Happy NEW YEAR! Let me start with an apology for taking so long to post another writing tip. After being in a car wreck in England (don’t worry, my daughter and I are both doing well and recovering), cutting my Europe writing trip short by a whole month, and deciding to travel north to the snow for the holidays, I’ve been a bit out of sorts with my usual schedule and habits. I’m working on getting back in action for 2017, and have finally made some progress on Storm Rising, Book Two of the Storm Series! Kait and Michael are really in for a LOT more trouble (…evil laugh)!
So, let’s get down to business. Are you ready to start a new writing project for the new year? If so, please sign up for my blog at www.kspaulsen.com to get notifications when I post a new tip, sneak peak, or article. I’m really just getting started on this whole endeavor, and I have a LOT more WriteIT! tips to come in 2017!
WriteIT! TIP #2—KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Okay, you’ve probably heard this rule before, but golden rules are worthy of an in-depth explanation. Before you set pen to paper, or finger to keyboard as the case may be, there are certain questions you should ask yourself, early in the planning process, to ensure that your project is well received by readers. The right set of questions, and their resulting answers, will help you make key decisions about what audience to write for. Ask questions such as: what genre is best suited to your story and style, what age and gender of readers do you connect with and understand most, or what age and gender of readers will most likely seek your type of story, what community or culture do your target readers live in, and as a result, what biases and sensitivities might your readers have? What length of story would your readers tend to choose, and how complex can you get with timeline, number of characters, subplots, and technical details? The answers to these questions and more will save you time and energy in the long run, when addressed before you begin a writing project.
Say for example, that you want to write a young adult romance novel aimed at girls that live in urban settings. In such an instance, what percentage of teenage girls do you think might be able to connect with, or relate to, a lead character that is in her thirties or above, enmeshed in her career, and collecting antique spoons for a hobby? Not many. It is far more productive to develop characters and plots that are pertinent to the interests and life experiences of your target audience and the challenges they face, or would face, under a given scenario. If you are targeting an adult male audience that enjoys spy thrillers, do you think they would be more interested in a lead character who travels the world surfing and crashing on couches, or a professional computer hacker with a penthouse in Paris? By deciding ahead of time who your target audience is, you can better tailor characters, storylines, vocabulary, and other essential content to your desired focus group and increase your chances of maintaining your readers interest. Remember, you want them to keep reading, to become so enthralled that they can’t put your story down until they reach the end, and when they do reach the end, they can’t wait to see what else you have written. Connecting with the proper audience for your tale is a sure-fire way to gain popularity, because satisfied readers tell their friends, family, and coworkers.
Keeping your audience in mind as you set the stage and develop plots does not mean that you cannot try something completely new and different with your personal approach, nor should you stifle creativity, or try to fit within specific stereotypes. Just the opposite in fact; creative stories with characters that possess a variety of traits and interests, and unique personalities, settings, and plots are what draw readers in and keep them coming back for more. Nobody likes to be pinned into a stereotype in real life, and writing stereotypical characters in predictable stories is an excellent way to alienate your readers and turn them off. Instead, get to know your audience so well that you can tune in to their desires, dreams, fantasies, and fears, and then play them like a violin from the first page to the last.
How do you get to know your audience? Sometimes the answer is as simple as writing for yourself as the audience—knowing what you like and dislike in a story, what stokes your desire to keep reading, or makes your blood run cold with boredom. When you write what you like, and what you already know, there is no better expert, and your own internal guidance can lead the way. If you write a scene or develop a character that you wouldn’t want to read about, then it’s a safe bet that your readers won’t want to read it either.
What if your target audience is a different age or gender than you? This is a different kettle of fish for sure, and the best thing you can do is get to know actual people that fit your target audience. Ask them questions about what they like best in a book, what types of stories they read, what makes them finish a book or put it down.
In addition, do some actual research. Talk to experts that know your target audience: librarians, teachers/professors, book store managers, professionals on your subject matter, friends or family that fit the bill, and casual people you meet—you never know who likes what, until you open up and ask them. All of this will help inform you in your decisions as you move forward, and every response you get counts, but be careful not to get so wrapped up in the research and planning stage, that you never actually start writing!
Your adventure for the New Year—go forth and ask questions to find your target audience!