Writers Need to Know their Target Audience

Know your Target Audience

Writers need to know their target audience regardless of the type or genre of their writing: creative writing, business writing, poetry, essays… Arguably, it’s even more important in creative writing because readers choose to buy your work – or not!

dartboard with arrow in bullseye for writers need to know their target audience

Why do Writers Need to Know their Target Audience?

When, before you start writing, you have clear in your mind who your audience is, it’s much more likely that your readers will find your writing engaging. You’ll maintain their attention and interest in the story.

How to Find your Audience

You know what you want to write? You have imagined who your audience is? That’s great, although imagining your audience isn’t the same as knowing it.

Let’s say you’re writing a crime thriller targeted at both women and men aged 35 upwards. To define your target audience, as Dana Sitar advises, think of five people you know reasonably well who read crime thrillers. It could be friends and/or family. The caveat here with family is they will usually love what you write. Alternatively, they will be overly critical, so choose your five wisely. If you are clear about genuinely seeking honest feedback and say you’re not precious about your work and want their objective opinion, in my experience, people will oblige.

Think again about your five chosen people. When did you last see them reading a crime thriller? Do you know why they chose the particular novel they were reading? How do you imagine them reacting to several of the action scenes you’ve written in your book? If you told them about your book, do you think they would want to read it?

If the answers to the above questions are ‘I haven’t’, ‘I don’t’, ‘I can’t’ and ‘No’, then consider a different novel. While there are no guarantees of sales in the publishing world , it’s better to be sure of a ready audience. After all, you’ve put a lot of hard grind into writing and you’ll put just as much into promotion.

If you come up trumps with your hypothetical questions, then ask these people what they think of the idea for your novel. The advantage of asking them is that you’re running your idea by a realistic target audience (Sitar).

When Family and Friends are not your Audience…

As above, if you know that your family and friends will either love your writing, thinking you’re the smartest person on our planet, or criticise it, then it’s best not to ask this group for their opinion. To gain objective feedback on your writing, ask other writers – whose opinion and ethics you trust. You could join a supportive writers’ group to read out excerpts of your work and gain feedback that way.

Sometimes Knowing your Audience Happens Intuitively

When I wrote my non-fiction eBook Ten Ways to Supercharge Your Writing Skills, I followed my own advice and had a specific audience in mind! These were writers who were seeking to improve various aspects of their writing skills. Nevertheless, I have to admit that with my historical novel, Winter in Mallorca: Turmoil to Triumph, ‘defining my audience’ happened intuitively rather than consciously. The inspiration for the novel came to me while on a visit to Mallorca in Spain. I knew with certainty this was the novel I’d always wanted to write.

It seemed to work! Last June, on the writers’ retreat in Spain, I read out excerpts from my novel to the other writers. Their unanimous feedback was interesting: they related to and enjoyed the readings. (None of them wrote in the same genre or were normally readers of historical novels or love stories.) I’ve also been surprised by a similar reaction from my readers. Many of them have said they’ve never read an historical novel in their lives but they loved the book. I’m not blowing my own trumpet, just giving a real-life example. You may not always consciously define your audience, but you need to be aware of addressing a particular audience regardless. As I was writing the novel, I thought of my readers as lovers of history and historical fiction, with an interest in Chopin’s life.

Why Writers Need to Know their Target Audience for Pitching

If you’re planning to submit your manuscript to publishers and agents, have your target readership clear. This is especially important if it’s your first novel. Be prepared to answer in a considered way the question ‘Who do you see as your target audience?’ Don’t just say ‘It has universal appeal’ or ‘Anyone who likes a good story’. Kim Wright illustrates the inaccuracy of such statements: ‘They’re probably trying to imply that their book has equal appeal for men and women, young and old, that it cuts across all racial and national lines and thus has the potential to be a best seller. Hmmm…yeah.

Checklist for Knowing your Target Audience

  1. Before you start writing, have your target audience clear in your mind.
  2. Think of five people you know who read and enjoy the genre you’re planning to write.
  3. Ask yourself: have these five people recently read a book in this genre? Why did they choose to read that novel? How do you think they would react to several of the scenes in your book? Do you think they would want to read your book?
  4. Ask these people for their feedback on your book idea.
  5. If you have started or even finished writing your book, become aware of your audience retrospectively (before publishing it). Make any necessary adjustments to the writing.
  6. Be prepared to answer the question, ‘Who do you see as your target audience?’

Acknowledgements

Bay Tree Publishing, The Ten Most Important Things Every Writer Needs to Know, https://baytreepublish.com/ten-things-every-writer-needs-to-know/ , n.d.

Dana Sitar, Who Is Your Target Audience? Use This Simple Trick to Figure Out If They Actually Exist, ‘Writers Digest’, https://www.writersdigest.com/publishing-faqs/does-your-target-audience-exist-use-this-simple-trick-to-figure-it-out, 6 Feb 2019.

Kim Wright, Who Is Your Target Reader? ‘Writers Digest’, https://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/who-is-your-target-reader, 8 April 2012

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