I’ve been reading a book about writing short stories; one of those books with lots of articles and contributions by different authors and publishing people who’ve ‘really been there’ and know what they’re talking about. It’s fascinating how much conflicting advice exists in the same text. Why does that happen? Shouldn’t the people who’ve ‘been there’ agree on what’s there?
No, they shouldn’t. Not necessarily. Each professional is talking about personal experience and their own personal specialty. They don’t all agree because their there isn’t the same there… The advice is different because the focus and audience are different.
Different people, different expectations
It used to be that there were only a few real publishing companies, and relatively few books were published (even in fiction). Tastes would change but the process remained the same, “like what’s being served up or go make something better yourself!” (Which the publishers might not publish because it was too different…)
In the modern market, there are more publishing options, many more books being produced, and better ways to track the preferences of your audience. More than ever before, personal taste and niche audiences matter. That means we can’t make sweeping generalizations about genres and audiences the way we used to.
Yes, there is still a fantasy audience out there that want’s the “paint me a picture” approach (a couple of them if what I’m reading about mid-grade audiences is to be believed), but that’s not what everybody’s after.
Sure, there are folks out there looking for buzz cuts, whizz jets, and bodice ripping action. But they don’t speak for everybody.
And, there are audiences that are all about the feelings (YA anyone? How about romance…). But that’s not everybody, and it’s definitely the wrong way to go if you’re writing an accounting book or an engineering textbook.
Audience is important. The intended purpose and audience of your work need to be in your mind from the beginning. And that attention continues until you’ve delivered the work into the audience’s hands. That means you need to understand your audience. And I mean your audience, the group of people you’re trying to reach. It doesn’t matter what the systems analytics and information security audiences think about your work if you’re writing YA fantasy.
Within the fantasy audience, you’d better have a handle on whether you mean high fantasy, low fantasy, fantastic realism, mid-grade fantasy, fantasy horror, or… And the same thing goes for other genres too.
If you’re writing a language textbook, you need to know whether it’s an introductory, mid-level, advanced, or special topics book. And this goes for any other nonfiction too.
It helps to understand our specific audience as early in the process as possible. It really does.
But what if we have multiple audiences?
Different audiences for the same book
It happens. Some books cross boundaries and attract more than one audience. The Harry Potter books did it. It happens, and it’s hard to predict who’s going to be next. But here’s the catch. The ones that succeed start with a particular audience in mind and other audiences are drawn in along the way.
Here’s the double catch… If you plan to publish via a conventional or hybrid publisher, even if you’re focusing on one particular audience, you have two audiences to worry about.
If you’re publishing mid-grade or YA stuff, you have at least two audiences to worry about. I can count at least four. Even though I just told you, you need to focus on one audience.
Think about it. For a mid-grade book, you have your primary audience (who are somewhere between 8 and 12 to 14), you have your publisher (if you’re going through a publisher), you have the parents or guardians of your primary audience (you know, the people who are actually going to buy the book), and you have librarians (the other people who are going to buy the book and provide it to your main audience). You may also have school teachers and administrators to deal with…
Even with books for adults, you often have at least two audiences, the people who will read the book, and the people involved in selecting the book (for publication and/or use). Fortunately, those secondary audiences may have a feel for what the primary audience wants. Unfortunately, they have their own opinions, and are wrong from time to time…
There’s much more to say. How do we navigate all these audiences? What are they looking for?
Those are valid questions. But, answering them is a book, not a blog post.
For now, dear reader, consider who your primary audience is. Consider who your other audiences are, but really work on that main one. They’re the biggest concern.
We’ll come back to all of this later, dear reader. I’ll see you next post.