Thursday, November 12, 2009

Target Your Audience

"Is this person part of my target audience?" is perhaps the biggest question I ask when reading over someone's critique of my work. Now, since I try to ask a cross-section of people to read my work (very scientific and engineer-like, yes I know. Hush it, Bane), this means I get varied opinions on different sections.

Something one person marks up may not be marked up by another reader. While this may come down to personal taste (which is another matter entirely), it might also come down to whether the second person is an avid reader of what you're writing. We can safely assume that someone who reads a lot of horror novels might pick up on something seemingly incongruous in a romance novel that a dedicated reader of romances wouldn't even bat an eye at.

I find that this happens mostly with tropes -- commonly accepted pieces of information that you can reasonably expect the reader to know about before they read your story. A dedicated reader of epic fantasy will probably not mark up the same things that a dedicated reader of lighter fantasy would, because the epic fantasy reader already knows the tropes.

What's this mean for the writer? Well, as I learned in the course of my MS in Technical Communication, you can only write to one audience. So you have to decide, are you going to write for casual readers or hardcore ones? Older readers or younger? Academics or non-scholars?

Heck, genres tends to already have audiences (with expectations) built in. Literary fiction assumes readers are college graduates. Fantasy assumes interest in magic, and medieval (sort of) times. Science fiction, mystery, romance, suspense, thrillers, YA, MG ... you get the picture.

My point (long-winded though it was) is that if you try to focus on more than one audience, then your book suffers as a result. For my money, I'm aiming for the science-focused reader with a college/high school education. Whether I pull it off or not is an entirely different story.

What about you? Who is your target audience?


Adam Heine said...

My target is genre folks, but I don't want non-genre folks to be lost. I try to find the balance. Fortunately, my wife is a very understanding non-genre reader. And one of my beta readers is a heavy genre reader. I figure if I can satisfy both of them, I'm okay.

Anita Saxena said...

Targeting teens. But this can be quite a chex mix.

Susan R. Mills said...

Like Anita, I'm targeting teens. But I did fantasize about my first ms becoming a cross-over. Really messed up my voice. I have to write for the teen audience, and not worry about what, ahem, older people think.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Excellent post, Matt!

My target is college educated history fans. I haven't thought much about a crossover- the closest thing would be literary fiction. But I don't think historical fiction is too far a cry from literary fic, at least the way I write it.

And I learned a new word today- trope!

Matthew Delman said...

Adam --

You always need at least one non-genre reader to take a look at your stuff. They serve the role of the casual fan quite nicely.

Anita --

Oh yes, writing for teens is hard. My first novel attempt when I was 15 was supposed to be for teens, but my voice comes out too much like a 30-year-old to appeal to that age group.

Susan --

If you look at the big crossover books, i.e. Harry Potter and Twilight, you'll notice that the writing is still targeted toward the prime audience of teenagers. The fact that adults like those books too is entirely irrelevant (to the author's tone at least).

Stephanie --

Head over to one of these days. The website categorizes practically every trope under the sun.

Be warned though -- looking at will kill your entire afternoon. Just ask L.T. I already got her addicted to it. :)

Renee Pinner said...

My target audience is older teen girls, but I'm hoping that I write in a way that a teenage boy wouldn't think it a girl's book.

Joshua McCune said...

Another excellent post -- and definitely one of my most difficult assessments. Sometimes I think I'm writing for one group and end up writing for another...

Joshua McCune said...

PS -- I don't even think about getting a cross-section (um, yes, I fail)

Davin Malasarn said...

Matthew, I don't think we have to just find one audience. While I won't think we can please everyone, I think that some writers are able to put multiple layers in their writing that can be liked by different groups. Even if you wrote to please a science-y audience, I'd be willing to read your story and gloss over the science to try and pick up the plot, and I think I could like the book that way. (Okay, granted, I'm a scientist, so this isn't the best example.) I once took a writing class where the teacher told us to include multiple types of elements in our prose so that we could please multiple groups of readers. I think it can work. :)

Matthew Delman said...

Renee --

That's why J.K. Rowling's name is presented the way it is on the Harry Potter books. I forget who made the call, but someone in the publishing process was of the belief that boys wouldn't read books by a female author, so they used her initials instead of calling her Joanne Rowling.

Bane --

Yeah, mid-writing audience switch can happens sometimes.

I know a whole heckuva lot about surveys and PR, so stuff like the above comes almost second-nature to me.

Davin --

During the course of my MS, I was taught that your main work can only be aimed at one audience. However, you include ancillary materials (a quick-start guide, appendix, etc) to please the secondary or tertiary audience.

This can be likened to including a romantic subplot, exploration of a secondary plotline, so on and so forth -- the multiple elements your teacher spoke about. Your main story is still focused toward the primary audience, but those side pieces are there to attract the additional audiences.

However, my point is if you actively try to please everyone, then you're setting yourself up for failure. Best to let the secondary/tertiary audiences be attracted organically, in other words.