Defining Your Audience

What does your audience look like? Cappies from Kirby: Right Back at Ya!

Among the first questions to ask oneself when writing anything is: Who am I writing this for? It doesn’t matter what genre you write in, fiction or non, this question must be answered if your book is to have any chance at success. Some authors ask themselves beforehand so as to tailor their story to suit the readers. Others write first, then look to see who would be most interested in their work. Both approaches have their merits, but in both cases, the following guidelines can be applied. To those of you who have a clear purpose and audience in mind for your work, you’re off to a great start. To the rest, hopefully the following introduction will help you get started.
Under ideal circumstances, of course, you can write a work that is universally beloved and cherished by several generations. This is called a modern classic, and is a highly unlikely scenario, given the tons of books that are out there now, and given the tons more that are put out every day. So, the next best thing is to target a specific group of readers you want to get your message out to. This is much simpler, and often more enjoyable for reader and writer alike.

So, who are you writing for? You may answer it’s a romance book for romance readers. But which kind of romance readers? Are you going for sultry or sweet; innocent or mature; straight or gay? This is where the use of sub-genres comes into play. You may have a great fantasy novel, but which section of fantasy readers are you appealing to? Your standard action-filled, sword-slinging, spell-casting epic fantasy is not necessarily going to appeal to the same crowd as less violent, more introspective literature.

One key component of audience is demographics (i.e. age, gender, race, etc.). This is particularly important where it relates to your main characters. For a rambunctious 15-year old male reader, the trials and tribulations of a respectable forty-year-old businesswoman are obviously not going to be of much interest as a general rule. However, if you give that same 15-year old a character who’s his age or perhaps a little older, and whose problems are not so different from his own, you’ve made him relatable, and that’s a key component of any story’s success.

Undoubtedly genre plays a role as well. Generally speaking, fantasy and science fiction appeal to a primarily male audience, while most romance readers are undeniably women. In the nonfiction category, scientific and historical books traditionally appeal to men, whereas lifestyle and memoir volumes tend to be favored by female readers.
Of course there are always exceptions. If, for instance, you make your lead character, or perhaps all the characters, something other than human, this tends to blur the demographic boundary significantly. This is much easier for writers in science fiction or fantasy, where creating a whole world of anthropomorphic aliens or animals is almost a matter of course at times. For instance, if you take some cute furry critters (say…rabbits), give them real-world human problems, and throw in a subtle environmental message, you’ve got an international bestseller that appeals to people across multiple demographics.

Knowing who you want to put your message in front of is important, both for the writing process itself and for knowing which publishers would most likely be interested in your work. But finding the right audience is not always a straightforward task–some authors spend years trying to find the right bunch of readers to suit their particular voice and style. As in most instances, doing some research never hurts. Polls on current trends and reader preferences might be a good place to start.

That’s all on this subject for now, though I may revisit it at a later date. Until then, be sure to come back next week for the next exciting writing topic: how to build your writing credentials!

Published by J. S. Allen

J. S. Allen is a writer, linguist, historian, and nature-lover from Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of the young adult series Sauragia and Knights of Aralia, as well as the 'Woodland Tales' anthology for children. Several of his shorter works have also appeared in various print and online periodicals over the years. In between writing and publishing, he likes to draw, spend long hours outdoors, and read. His favorite authors include M. I. McAllister, Brian Jacques, and Alexandre Dumas.

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