‘Go deep, not wide’ is common advice for any number of things: hobbies, reading, education, friendships. YouTube personality and dating coach TyKwonDoe wisely and entertainingly advises this for talking to women. Go DEEP Not WIDE When Talking To Women... STAND OUT She'll Be Obsessed With You Forever! TyKwonDoe - YouTube His advice to delve deep into a topic to draw out how your conversation partner really feels about something and to respond with your personal thoughts is fantastic for a back-and-forth dialogue.
For fiction writers, the “conversation” with our readers is more static. We are saying something in our stories and readers are understanding something. What each reader understands will be unique based on their own experiences. Unlike a verbal conversation, writers can’t respond back to this. That’s what a book club is for, or in the case of picture books being read to or with small children, that’s what parents, teachers, and librarians are for.
In a way, a story is like the start of a conversation. And when you start a conversation, you don’t jump right into the deep end. You posit an idea and get a sense of the other person’s familiarity or feelings on the subject which will influence the course of the dialogue. Since a book can’t do that, at least not in a nuanced way, writers have to start and push the conversation for both sides without alienating readers by steering the conversation away from their experiences, interests, or expectations.
That’s why the opposite, ‘go wide, not deep’, when considering the audience of your book could be a smart move. I inadvertently learned this on my publishing journey with my first book, Hattie Hates Hugs, which is a picture book about consent, a topic with a wide audience for this age range.
The story didn’t start quite that way, though.
Initially, I focused on the sensory resistances Hattie had to hugs, drawing on my experiences as an immunocompromised person and my autistic son’s experiences. My wonderful editor at Beaming Books recognized that this story could resonate with readers for a variety of reasons, though, or even just for the purpose of learning about consent. After all, you don’t need a reason to say no to hugs. In the final manuscript, Hattie experiences discomfort in social, emotional, and physical ways.
And even though you’re aiming to write for a wide audience, you still want your character to have depth. You still want your message to have depth. You still want your story to have depth without limiting the audience.
Did I already say tough job?
Widening your audience can help the salability and marketability of your book. Who doesn’t want that? Expanding Hattie’s character traits and focusing on the message of consent opened Hattie Hates Hugs to a wider audience. There are books that take the opposite approach, though, where a narrowly defined character could be the reason it appeals to a wide audience because we want to read about that specific experience and how it is or isn’t like our own.
It comes down to the focus of your book and what conversation you want to have with your readers. What might you say to the widest possible audience? How would you say it?