Know your audience

Hi Gang! Craig with you once more with something to consider. There’s an old bit of advice about making presentations, or producing an article, that still applies, “Know your audience.” This means don’t speak over their heads with a lot of technical jargon, acronyms, and industry-speak. Make it relative to the attendees and readers. It also applies to fiction, but not in the way you might think.

I believe the lines are blurring with the advent of Amazon and self publishing. Let’s face it, the old genres are more like guidelines than rules these days. Mashups are all the rage, so you get sweet romances during the apocalypse, or weird westerns where cowboys hunt zombies. These kind of things are popular, too.

I’ve got to confess that my first audience is me. I write to please myself and hope there are other weirdos like me that could be entertained by something I produce. Writing something along the lines of a regency romance just isn’t going to trip my trigger, and that will come across in the final product. Don’t expect to see a book of poems from me any time soon. (Hmm, what rhymes with Nantucket?)

I was surprised that most of my readership are women of a certain age. This is both delightful and concerning at the same time. Delightful, because it’s a readership dynamic I never expected. I feel like most of my stories would appeal to a younger more nerdy crowd. That’s largely because I misinterpreted things. I was around before comic book conventions, video games, and computers. It seems stupid in retrospect, but if I was here and like these stories, why couldn’t they have been here and feel the same way.

It’s concerning because we know women read more than men. My father was in his eighties when he read his first novel. (Probably an extreme example now that I think about it.) It worries me that perhaps the younger crowd aren’t reading at all. All the fancy covers and catchy blurbs in the world aren’t going to land a sale from someone who isn’t shopping for a book, or getting deals in their email in the first place.

Maybe the bigger question is how to target our audience. Once I’ve written something I enjoy, I spend time with the Amazon categories. Let’s face it, there are many ways to pigeonhole a story. I write a series that could easily be called urban fantasy, magical realism, paranormal, supernatural, dark humor, adventure, and even superhero themed. Amazon won’t let me choose that many.

I told you that mashups are all the rage, but this is what you’re up against.

I also slave over my blurbs. I want to be truthful so readers aren’t surprised in a bad way. Believe it or not, there are some who would read a story about ghosts, but panic if a demon shows up in chapter three.

Be true to yourself. I’m my first reader, and I expect to have a good time. None of us are getting rich at this, and personal enjoyment is important. We dedicate a lot of hours to our stories, and if we aren’t getting wages, the fun has to be there. If that’s all you take away today it’s an important point. See the robot girl on the way out and she’ll validate your parking.

After you publish your story, it is possible to change and update covers, blurbs, and categories. If you think this could help, give it a shot. Maybe your target audience is just outside the categories you initially chose.

Targeting isn’t the same as marketing. There are smarter people who can help you with that. Jan Sikes has a wonderful series right here on Story Empire about marketing. It’s well worth a revisit, because she can give you ideas about how to make your readership aware the story even exists. The most recent post is here.

Accept that you’re allowed to enjoy this process. Be true to yourself, and I promise there are likeminded people who will love your stories. Be honest in how you categorize and pigeonhole them so shoppers get an honest idea of what to expect. And if you figure out how to get product placement inside a video game let me know.

61 thoughts on “Know your audience

  1. It’s hard to write something that you aren’t interested in or invested in. If you don’t like it, there is a huge chance it will show in your writing and your reader won’t like what you have written, even if it is a great idea.

    I love reading, and will read most anything, but prefer mystery, thriller, and a bit of fantasy.

    In my previous life, I reviewed books for a small paper and read many books. It was apparent when the author wrote something they loved as opposed to something just to get a book on the shelves.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said Craig! As a small lgbt writer I always find myself worrying if people will like my work. But when I sit down in front of my computer I have fun. There’s nothing better than that. Also I’m a firm believer in build it and the people will come. There’s 7 billion people in this world, someone’s gotta share my interest.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry I am late to this party, Craig, and thank you for the mention. I love what you said about the first audience being ourselves. That is so true. As for the Amazon categories, it is now possible to add ten other categories to your existing works. Give me a shout and I’ll be happy to help you with that. Sometimes it can play a part in the rankings. But the bottom line is that we write first to please ourselves and hope that at least one or two others enjoy our work as well. Interesting post! Oh, and I forgot to add that my grandchildren are all voracious readers and I love that! I hope that maybe in some small way I have contributed to that.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My first audience is me, too, Craig. I write to please myself and then hope that someone else will enjoy it. Finding that audience remains a bit of a mystery, especially as I can’t truly pigeonhole my genre(s). So I just keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve never been one to write to trends or the market, and I don’t expect that will ever change. At least I’m having fun while writing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fantastically truthful, per usual, Craig! You’ve made many valid points here. I also write for me, first and foremost. If I’m not entertained by what I’ve written, the story isn’t released. I write in different genres. I may write historical fiction, or coming of age, or slice of life, or thriller. It all depends on the idea. So, finding my audience may require a wider net, I think. I’m not a fan of sci fi, so I probably wouldn’t do an adequate job in that genre. That the younger generation isn’t reading as much is truly sad. They are shorting themselves.

