Finding My Audience

Rural Postbox by Victor L. Doyle

For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on a book project about my grandfather’s pen and ink drawings. When he was courting my grandmother in the 1930s, they wrote letters to one another, and he always created a drawing on the envelope he sent her. He didn’t have much money, but the little piece of art he sent every few days meant more to her over time than anything he could have bought in a store. I’ve written about these envelopes here, here, and here.

As I’ve researched, organized, and written some caption drafts, gradually the project has started to organize itself. At first, I had no idea how to structure the book. I knew I wanted it to include copies of the envelopes themselves, something of my grandparent’s story, and information about the historical and cultural events depicted in the drawings.

When I began, I thought I would have to research and write about all 180 envelopes. However, after scanning and working on the first dozen or so, a form has taken shape. Using each drawing as a type of prop, I told the story of what America was like in the 1930s and, when appropriate, how my grandparents’ lives were examples of that particular piece of culture, event, or occurrence.

Now I am ready to start writing a book proposal. However, I’m hung up on who the audience should be. Would this book be attractive to readers of memoir, art historians, or people interested in America during the Depression years? Or is it more of a “coffee table” book?

One piece of advice is to find a book similar to the one you want to write and determine that book’s audience. My difficulty is that I have not found a book similar to this. Is it memoir? Kind of. Is it art history? Not really, but I suspect anyone into envelope art would be interested in it. Is it history? History-light, perhaps, as I’m not a trained historian. My day job is research, not history.

Part of marketing is knowing your target audience so that you can sell it to them. I’m not a publisher, a literary agent, or an experienced author, but even I know that you need people to buy your book if a publisher is going to take a chance on it. Therefore, part of the book proposal I will be writing in the next few months will have to include information on my target audience.

Have you written a book proposal or had to determine your target audience for your writing or another creative endeavor? How did you do it? I’d love to hear from anyone who has a great idea on how to find an audience. Or, if you have an idea on who my target audience might be, I’m all ears.

Using Historical Context in Writing

Girl waiting for a train – pen & ink drawing by Victor Doyle

One of my writing projects is the story of my grandparents, told through my grandfather’s artwork. One thing I’ve discovered in researching for this book is that context is essential. If you are writing any memoir set in the present or near past, most readers will have the information they need to understand the times, the culture, and the details about everyday life. However, when you are writing a historical memoir, you must include specifics about the culture and lifestyles since much, if not all, of it is alien to your reader.

For instance, in the book about Victor and Estelle, things like clothing, music, transportation, communication, and more differ greatly from our experience today. Women were occasionally wearing trousers, but rarely. They wore hats and gloves and always looked “smart” when they left the house. Men wore suits, ties, and hats more often than not. Music was jazz, big band, and classical. Rock music hadn’t been invented yet.

Radio and newspapers were the main forms of communication. Long-distance phone calls were pricey, so people generally used telephones for local calls. Television sets had been invented but were not commercially available until the late 1930s; most people had a radio in their home for news and entertainment. Since email did not yet exist, letters were the main form of personal communication, both locally and long distance.

In the early 1930s, almost half of American households owned cars, and the highway system was being developed. However, for long-distance travel, trains were most often used. Air travel was still rare.

As you can see, much has changed in America since the 1930s. I have had to delve into history books from that time period to recall what life was like back then. Including those facts and connecting them to the pictures in the envelopes as well as our experience today will help make the stories more appealing and relevant.

Historical research is a key component to writing any historic piece, whether that be historical narrative, memoir, or historical fiction. As a result, you will want to develop your skills as a researcher to frame your story well.

Letters to Estelle

When my grandmother, Lee Estelle Wood, was 22 years old, she broke her ankle.  While that would normally be considered a painful, inconvenient event, for Estelle it was the beginning of a relationship that would last a lifetime. As she was convalescing, Estelle received a get well card from a childhood acquaintance, Victor Lawrence Doyle.  Thus began years of letters exchanged between Estelle, who lived in Baltimore, MD, and Victor, who lived in Wilmington, DE.

What made these letters special was not the contents, although those were precious to the recipients, but the envelopes.  Each envelope had a pen and ink drawing on it.  Over the years of their courtship and beyond, Victor created over 200 pieces of art on the envelopes of his letters.

The envelope below shows a picture of Estelle, waiting by the phone for Victor’s call.  In the 1930’s, when the letters were exchanged, America was in the midst of the Great Depression.  There wasn’t much money for “extras”. Phone calls were expensive and train trips were even more, which meant that most communication was in letters. By 1935, when this letter was sent, Victor and Estelle had been corresponding for over a year and were including phone calls. Their weekly “date” usually consisted of a phone call at 7:15 P.M. on Saturday evenings.  Between the letters, phone calls, and an occasional trip to Baltimore, Victor courted Estelle from 1933 until 1936.

Telephone call April 3 1935