08 October 2018

Who Goes There?

by Steve Hockensmith

As part of my day job, I edit an employee newsletter for a large-ish university. Every day, people across campus -- professors and administrators and office managers -- send me news items for it. Usually, the writing just requires a little rubbing and buffing. Changing "9AM" to "9 a.m." Capitalizing job titles when they appear before a name ("University Style Examples Coordinator Jan McUnreal") but not when they appear after ("Dan O'Fakeman, style examples assistant"). Etc.

Occasionally, however, things get a bit tricky, usually because the item looks like this: "You are cordially invited to a public meeting of the Obscurity Subcommittee to discuss the Rhetorical Devices Initiative as it relates to paradigm classifications P-7, P-8 and T-26. Visiting analogy expert Qwomo Makebelievo will share insights and offer examples of NCG-approved VRD proposals for TPN BLTs. 8 in the RQI room. RSVP. Food will be provided, but participants are encouraged to bring their own condiments."

When I get a submission like this, the first question that pops into my head is "Do I really need health insurance?" The answer comes quickly ("YES!!!"), so I strap myself to my chair and move on to my next questions.

question mark
What is the Obscurity Subcommittee? What is the Rhetorical Devices Initiative? What are paradigm classifications? Who is Qwomo Makebelievo, and is his (her? their?) name even spelled correctly? What is the NCG? What is the VRD? What is the TPN? Surely that's not the BLT I know of…? 8 a.m. or 8 p.m.? Where is the RQI room? RSVP how? And why, Lord, why?

But the biggest question of all is the one that the person submitting the item should've asked. It can be found in the very first sentence. The very first word, in fact.


Who is "you"? Who does the writer imagine is going to read this, and what do they already know or not know about NCGs, VRDs, TPNs and BLTs?

I've been in the communication business a lot of years, so I can't tell you how many times I've glanced at something I've been asked to edit and immediately raised that question: Who is this for?

In other words, who's your audience? Once that's answered, you'll know a lot more that you need to keep in mind as you're writing. What they know. What they don't know. What they give a crap about. Whether or not they'll bring condiments to a meeting.

Fiction writers – especially the ones who want to sell fiction – need to ask themselves that question, too. Not about condiments. About who they're writing for. The readers, the editors, the agents, whoever they're trying to reach -- what will their experience be when they look at the words that have been placed in front of them?

And you know who else needs to think about that? Writers for mystery community blogs. Like me. I've been contributing to SleuthSayers for months, but only now, when I sat down to pound out a new post, did I ask myself "Who is this for?"

So – who are you? Why are you here? What are you looking for when you come to this site? Anyone who posts a reply will be eligible to win a free copy of one of my books.

Which raises another question: Is that even something anybody here would want?

Let's find out…


  1. I am here at 4:16 a.m. (not A.M.) because I woke up hot, and I decided to get my daily check-in here at SleuthSayers done early while waiting to get tired again. Aren't you glad you asked? Before I joined SS, I used to come for the writing tips.

  2. I'm RSVPing. I would come to the Obscurity Subcommittee to discuss the Rhetorical Devices Initiative as it relates to paradigm classifications P-7, P-8 and T-26, where visiting analogy expert Qwomo Makebelievo will share insights and offer examples of NCG-approved VRD proposals for TPN BLTs. But I've seen that lecture seven times before. So if I come at all it will only be for the condiments and BLTs. The question is, will the condiments be on the BLTs or sold separately like batteries?

  3. I'm a fellow SleuthSayer and I too come for writing tips and to see what y'all are up to. It's a daily fix of interacting with fellow writers. I wonder how many come to this site who are not writers. Just curious.

  4. Fellow (former?) SleuthSayer here, echoing some of the comments above: I appreciate the writing tips, the life tips too (!), and the connection to fellow authors and readers in the mystery community. Also, so many of the posts are just fun to read!

    (I also edit a newsletter, but just the department one. Still, plenty of things to wrangle over.....)

  5. I'm also a SleuthSayer (do I see a trend here) who comes for the writing advice and news updates. I also scour these essays for ideas for my own entries, which can lead to good discussions.

    I no longer show up for the condiments, though. I already live in one.

  6. I stumbled in here a few years ago, posted a few comments, and now I'm a SleuthSayer. I read every post, though I don't respond to them all, and, while I find all of the posts interesting, I find the writing advice most useful. This sometimes feels like a conversation amongst ourselves, but I know we have other regular (and irregular) readers who may not always comment.

  7. I come for the writing tips, the gossip, and the humor. And I wouldn't mind a BLT.

  8. I've been around since the Criminal Brief days. I don't remember why I started reading that, but it's been several years now. I write a little flash fiction here & there. I'm secretary of our block club, so in terms of word count, the block club minutes account for most of my verbiage!

  9. I believe I had several important meetings with Qwomo Makebelievo, which is why I had to miss staff retreats. Hard life.

    I come here because I love to read and write mysteries, and I am a blogging junkie.

