If you want to write novels, you’re going into the business of being an entertainer. No shame in it: people have been entertaining other people with jokes, antics, food, banter, and stories since the roman era and probably before. The urge to have a good time, to escape the cares of this world, to otherwise be entertained has been the province of entertainers for thousands of years.
As well as a writer, I’m willing to bet that you watch movies, read books, play video games, watch YouTube videos, or listen to music or comedians to relax. You probably know the names of your favorite entertainers: Jim Gaffigan, The Act Man, James Riley, FromSoftware or Peter Hollens. It’s part of a fan’s duty to know about their object of fandom.
However, you are training to be an entertainer. Has it ever occurred to you that the entertainers that you love specifically engineer their craft to be pleasurable to people like you? That’s right: the reason you like to play Souls games is because FromSoftware knows you’re out there and has created a game for you to enjoy.
Well, not exactly. Let me explain.
Ever heard the term “target market”? You probably have, but only a few writers (I.E., the most successful ones) remember to exploit this detail. Most writers write with the vague sentiment that people who enjoy reading will like their book. That is, if it’s good enough. While this is a decent strategy, knowing who you’re trying to sell your book to will help you out a lot in the long run.
While some video games are artificially engineered using state-of-the-art psychology to addict its players, you’ve got to rely on old-fashioned subtlety and research to get the job done. Not that you want to addict your readers; you just want to get them drooling over your new releases and only caring about their next shot–I mean book. (first e-book’s always free)
Jokes aside, you need to have a target audience. I’m willing to bet that there’s a group of people out there who are absolutely slathering for a horror Science-Fantasy romantic comedy with talking balloons and insane, redditor-devouring sentient office chair monsters, you just have to find them where they are and deliver the goods. (I know I said jokes aside but I lied…ah, it’s good to be back)
There are many different factions of people who enjoy certain types of entertainment, and not all of them are book-lovers. There are dance enjoyers, painting lovers, music listeners, gamers, and a plethora of others. Even in the category of book readers, you have Fantasy nerds, Sci-Fi maniacs, Thriller junkies, Spy lovers, Romance fans, and more subcategories than you could wave a stick at.
And then you have more specifications: What books does the reader like? What about what style of prose? Perhaps the reader likes a subgenre, maybe a blend of two obscure ones? Fast-paced or slow paced? Action-packed or full of slow, heartfelt scenes? Emotional investment or explosions? Jeez, it’s got more character preferences and specifications than a 90’s RPG!
But, the question you’re all dying to ask is this: but where do I find my target audience? Well, there are two methods: creation and discovery. Both require a bit of fishing and risk-reward, and the more niche you expect your audience to be, the harder the time you’ll have finding them.
Creation relies on envisioning a group of people who would want to read your book, then pitching your book to them. This is less safe of a bet than our other method, and can often result in people saying “what sane person has these tastes in literature”. But our world is vast, and a lot of people are just generally interested in books. Make an educated guess based on bestselling trends, and write towards a blend of people.
Discovery happens by getting out there and talking to a lot of people. Talking to enough people, showing your work to them, and doing it often enough will give you a rough feel of what they want. But since you can only get meaningful feedback on your work from about fifty or so different people in a year, you can’t really get a realistic feel for the world at large. The best you can do is set your net as wide as you can and go off your best guess.
Before I retreat back into my cave
to play video games to work my rump off to please your high standards, I’d like to discuss the pros and cons of having a large audience. First off, there’s no problem with just wanting to write another fantasy novel for the fantasy audience. That actually the way most fantasy books are like.
Breaking into a large audience is easier for potential fans, but distinguishing your work from the millions of other common-or-garden fantasy novels on the market will be very difficult. People aren’t just looking for another read: they’re looking for something that will thrill them, something that will keep them enthralled just like Brandon Sanderson might.
While I agree it’s unfair to have to compete with someone like Brandon Sanderson, who’s been honing his craft for the better part of thirty years and is universally acclaimed, but his book on Amazon is $11.99 right next to yours, and Joe reader can just as easily add his book to cart as well as yours. You must give your readers a reason to read you and not Brandon Sanderson.
Not a lot of writers think this way. You should: consider your audience and what it will take for them to read your books. Once you’ve got a crowd (Sci-fi military spy thrillers, for instance), pour every ounce of your being into creating the best Sci-fi military spy thriller that you could possibly make. Do that, and continue to hone your skills, and you’ll be on the right track.
Anyway, that’s all.
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!