How do you define the target audience for your novel? After all, you want everybody to read your book, right?
Rory posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I’m currently reading your “Writing Fiction for Dummies” book, and I’ve come across something which I’m having trouble dealing with.
I’m trying to find out who my ideal reader is, and I just don’t know. I try and relate it to what I like to write, for instance: I want to write a story in an action/adventure genre, with deep characters and an exciting and twisted plot, with a fantastical and/or sci-fi storyworld (Or at least elements of them added to our own world).
The problem is, I don’t know what my target audience is, I mean of course they’ll enjoy what I’ve mentioned above, but actually defining that group of people is what I’m finding hard.
Would they be like me? My interests, my view on life and the world, my kind of lifestyle and personality etc. Or would they be completely different?
Also as a side note, will your target audience and what you want to write stay the same for every novel and story you write or will that change? I have a few different ideas for novels which I really want to write, but as they may focus on the same idea as mentioned above, they do change in how involved the storyworld is and the theme etc.
If you could help me out I’d really appreciate it.
Randy sez: Let’s tackle the easy question first, which is whether your target audience will be different for different books. The answer is “Yes, but hopefully not very much.”
I like to distinguish between the General Target Audience (people who would be interested in your fiction as a whole) and your Specific Target Audience for each book (people who would be interested in that particular book).
You should expect that there is a lot of overlap between these two target audiences, but they generally aren’t identical.
As an example, the General Target Audience for this web site is “anyone who wants to write a novel”. My wildly popular Snowflake method page on this site has a smaller Specific Target Audience, “anyone who wants to plan their novel before they write it.”
Snowflakers are a subset of the people who want to write a novel. They’re a large subset, but there are plenty of novelists who prefer a seat-of-the-pants approach to writing their first draft (or an edit-as-you-go approach, or a detailed synopsis, or some other system).
Many novelists can define their General Target Audience in terms of the category and voice that their target readers prefer. Stephen King’s General Target Audience likes horror written with strong characters but without the stylistic trappings of a literary novel. This is a pretty big audience, but it obviously doesn’t include everyone. No book will appeal to everyone.
Sometimes, it’s relevant to narrow a target audience down further with demographic information, such as age, gender, income levels, or viewpoints on religion or politics.
Romance writers typically target women readers and often specialize to a particular age group (“twenty-somethings” or “empty-nesters” or whatever).
Literary novelists presumably target readers with quite a lot of education and sophistication.
Authors of Amish fiction target conservative Christians who yearn for a simpler, more wholesome way of life.
Ayn Rand targeted readers with a strong libertarian bent.
None of these ways of defining a target reader is always right or always wrong. They make sense when they make sense.
I recently got the cover art for a forthcoming e-book that I’m bringing back into print. (It was published years ago and went out of print). I love this cover. I think it’s my best cover ever. It makes me want to tweak the book just a wee bit so it fully lives up to the promise of the cover. I showed it to some friends of mine. One of them told me that she likes it, but she wanted to know who the target audience is.
I said, “The target audience is people who like this cover.”
Sometimes that’s all you need.
Rory, in your case, it probably makes sense to define your target audience in terms of the category and style of writing they like. I would assume you are part of your own target audience, so it’ll make sense if they look a bit like you. But you probably don’t need to define your target audience in demographic terms. I’d guess that there are some people of all ages and some people from most of the common genders who’ll like your book. But there will be plenty of people who don’t care for your book at all, even though they outwardly look exactly like someone in your target audience.
So in your case, you might want to pick five or six authors who do particular things in the same way you’re trying to do them. For example, you might say, “My target audience is composed of people who loved Orson Scott Card’s book ENDER’S GAME because of the intense action scenes. They are people who loved the epic storyworld of Frank Herbert’s DUNE. They are people who…”
You want to be cautious when you define a target audience this way. The fact is that you aren’t Orson Scott Card or Frank Herbert. If you define your target audience in a book proposal, you need to make it clear that you are targeting readers who like a particular type of fiction, without giving the impression that you imagine yourself to be in the same league as the authors who write that fiction.
Agents and editors see too many proposals that say, “I write like John Grisham (or J.K. Rowling, or Nora Roberts, or whoever), only I’m way better.” A proposal like that almost guarantees a rejection. It’s a sign of an amateur. Don’t act like an amateur.
Always be aware that there are people who will hate your book. No writer on the planet ever wrote a book that appealed to everybody. J.K. Rowling and James Patterson and Stephen King have all sold boatloads of books, but there are readers out there who have looked at the work of each of these authors and said, “Not for me.”
The important thing is that you know what it is your target reader is looking for. Then you can write a book especially for that target reader. It doesn’t matter if your book offends everybody else. As long as it delights your target reader, you will always have a market for your novel.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.