Chances are, you’ve heard it before: if you want to sell, know your market. For some, that’s a no-brainer. Those who write romances, for example, can usually name an audience. But what if you haven’t yet settled into a niche or write across genres? If finding your target audience is a sticking point for you, believe me, I understand.
My debut novel, DawnSinger, first in the Tales of Faeraven series (releasing in 2012 from Harbourlight Books) is considered epic fantasy. Although with strong elements of romance, suspense, history and adventure, it really combines genres. Some people will tell you to avoid breaking into publishing with an unusual project like mine. Listen carefully when they speak. Not that I’d have done things any differently. You see, this story breathed into my soul years ago and wouldn’t let me go, even when I quit writing. Ah, but that’s another tale. Unless you can cite a similar one, you’re better off writing something more conventional.
I confess: at first I wrote DawnSinger for its story without giving much thought to its readers. This showed in my inability to articulate who they might be. In my biased opinion, my novel’s target audience incorporated everyone. I soon discovered editors’ opinions of such a grandiose claim, especially from an emerging author. It’s not really true anyway. No book in existence appeals to all readers. I asked myself some hard questions and, in the editing process, adapted DawnSinger for a readership I identified. Most of my life I’ve done things backwards, and developing my story for its audience was no exception.
My experience begs a question. Should you write for others or yourself? Is it better to plan with an audience in mind or oppose this mindset? If you write “from the heart” won’t readers find you anyway? In other words, should you pursue readers or draw them?
Neither. And both. I’ll explain.
If you only focus on ensnaring an audience without regard for your calling as a literary artist you risk writing soulless drivel. Readers know instinctively whether you have a deep feeling for your subject or not. Don’t even try to pretend with them. For this reason, It’s best not to write to trends for which you have no passion. When you consider the opportunity cost, it’s not worth it. What is an opportunity cost? The price you pay in lost time because you’re not writing something that suits you better. If you’re anything like me, you can come up with more ideas than you’ll ever write in a lifetime. When deciding whether to chase a trend, bear that in mind.
That’s not to say you should let your inner artist run amok with total disregard for marketability (assuming you want a readership). Don’t let the proverbial pendulum swing too far the other direction. Why not? Because writing to publish isn’t just about art. It’s also about business. You want to identify your target audience for the same reason an acquisition editor searches for certain types of manuscripts. Each publishing house caters to the tastes of a specific readership, and so should you.
To avoid frustration as a communicator, you should have both a.) something to say and b.) someone willing to hear it. Identifying A will help you find B. Name the fire that burns within you and you’ll identify those whose lives will ignite from a spark you light. Reach deep to tap your passions. That’s where you’ll find your readers.