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  6. Like most of the others here, I’m completely with you on needing to write for myself first. Any positive reviews from others are a bonus. I know a lot of younger people who read several books a month but perhaps, as a group, they sail below the radar. I do know several men who only read non-fiction, though – it’s as if they see fiction as ‘unworthy’ of their time! Many thanks for another thought-provoking piece, Craig.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post, Craig. I write to entertain myself, first. When I write for children, there is a definite age group there, but I also have to appeal to those who buy the books or their parents/grandparents. So I am more versatile thinking of my audience, but like you, I find most of my readers are female readers if that certain age like me. My short stories seem to have more range, maybe due to less commitement. You are so write we do need to enjoy it for ourselves!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I agree that you have to love what you write, and we all have favorite niches we enjoy. When my agent asked me to write a romance, though, I surprised myself. I didn’t think I could do it OR like it, but I ended up really enjoying it, and I think it made my writing better. I’m back to cozies now, though, and loving it. I have to say, you wrote some awesome short stories for your blog that went in different directions, and they were great.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I can’t imagine trying to write a book that I do not find entertaining. Why bother! Lol! I had a similar situation as yours, Craig, when I found that grown men actually enjoyed my YA fiction which focused on a female protagonist. I wasn’t expecting that pleasant surprise. It taught me to not narrow my audience. Great post! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Good advice, Craig. I write for myself and enjoy the process. Like climbing a mountain, it’s an achievement that only the writer can really understand. As for the younger generation, I’ve been stunned by how much my adult kids read. Surprisingly, they seem to focus on non-fiction — tomes about WWII, etc. I rarely talk about the political/military research I’ve done for my writing, but I’ve found a match in my kids – to my amazement. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I thought the same thing, Craig, that the younger generation aren’t reading. Then I discovered nothing could be farther from the truth. The 20-30-somethings are voracious readers. As for your–ahem–more seasoned readers, you nailed it. I would read a ghost story, but if a demon showed up, I probably wouldn’t continue. Demons freak me out. I’ve got enough problems sleeping without demons floating around in my head. LOL

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  12. Great post, Craig. I think you’re absolutely right that we need to write for ourselves first. Since so few of us will be commercial blockbusters, it’s essential that we enjoy this craft, or why bother? I should be better about updating categories and keywords, but oh well. Maybe next year. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing. _

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Writing for yourself is the best advice here. I have to agree about young people and reading. They don’t, for the most part. Now we have millions of books being released each year, and the question is, who reads them? Terrific post, Craig.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Pingback: Know your audience | Legends of Windemere

  15. My parents don’t read fiction. In fact, they pretty much only read the newspaper. I get my love of books from my grandfather, who was a voracious reader of many genres. You’re right about targeting… you’ll never capture a reader’s interest if they aren’t looking for you. But where to find our readers? How to appeal to them? I usually picture my ideal audience as someone very much like me, but oddly enough, never AS me. I can’t seem to reconcile myself between the work-side of producing stories and the reader-side of consuming and (hopefully) enjoying them. If that is my reader, I’m doomed because I don’t hang out anywhere online. If my audience doesn’t, either, I’ll never find them.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I agree with your thoughts about first writing for yourself. If a person forces themselves to write in a genre they don’t like, it will show in their work. Genre aside, I still like and write mostly mystery and suspense. It’s what appeals to me, and that’s what I’ll continue to write.

    My husband isn’t a reader. I don’t think he’s ever read a fiction book (at least not after we were married). Matter of fact, he’s only read one book in its entirety.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. My father was the same, Craig. He never read fiction until his late seventies after I suggested he read to help deal with the stress of being a full-time caregiver to my mother. Now he reads any chance he gets. I’m saddened by the number of younger people I work with who never read.

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  18. I think it’s impossible to know who your audience is, unless the people who read your book communicate with you, either through social media, blogs, or by reviews. But not all readers do that. As you say, and Alicia in her comment as well, sometimes it’s surprising who turns out to be your reader demographic. Not the one you expected. Being true to yourself and writing for the love of it is the best approach.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. I write mainstream contemporary literary fiction, indie. I aimed it at both men and women, but have found that my very best reviews come from older guys – and It means I know how to reach them (once I get them past the ‘I usually do not read this kind of fiction…’ bump). These men are very eloquent if they like something, and have allowed me to use their words for marketing and advertising.

    And one of my demographics is younger women who have huge reading backgrounds (including homeschoolers). With the same book. They remind me of the omnivorous reader I was at their age.

    I like both – they add nicely to my adult women target audience.

    Now, if I could just figure out how to cut the possibles out of the herd who won’t read SPAs, I’d have my marketing figured out.

    Liked by 3 people

      • I homeschooled ours, as I tell people, by accident (I was home ill, the kids were bright, and dealing with schools actually takes more energy than just doing it yourself). So it comes up in conversations.

        IMNVHO, the moms (usually it’s the mothers) doing the homeschooling can either be very controlling, or quite relaxed about reading. I was the latter kind – we brought home bags-full from the public library every two weeks for the four of us.

        Those kids grow up to have wide exposure to classics and popular books (there’s no other way to fulfill the NEED to read), and are very literate.

        My beta reader is one – and she’s amazing.

        Liked by 1 person

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