One of the most difficult things for writers to figure out and describe is who will read their books. The immediate answer always seems to be something like, “People just like me!”
Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, it’s worth spending some time on figuring this out before you get too far along in your process. If you don’t know who your audience is, you’re going to have a hard time convincing editors and agents that there is an audience for your book. More than that, different kinds of audiences have different needs and expectations, which will shape how you write your book. They are also reached in different ways.
Many times when I ask a writer to specifically describe the audience for their book to me, I get something like, “everyone in the known world will be interested in this book” or “this is a kids’ book.”
What I hear when someone says that is, “I have no idea who my audience is.”
Which is okay, because it’s a problem that can be cured. Think of your favorite magazine. Smithsonian? Inc.? Woman’s Day? While it’s true that a reader of Smithsonian may have some similarities to a reader of Woman’s Day, you have to agree that those magazines target very different readerships. If you were an advertiser and you asked for the readership demographics, they would tell you very different stories: Woman’s Day has mostly female readers of a certain age, income, geographic distribution and worldview. Smithsonian readers would have different attributes. Woman’s Day editors know the details of their audience intimately, and if they want to appeal to their audience, they take those attributes into consideration when assigning articles.
So what are the demographics (the specific characteristics) of your readers? Besides the obvious – are they men or women (or both), are they adults or children? – dig deeper. What are their ages? Are they married, single, divorced? Do they have children? What are their children’s ages? What are their interests and hobbies?
Where will you find them?
Those are the questions agents and editors will have for you when you pitch your book to them.
In some cases, an audience is already “out there.” For example, if you’re writing a romance, then your audience will be romance readers and you don’t need to give yourself a stress headache trying to figure that out. Of course, you need to be aware of all the subtleties and nuances of your audience. In romance, there are a number of sub-genres – people who like to read historical romances may not be interested in paranormal romances. That matters because promoting your vampire story to historical readers may be met with a huge yawn. If you write series romance and then move to single title, the readers of your series may not follow you – they read the series, not the specific author. You need to know that.
It also matters because romance readers expect a happily ever after. You may have a beautiful, compelling love story, but if it doesn’t have a happily ever after, it’s not even considered a romance by romance readers. It may be a love story, but it ain’t a romance.
How do you figure this stuff out? By being where your audience is, doing what they do, shopping where they shop. By respecting who they are. In other words, not I’m going to churn out a middle grade novel because they’re short and easy to write.
Know who your audience is and write your book for them.