Any marketer worth their salt will tell you that you need to know your audience. This applies to any product or service that you wish to place on the market. A novel is no different; it’s a product, after-all. So, below are the first three of the six little known questions on how to target your audience better, as a writer.
Question 1 – What Is The Genre Of The Novel?
The first of the six little known questions on how to target your audience better surrounds the genre of the novel. Often, the genre gives writers direction for the type of audience that will read their novels:
Sabrina The Teenage Witch was a popular TV show, between 1996-2003. It was about a girl in her teenage years, struggling (or enjoying) being a normal school-girl whilst hiding her double identity as a witch. Thus the target audience for such a show was teenage girls, who could empathise with Sabrina’s situation.
If writers tell a story about a cheeky, anthropomorphic tank engine that helps other trains on the Island of Sodor, they will target young children;
If they write a TV-show about a teenage witch, experiencing the difficulties of growing up in her adolescent years, they will target pre-teenage and teenage girls;
If they write a film, featuring cars that transform into robots, with lots of action but no significant amounts of blood or any grisly injuries, they will generally target teenage boys and male adults;
If they write a medieval-like fantasy saga about great noble Houses fighting each other bitterly for a throne, with lots of violence and sex, they will target adults;
If they write a detective story, where the serial killer has a bizarre obsession with building a snowman near the scenes of his crimes, they will target middle-aged and more senior adults;
If they write a story about exceedingly wealthy Asian people, looking to get married, they will target the Asian market.
Question 2 – How To Target An Audience When Dealing With Subgenres?
The second of the six little known questions on how to target your audience better centres around dealing with the subgenre of the novel. This is because a genre can only give writers direction for their target audiences to an extent.
The issue of locating a target audience becomes harder when writers decide upon the subgenre (or the genre within the genre) that they wish to write in.
Let’s take the fantasy genre, for example, where there are a number of subgenres, such as:
High/light fantasy, like JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy, David Eddings’ The Belgariad series, and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter hexalogy;
Low/(grim)dark fantasy, like George RR Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire (ISOIAF), Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy, and Mark Lawrence’s The Red Queen’s War trilogy;
Young Adult (YA) fantasy, like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, and James Dashner’s The Maze Runner trilogy;
Comic fantasy, like Terry Pratchett’s Mort, Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, and Jonathan Stroud’s The Amulet Of Samarkand;
Urban Fantasy, such as Stephanie Meyer’s The Twilight saga, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower hexalogy, and Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series; and
Historical fantasy, like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson pentalogy.
There is no simple answer to the question of how to target an audience when it comes to the subgenres. This is because there is so much crossover.
The Problem of Crossover For Light Fantasy
LOTR was mostly read by adults when it first came out in the 1960s, but today a high/light fantasy story would be aimed for children and teenagers. (But didn’t adults enjoy Harry Potter as well?)
The same can be said for Mort and any other of Terry Pratchett’s books for that matter. But the same cannot be said for Jonathan Stroud’s The Amulet Of Samarkand, which is solely aimed for children and young teenagers.
The Problem of Crossover For Urban Fantasy
What about the urban fantasy subgenre? Well, again, the answer is not straightforward. Twilight’s main character is an adolescent female and that may go some way to explaining why the majority of its readership are teenage girls and women (and ‘Twiguys’ too). But Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series has female teenage characters and is aimed at teenagers in general, but its readership is mostly boys; while The Dark Tower saga is for an adult audience, even though it is suitable for teenagers (I, for one, read it in my teens).
Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight spawned a saga about an 18 year old girl, Bella, who falls in love with a good-looking (older) vampire and a later a werewolf. The target audience for this book was young adult ladies (and ‘Twiguys’), as they are the people most likely to understand the protagonist’s predicament.
The Problem of Crossover For Dark Fantasy
As for the (grim)dark fantasy subgenre, it is of course for an adult audience and mainly for men too, as Mark Lawrence’s and Joe Abercrombie’s stipulated novels prove. Yet, ASOIAF has a stronger female than male readership. (In part, this is due to GRRM having many complex female POV characters in his novels. Contrast that with Mark Lawrence’s and Joe Abercrombie’s stipulated novels, which have a maximum of two female POVs between them. This probably explains why the majority of their readerships are male.)
The Problem of Crossover For YA Fantasy
Similarly, when it comes to YA fantasy, The Hunger Games and Divergent have main characters that are female, and so their readership is mostly teenage girls; while the opposite is true on both counts for The Maze Runner.
General Rules For Targeting Your Audience
Thus, if general rules can be drawn for a writer, they are as follows:
The darker (and grislier) the story, the more likely that the writer should target an adult readership;
The more female characters (particularly POV ones) in the story, the more the writer should target a female readership;
The lighter the story, the more the writer should target young children and pre-adult teenagers (and if adults tag along then even better!).
Question 3 – How To Write For A Target Audience?
Once writers have decided upon the genre (and the subgenre) that they are going to write a novel in, they should focus on:
The style of writing that is fitting for the genre; and
The content that is fitting for the genre.
A – The Style Of Writing That Is Fitting For The Genre
Within any genre, there are a variety of different styles of writing: JRR Tolkien writes differently to George RR Martin; Sir Ian Fleming writes differently to John Le Carré; and Michael Pattinson writes differently to Gillian Flynn. Still, a reader can see themes in their styles that are consistent with the genre and subgenre.
Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy is a grimdark fantasy series. It features many scenes of an explicit nature, and therefore is aimed at an adult audience.
A writer would be wise to read books within the genre (and outside of it too) to get a flavor for the styles and turn of phrases that are best suited to the genre. For instance, if writers want to write a high/light fantasy novel, they would be wise to read and assess the styles of authors in the genre and take inspiration from them (i.e. take what they like from the writings and do away with what they don’t like).
It is also important to read around the genre to realise what not to do vis-à-vis writing styles. If aspiring authors want to write a thriller, it would not be clever for them to use an academic, analytical style of writing because this would likely bore the target audience.
Similarly, it would not be clever for them to write a high fantasy novel (aimed for children and teenagers) and use inappropriate language. Simply, it would not be suitable for the target audience.
B – The Content That Is Fitting For The Genre
Writers must be aware of what content is appropriate for their chosen genre, to accommodate the target audience. Broadly-speaking, when they want to write a detective story, they must make a piece of criminal activity be the focus of the narrative, rather than it being about cars transforming into robots (who then go on to bash other robots). Likewise, if writers want to write a TV-show that has a purple dinosaur singing happy songs to kids, they cannot put a car chase and explosions into the narrative.
The general rules for how a writer should target his/her audience.
More specifically for the fantasy genre, aspiring authors must decide how much magic they want in the novel; and how violent and sexual they want certain scenes to be. In general, the more magic in the story, the higher/lighter the fantasy story will be. This entails that it is for a younger audience and, therefore, no explicit content can be present in the novel. Conversely, if the writer wants less magic, more sex and more violence, the lower/darker (grimmer) the fantasy story will be. This entails that it is for a more mature audience; especially, if the sex is graphic and the violence is vivid.
Question 4 – What If The Audience Is Small?
The fourth of the six little known questions on how to target your audience better, along with the other two questions, will be explored in the next blog piece. I hope you have enjoyed this blog piece and that it helps to make the writing journey a little easier.
Until next time,
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