#Writing a novel – do you need an audience?

Dart on Target and  People

When I started researching and jotting down ideas for this post, I was pretty certain that the gist would be to help fellow writers to think about just who they were writing for – who their audience was. After all, what’s the point of writing if you don’t have an audience, people to read your book, to buy your book, to recommend your book to other people? That’s the whole reason we write, isn’t it? To share our stories with people who will enjoy them?

So I thought about the audience I’d had in mind when I began writing The Black Hours. And I realised that I hadn’t had anyone in mind at all. I’d simply had a story in my head that I wanted to write down. Yes, I wanted it published, yes, I wanted people to read it, but I certainly hadn’t thought to myself – this is a novel that will go down well with Mrs Smith at number 27, or the postman. Had I done the whole thing wrong? Should I have been thinking about my target audience before I began to write?

As I so often do, I turned to Google to see if I had been doing things wrong again. And it turns out that apparently I have. There’s a raft of articles about thoroughly researching your audience. Some suggest visualising your book for sale and then analysing the people buying it. What do they look like? What are their hobbies? What do they do for a living?

Now, I do think it’s important to have your reader in mind when you write- at least to a certain degree – particularly if you are writing for children or young adults. But does anyone really work it out to this extent?

Yes, I have readers in mind when I’m writing, and yes I have my clients’ readers in mind when I’m editing – usually I’m thinking, will people understand that bit, will they follow that plot point etc. But when I write, and when I’m editing, the story comes first. Afterwards, I might think about who would enjoy it, what they would expect to see, etc. For example, I write historical fiction, so I know my readers will expect the details to be accurate. And ‘The Black Hours’ is pretty dark, so my audience certainly won’t be readers of historical romance or chick lit fans. But the story comes first. Otherwise I’m writing to a formula, and surely that’s not great for me or my readers.

So, I’m left in a quandary really. And certainly no wiser than when I began to write this post. Internet experts say that I should have a target audience in mind, that it will focus my writing and increase my chances of success. After all, a publisher needs to know who to market to, and if I self-publish then I’ll need to sort my categories on Amazon. I can see the wisdom in that (although my WIP is set in three different times, has one real figure from history and one sort of mythological figure and a great deal of stuff about painting and Romanticism- not sure what genre I’m going to stick that one in). But should a story that’s going round my head change to fit a certain genre? Should I alter a character to suit some idea of a potential ‘customer’ in my head? Or should I be true to my story?

What do you think?

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12 comments

    1. I think it would be a shame to change something just because it wouldn’t ‘fit’ with an intended audience, but then again, if there is no audience then what’s the point? A tricky one – and one with issues that I think the Friday Five Challenge highlights too.

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  1. When I think of audience, I ask myself this question: Exactly who will be reading my book? I know that everyone will not be reading my book. Who is it better suited for? Young people, seniors, etc. If I write a book geared towards seniors (just using seniors to make my point here), I probably wouldn’t use a lot of slang in your story. Knowing who your audience is particularly helpful in the editing/revisions stages. Having said that, it is a challenge defining our audience because, as you said, we just write our stories, but it really helps to know who our readers are, or will be.

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    1. Thanks Lynette. I think it is a real challenge and it’s a question for which there is perhaps no right answer. Although I do love the quote from Barbara Kingsolver that Stepheny has shared (below). Perhaps, as you say, it’s helpful, once the story has been written, to bear an audience in mind during the editing phases.

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  2. This is a crucialquestion and the first one I was asked by a professional agent after I submitted my first novel. I had hoped for all readers, but assumed middle-aged over-educated women… in the event I found I had many girl readers in their twenties. With my second novel I kept these youngsters in mind… and it was men who came back full of enthusiasm. So, with the third one (Border Line) I kept the young girls and the guys all ages in mind and I was sitting in the local farm shop on launch day with a pile of books, when… I met a fan (http://greenwritingroom.com/2014/12/05/author-almost-faints-at-book-signing-event/). This fan invited me to a meal and to meet others http://greenwritingroom.com/2015/02/07/reader-i-met-my-readers/. These were not who I expected, not like me or my friends or relatives, but they were a distinct group of people. I found them admirable and was thrilled that they liked my writing so much. Will this affect my writing? We’ll see, but I think it will help.

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    1. Lovely posts Hilary – how fantastic to meet someone who appreciates your writing so much. That little farm shop cafe looks lovely too! But I suppose it goes to show that we can’t really know who our audience is so maybe we should just stick to writing the best story we can.

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  3. I’ll let Barbara Kingsolver speak for me in regards to your post. “Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”

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  4. I agree with Barbara Kingsolver. I think writing can be hard enough but to write with so many other worries: genre, audience etc is too much. Write from the heart, your audience (whoever they are will appreciate that) put your book out there and let it find its own way, more or less. Worry about the Amazon categories when the writing is done.

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