This post is about knowing who the audience for your writing is, and keeping that in mind. If you know who’s most likely to read your writing then you’re going to have a better chance at appealing to a wider audience.
Now, a lot of people say they write for themselves, which is fair enough. When you’re writing – or creating any kind of art – then it helps if it’s something you want to do. Writers get started writing because it’s something they enjoy. And even when you’re writing something that you aim to share with others, I think you should still write what you want to write, what you feel inspired to write.
However, if you want people to read, enjoy, and read more of your writing, you do have to consider your audience. Sometimes there may be a story that you’re really, really attached to, but that’s doesn’t necessarily mean anyone else wants to read it. If you want to pursue your writing as a potential career, it helps to learn to tell when that’s the case.
As always, I am not an authority here. I don’t actually know if the stories I have deemed as having potential to be liked by other people actually are any good. But I have been trying, and I have had to accept some of my stories as being hopeless in that regard. I’ll still work on them sometimes, for fun, but they really are just written just for me.
There’s nothing wrong with writing just for yourself and doing whatever you want with a story. Writing as a hobby with no aims of taking it further is absolutely fine. Even if you decide you would like to put your writing out there for other people to read, you can still just do whatever you want, if you’re only in it for the love of writing.
But as I said, if it’s something you want to make any kind of living out of, then you probably won’t be able to enjoy as much freedom. Publishers want things they think will sell, and even if you self or vanity publish you can’t force people to buy or like your writing. Again, if you’re not really bothered about that, and just want to put something out there, that’s fine, but it’s good to try to be realistic about things.
And if you really don’t care about being successful, just bear in mind that your writing is still fair game for criticism if you’ve made it public, especially if you’re charging for it. “I only really wrote it for me” will only go so far as a defence.
And now I’ll just go through some of the different things to think about in regards to a prospective audience.
First of all, what age group are you writing for? This is important for obvious reasons; some things aren’t appropriate for younger audiences, and some things will be seen as childish by older audiences. And stories for children will need to be written in a simpler style than ones for adults, or for older children. Yes, some books do have universal appeal, and I’m sure I’m far from the only person who secretly (or not so secretly now) thinks some of my stories might be among them. But even the most widely beloved books have a primary target audience. A children’s book that is loved by adults is still a children’s book, that’s who it was initially marketed towards. If it wasn’t suitable for, or appealing to, the target age group, it wouldn’t have made it past the first hurdle.
Another consideration would be which gender is more likely to be attracted to your book, because some genres are more popular among men, and others are more popular among woman. There’s no set rules, people are all different, but you should be aware if your genre is more one way than the other. If you want to write a book in a genre that’s typically considered masculine that appeals to females too, or vice versa, that’s fine, it’s great if you can pull it off. But it would help to be aware that that is what you’re doing. Also, I’d say it definitely should be ‘too’, not ‘instead’. If you’re wanting to reach out to an audience that might not typically be interested in the sort of story you’re writing, you don’t want to shove aside the obvious target audience to do so. That’s a general rule, but this was the area where it more obviously stood out.
Talking of genre, what genre is your writing? If you don’t know that you’ll find it harder to identify who’s most likely to be interested in it. I’ve often thought of my writing as not really fitting in any genre, and I’ve seen a lot of people express similar sentiments, but in all likelihood, it probably does. Genres are pretty broad labels, and even if your story contains elements from multiple genres there’s probably one it reflects more than others. A lot of – I’d say even most – stories involve romance to some level, but it won’t be counted as a romance unless that is the core of the story. And someone who would read a romance novel won’t necessarily read a book of another genre that contains romance, even if it’s quite prominent.
Now sometimes it can be hard to identify exactly where your story would fall. As I said, genres are broad labels and it doesn’t seem like there’s always any set idea where one ends and the other begins. For instance, mysteries and thrillers. Many thrillers are mysteries, and some people may count them as such. That’s where you might get into subgenres, but is a thriller based around a mystery a subgenre of thriller, mystery, or both? Which one would you primarily count it as? Because even when there are many similar elements between genres or subgenres, they won’t necessarily attract the same people.
I mentioned knowing about which age you want to target books towards, because some things just aren’t appropriate for some age groups. But even when it is appropriate, it’s not necessarily wanted. For a long time, I avoided reading books aimed at adults because I didn’t want to read stuff with lots of gore and sex and death everywhere. But I think a lot of people must feel the same way, because there’s plenty of books aimed at adults that aren’t like that.
So, you need to know which type of person you’re wanting to appeal to. As an example, I’ll go back to the mystery/thriller thing. Even if a thriller is centred around a mystery, it’s still going to be very different in tone to a traditional, cosy mystery. And some people will be OK with either, but I think you’re still best having one particular type of story in mind in mind. Otherwise you risk writing something that’s neither here nor there; you might write something that has dark aspects that put some readers off, but is overall too comfortable to appeal to others. And it can just be jarring when a story seems to be flipflopping between two different things.
I think I’ve rambled enough there, and I hope I’ve not been talking total rubbish. My basic point in this post is that if you want people to read your writing, you need to know who your most likely audience is, and write to them. You are creating a product at the end of the day, the fact it’s also a piece of art doesn’t change that. Products need target markets to be in with a chance of success. Write what you feel inspired to write, but if you’re expecting other people to read it ask yourself who you think will want to read it, and bear them in mind. That’s what I’ve been trying to get across here.
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