When I was a junior or senior in college I went to my writing teacher, Diane Vreuls, with a major dilemma. I had written some stories I liked and was thinking of sending them around to magazines. But, I told her, if they were published in these literary magazines, who would read them? College professors? People with with degrees in literature, MFA students? People in Manhattan apartments sipping cognac, whatever that was?
I wasn't writing for them! Those weren't my people! My people were small town people, rural people, people who bought their underwear in six-packs from the Dollar Bazaar, people who went to the Chinese Buffet still wearing their snowmobile suits. I'd never been to New York, didn't know anyone with an MFA -- what in the world could I ever say to that kind of reader?
Diane (the kindliest person in the world, incidentally, six feet tall with her white hair in a bun and the intensest blue eyes behind big glasses) told me something along the lines of this:
You have no idea how big the world is, little girl. You have no idea who your readers will be. There are people reading literary magazines in laundromats in South Dakota. There are homeless folks in libraries reading everything they can find. There are southern housewives who stop at the bookstore after teaching Sunday school. You never know, and it's not even your business. You're writing for people like you, and if you're going to be a writer, you must believe there are people out there who are like you in some essential way, whether they're sipping cognac or riding a snowmobile.
That was pretty much exactly the thing I needed to hear -- it busted me out of my reverse-classist snobbery in a big way.
Years later, having gone through MFA school and done a little teaching myself, I published a novel. It got some nice reviews but certainly didn't make a big splash in the literary world or anything. It went quietly out of print. Then... I started getting emails from people who had found my book at the dollar store and wanted to tell me that they enjoyed it. I was thrilled, of course -- beyond thrilled.
What am I trying to say? I guess that the ideas that writers choose their audience, that they write for "the ivory tower" or for "the common man" or whatever is just false. I mean, you can direct your writing at whoever you like, but you don't get to pick who reads it. Readers get to pick. I love that.