And now, a break from all the Dresden for a topic I touched on briefly during my review of The Scriptlings. Namely, the idea of having an audience in mind when you are writing and what that exactly means.
For some writers, you even mention the idea of an audience and they get up in arms. They claim to be writing solely for themselves or close friends, and other people don’t have to like it. To which I can only think, “If that’s the case…Why did you publish it?” Because let me be frank here. If you are publishing something in any way, you are doing it not for one person or maybe half a dozen. You could just give them a copy if that was the case. No, if you are publishing, you want to tell your story to as many people as you think it will interest. It’s one thing not to be doing it for the money. Hell, I know that I’m not going to be making my living as a full-time writer any time soon, and I’m okay with that. But if you are publishing, you are writing for more than a very small group of people, or at least you will if you want to keep being published.
I say it that way because sadly, that’s what the publishing industry is doing to us. They’ve started using books sales against us worse than ever before. They want big hits and forget that sometimes your meat and potatoes don’t do quite as well, but they still make a little money and that increases your chances of getting a big hit instead of putting all your eggs in one basket (I must be hungry, pardon all the food metaphors). Now a days, if your book doesn’t do the same if not better than your last, it’s going to make it harder and harder for you to sell your next one. And the only way to increase sales is to a) have a loyal following who will keep purchasing and b) appeal to the broadest spectrum possible.
That said, you can’t be stupid about it. Nobody is going to read or like everything. It’s important to know what kind of reader you think would like your story. For example, I predominantly write for girls between the ages of fourteen to about my current age if not slightly younger who like fantasy and romance with dashes of adventure. Why? Because I understand girls that age and what is going through their heads. I like fantasy stories, and have since I was about that age if a little younger. I also know what those two groups mean mixed together, which is something very different than the teenagers who like the Gossip Girl books and such. While some high school fluff/drama or at least elements similar to it are expected and sometimes enjoyed, girls in my normal audience are often at the bad end of it too many times, and as a result, they don’t like reading about it. And writing for that audience gives me some added responsibility to show these girls that they can be the heroes too, especially at that age where honestly, they are a lot more fragile than they want people to know.
If I was writing in adult fantasy, I’d be catering to a more masculine audience. It would be harder to write a strong female character, because honestly adult fantasy isn’t as good of a market for them. It’s mostly focused on the male characters, though female characters can be strong companions, which is workable. But honestly, I don’t understand people my age and slightly older, which would be the characters’ ages and the market ages. I would struggle with where the characters would go, what parts of the story would appeal to them. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it would be harder for me. By specializing where I have, it gives me the broadest range possible to attract readers.
From that point on, it’s a bit out of your hands. As long as you keep in mind what a general person in your target age and demographic likes, all you can do is write the strongest story you can while keeping their wants from a story in mind. Usually it doesn’t do much to your story, since you might need to frame a scene differently but otherwise it’s your story still and it is your baby to do with what you will. How well you do selling it is really going to depend on what you are competing against (read: what other writers are doing and how similar it is to your own), how strong your writing is, and how many people you were able to hit within your targeted audience. You still won’t get all of them–different spots for each leopard, after all–but you should be able to get a broader base than you would have gotten if you hadn’t had an audience in mind at all when you were writing.