal to the most timid, shy, day-dreamy girls (the girl I was at 10 or 11), and that isn’t going to be a mainstream selling point. But then I realize, who is going to love a book more than that reader? And I feel privileged and humbled to think I might create a world that is meaningful to that child.

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  6. That is the keyword, isn’t it. Connections.

    We want to connect with our readers in away that will be meaningful for them.

    It is those connections that help trigger the readers imagination, that draw them into the story as a participant instead of them simply being an outside observer.

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  7. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    Thanks, Cynthia! It’s just so funny to me that I’m around kids all day–either my own or my students–and yet I’d forgotten all about them. Zoiks. 🙂

    You’re right, Mike, I don’t know that it can get much better than watching and hearing a kid connect to your story. I can already think of several of my students who will no doubt connect to your book. 🙂

    Thanks, Laurie, for stopping by and for your comment. Connections are so important, not just for comprehension, but for getting to know ourselves better. I know of a handful of students who have never to connected to any book, ever. I’m not giving up yet, though!

    Thanks, Madelyn! Right back at ‘ya. 🙂

    Jeannie, you’ve made an excellent point. There is a book out there for everyone, and yours will be that book for someone–lots of someones. I know that my own 6th grade daughter reads a range of genres, because she says they each have something to offer. Maybe it’s kind of like a meal–eating only one thing would get old after awhile (keeping in mind that this does not apply to chocolate–there are *several* versions of chocolate out there …;)). I see most kids starting off with one kind of book (series are big for those kids), and I just let ’em run with those until they see themselves as readers and book lovers. Then I swoop in with some variation on their favorite genre, and go from there. Kind of like slipping a teensy, weensy piece of broccoli into the mashed potatoes.

    You’re so right, medicinewoman. I love the idea of being in the story as a participant rather than an observer. What has surprised my students most is when they connect to a character with whom they initially thought they had nothing in common. Discovering these things on their own is so much more powerful than Mrs. Lorenzi yammering away about how we’re all more alike than we are different. 🙂

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  8. Lynda Mullaly Hunt

    I so enjoyed reading this, Natalie! It is such a poignant reminder of the biggest benefit of getting published–we get to send our characters out into the world of kids. To affect their lives by helping them understand themselves and their environment better by connecting to characters in books who become friends! I still think of the books I connected to as a 10 year old and the impact they had on me. Thanks so much for your very sweet reminder/story!

    Your story sounds wonderful! Can’t wait to read it!

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  9. Melanie Singer

    Thanks for this reality check Natalie. I’ve re-read this several times and am moved every time I get to the paragraph … “When I started writing my debut novel five years ago, I was writing for all the Hirsohis and Susans…” and “Mrs. Lorenzie, I have a question.” I can picture the little girl and feel what you must have felt as she spoke. I love that you have the children search for and discuss the “connections” they feel to the stories. Your class sounds like a wonderful experience for the kids and for you.

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  10. I’m a retired fourth grade teacher. In our school we used four-blocks and part of that program was to encourage making connections to the reading material. And making connections is what it’s all about…why we write and why we read. It must have been such a throat-catching moment for you when Hira shared her connection. Your blog was written so beautifully. You made me proud of the teaching profession. Continue to inspire. Best of luck with your book and writing.

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  11. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    Thanks, Lynda! I still remember my 4th grade teacher reading to us at the end of each school day, and I’ll never forget those books. Amazing how long some characters stay with us, isn’t it??

    Thanks so much, Melanie. 🙂 Hira’s comment was certainly a reality check for me. I swear I learn more from my students than they learn from me!

    Hi Carol,
    How nice to have a teacher stop by! It sounds like you had a wonderful Language Arts program going at your school, and I completely agree about the importance of establishing connections–with characters, classmates, the community and beyond. I would have liked to have visited your classroom. 🙂 Enjoy your well-deserved retirement!

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