If you’re in the communications business you’re already familiar with the idea of “audience” as a component of marketing.
I should rephrase that. Writers, you are in the communications business (like it or not), and if you haven’t happened to work with someone who taught you this concept yet, it’s one that you should be familiar with.
Audience is not the general hope that everyone in the world will read your writing. Audience is a specific group that you’re trying to reach. You should ideally be able to define a single person as the audience for everything you write, in fact: This blog post is for a writer who reads personal writing blogs but has not had formal marketing/communications training.
You can get more obsessed about demographics if that’s particularly relevant. It often is; in this case the little blog post works just fine for all genders and most ages — and, more importantly, it’s trying to reach all genders/ages. Audience is who you’re trying to reach specifically, so a book that anyone can enjoy but has (in your mind) a message specific to teenage women has a female audience with a fairly basic reading level.
Why does this matter so much? Expectations. Expectations, expectations, expectations. If you know who you’re writing for you know what they’re expecting, and stray from that at your own peril. Novelty is good! Something new and different is always interesting. But you need to stay within comfort zones to stay vaguely marketable. Experiment dramatically when you audience is a snooty yuppie in New York who likes talking about books no one else understood at dinner parties. That is a rich and profitable audience, if you can speak to it, but if you’re not speaking to it — behave yourself.
This springs to my mind because I occasionally read books that weren’t meant for me and find flaws that aren’t necessarily flaws at all within the context of the intended audience. A recent YA read seemed well-written in terms of language — beautiful in parts, even — but frustratingly heavy-handed and predictable in story and particularly in emotional progression. That’s a fair judgment to make if I’m reading the latest lit-crit review phenomenon; in the context of a book clearly meant to portray stages of grief and methods of coping to a pre-teen audience, it’s just not relevant. The book was an effective medium for its message — to its intended audience. Less so to me, but that’s my flaw as much as the authors.
So never forget your audience. Remembering them is the difference between a book that speaks to people and a book that speaks into a void. And, of course, there’s the sales consideration of a well-targeted book versus a hard-to-define oddball…but we’re above petty considerations like money here, right?
No, seriously, I’m so broke this month. Send a check or something.