  10. Oh wow, have I been in Obscurity committee meetings. Why didn't we call them that?
    I've been a Sleuthsayer for I think 4 years coming up. I try to read every post. I enjoy the writing-related posts more than the book reviews and off-crime-writing-topics. But even I stray a little from crime. Comedy takes me on weird bunny trails.

    People who post here have become my friends. I enjoy their writing and keeping in touch the blog way.

  11. Another SleuthSayer here, for a looooong time, and a Criminal Briefer before that. Like Melodie, I like reading (and writing) the writing-related and mystery-related columns more than the off-subject ones, but I too sometimes stray offtopic, especially into movies. (Movie discussions, not movie theatres.) And sure, I'll drop by the subcommittee meeting. Can I get a BLT to go?

  12. I write & blog about short mystery and crime fiction. I read every Sleuthsayers post (though don't always have time to comment) and I enjoy all Sleuths' POVs. When I first discovered the blog I made the following note to self: "An entertaining writing blog" (the note is still on my iPad notepad with the site link) so that must be why I visit. And sign me up for whatever condiment subcommittee is bringing ketchup. There's no such thing as too much ketchup.

  13. I'm a sometimes reader, writer, and editor. I have no idea when I first arrived here. Guess that's an age thing. I read most of the posts, rarely comment, and have no idea about that committee thing. I'm just so glad I didn't have to edit the writing. I am headed to the kitchen now to use the last tomato from the garden as I suddenly have a craving for a BLT which will have to be on a roll or English muffin as that is the only bread in the house.

  14. I don't blog myself (except for a very occasional guest slot) and am not a regular blog reader. But I know and like and admire a number of current and former SleuthSayers, so I stop by from time to time to see what's on the front burner. I would not object if it was more often a sandwich, but the writing-in-particular and life-in-general commentary is usually not only edible but downright tasty, too....

  15. I said you know a lot of people with funny names, but my sister, Bette Noire, said, "Look who's talking."

    Mostly I come to rattle Bobby, heckle Leigh, and flash my legs at everyone else. It's in my job description.

    I'm glad you came on board, Stevie. Besides, you just taught me the difference between a leading and trailing job description title.

    Oh, I'm a chutney girl. Nothing like eating chutney on the jitney.

  16. Mmm, I love BBBLTs… that’s 3×bacon. Miracle Whip– that’s my condiment for BLTs. Fortunately, I indulge only every 2-3 years.

    Of course everyone wants a Hockensmith book, but SleuthSayers readers are so polite.

    As for condiments, I have cupboards and a fridge door full of Japanese sauces, Chinese sauces, Mexican sauces, barbecue sauces, pepper sauces, Lowry’s and Cavender’s spices, plus Colman’s and good ol’ US yellow mustard. Sometimes I even fit food between the bottles and jars.

  17. Thanks for the informative responses, guys! I now know much more about what brings people to SleuthSayers. I also know more about the sandwiches they prefer. (BLT references really strike a chord with folks.) I'll wait another day for stragglers then pick a random winner for the book. The freebie will be presented by Qwomo Makebelievo at the next meeting of the Obscurity Subcommittee.

  18. I just show up to see what news that Hockensmith guy might drop about his projects. The rest of the material on the site is probably great, but I'm honestly just here as a fan following a writer I enjoy. If he was writing an article on how to get my whites whiter or my brights brighter I'd read it as well hoping he might drop a line about his next project.

  19. I always read your posts, Steve, and of course Brian's. For the writing tips, the humour, the general keeping in touch. I never comment, but the prospect of a free book is a good incentive.

  20. O.K., gang -- Ye Olde Number Generator came up with 11, and our 11th response was from SleuthSayer John Floyd, so he's our winner. Unfortunately, I can't ship him the BLT he requested in his comment. (The lettuce would wilt.) So he'll have to settle for one of my books. Sorry, John! I'll send you an email shortly with my non-SleuthSayers contact info.

  21. Thanks, Steve!!! (Where else can you be number 11 and number 1 at the same time? And no worries, about the BLT.)

  22. Taking the second question first: I WANT one of your books, preferably one neither I nor my wife have (has?) read and that we don't already own (the TBR heap is a bit frightening)...which at this point is (to the best of my knowledge) all of them. So write something new.

    As to why I read Sleuth Sayers...I am an avid reader of mystery fiction and am always looking for new authors (and I've found some in the strangest ways, including by reading FB posts by some guy who claims to have been a librarian, of all things). Reading posts here gives me a sense of what sorts of things interest the writers, and gives me some sense of whether I will be interested in the same things. Also, I can find out is a writer has a sense of humor that seems to be somewhat like mine. And if I find a writer whose posts here strike a (positive) chord for me, I'll buy something and see how it goes...

  23. Thanks for answering the questions even after I'd I.D.ed a winner, Don! It's been really interesting to see what draws people here. As for putting out a book you and your wife haven't read yet, stay tuned -- I should have good news on that score in a month or so!


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