Who is the audience?

A guest post by Ken Haigh.

I was recently asked, “Why was this the right time to share this story [On Foot to Canterbury: A Son’s Pilgrimage] with your readers?”

The question took me by surprise.

I don’t think I consciously write with an audience in mind. I write about what interests me at the time. It’s not calculated. It’s more of a compulsion. When I’m writing, I’m perfectly happy, lost in my own little world, trying to put down the words in the correct order, without thinking about who will eventually read them.

I suppose my audience is myself. I write the type of book I would like to read, the kind I look for when I wander into a library or bookstore. I read mostly non-fiction, and I love books about journeys, particularly ones that are rooted in history or literary history. I don’t think about who will read my work until it is ready to be published, and then I am assailed with doubt.

“Will anyone else find this interesting?” I wonder.

I am then deeply gratified when a magazine editor or, in this case, a publisher like University of Alberta Press, says that would like to publish my work. When my first book, Under the Holy Lake: A Memoir of Eastern Bhutan, was published, it didn’t make much of a splash. It received good reviews but didn’t sell thousands of copies. However, I received a number of letters from people around the world, telling me how much they had enjoyed my book and how much it had meant to them.

What I learned from that experience is to write about what you are passionate about, and, if you work hard enough, you will find a reader who will enjoy your work. When you send a book out into the world, you have no idea whose path it may cross or what the consequences of that act of folly might be. You can only trust your instincts and hope for a sympathetic reader. And so begins the curious afterlife of a book…

For more information about Ken Haigh, and to see photographs taken on his pilgrimage, head over to his website.