Audience — A topic from Dragon*con

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This weekend at Dragon*con several Magical Worders were on a panel called Knowing Your Audience. Based on the title of the panel, you can safely assume that the discussion began with “Who is your audience?” Now, there were a lot of panelists and I don’t remember the details of everyone’s answers so I’m not even going to pretend that I do. I believe answers ranged from agents and editors are your first audience, to very specific demographics based on age and education level, to a more general answer of readers of XYZ book will like my books as well. All of these are legitimate answers, but why are they important?

Because you need an audience to sell a book.

Let’s start at the beginning with the statement that agents and editors are your first audience.  This is completely true, but it is important to know who your ultimate audience will be because while editors often say they want something new and unique, if the marketing department doesn’t know where to put it on shelves, the publisher probably won’t pick up the book. (I’ve heard it said before that it is good to be on the cutting edge but not the bleeding edge–and I wish I could remember who to attribute that quote to.) So it is important to know who is likely to read your book–and be realistic about it.

So how do you figure out who your audience is? If you can pin down your genre, that is always a plus, but in this day and age of genre blending, that isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Figuring out who writes similar books is another way. Now I’m not saying try to emulate another writer–the market already has that writer–but if you can say that readers of XYZ series will probably also enjoy your book, that will give the publisher an idea how to market you (and if that genre is doing well enough that they’d like to take you on.)

At around this point during the panel, a young woman raised her hand and asked if the advent of self-publishing and e-books would negate the need to pin down genres and allow more obscure and ‘riskier’ (as in titles publishers wouldn’t think they could sell) to be released. The answer is both no and yes. Many small and electronic presses have made a name for themselves by publishing books most NY houses traditionally stay clear of (racy erotica anyone?). But the problem with self-publishing is that there is a glut of it out there  and while your book about wizard hamsters battling count Dracula’s cat (honest to goodness, both of those characters were mentioned during the course of the panel) might be supurb, you have to find people who want to read about wizard hamsters, and most importantly, let them know your book is out there.

Knowing your audience is more than just that one line in your query letter, it is also about finding your audience.

Hanging your shingle out on the internet isn’t enough because that relies on the readers finding you. Your book sitting on the right shelf with the right cover will go a long way toward helping readers find your book in a brick and mortar store, but there is still a lot of competition out there, and once we start talking digital, browsing is limited. So how do you find your audience? Or really, how does your audience find you?

That’s where promo comes in and where knowing your audience is critical. Targeting the correct group of readers will be more effective (both in result and cost) than randomly blanketing the market. This goes for everything from ads to events. For example, I write urban fantasy, so I make sure I budget for sci fi/fantasy conventions because that is where many fans of the genre gather. On the internet side, when I go on blog tours, I look for blogs that focus on my genre and on genres whose readers tend to be receptive to crossing over to urban fantasy. For instance, my books, while squarely in the urban fantasy genre, also have mystery, horror, and romantic elements in them. With that in mind, I often put ads and do blogs at places with a strong contingency of paranormal romance readers because many read both genres, but I don’t spend a lot of time at blogs catering to mystery readers because far fewer of them are willing to read fantasy novels.  Knowing this helps me spend my time and money in the most useful places.

Now, if all of this sounds far too calculating and intimidating, take a deep breath and a step back. If you’re like me, you’re writing in a genre you love so you already understand at least part of the audience because you are the audience. You still have to do some market analysis, but as a reader, you know how you find new authors and that’s a good starting point. Oh, and while promoting is a lot of work at times, writers often get to do super fun things like Dragon*con and call it business. ^_^

It was great seeing several of you at Dragon. Have a great weekend everyone!

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5 comments to Audience — A topic from Dragon*con

  • Razziecat

    One way of finding a potential audience is to become a member of a thriving online community based on another interest. One site I joined turned out to have many readers of SF, fantasy, horror, etc., as well as some members who also write. The site allows links to members’ personal blogs, so that gives people a way to check out your work if they want to, but it’s subtle enough that you won’t be thread-jacking.

  • K — I think the main thing in finding an audience is to take the time to do it right. If NYC is not interested (and let’s face it, they are less interested by the day in new and midlist writers) then small presses can bridge that gap. Most small presses have a nitch they are filling, like the small press that does your first fantasy series, and they do it well, offering full editorial services and pretty good marketing. Okay — really good marketing. Better marketing for newbie writers than a bigger press would ever bother to offer. And if you go through a small press, you avoid the brush of the self-published, while taking advantage of the nitch marketing skills of the publisher. It is the best of both worlds, oftentimes. You become a better writer, hone your craft, are pointed in the direction of readers of your kind of books, build a name, make some fans and money, and get decent marketing. You were smart to go about your career the way you did. If I was starting out right now, I’d carefully consider a small press.

  • This was a fun panel, Kalayna, and I really appreciated your comments on it. As this post shows, you’re very good at figuring out the audience thing — one of the reasons why you’ve been so successful with your first books.

    I will repeat the cautionary note I sounded during the panel: It’s very easy to overthink this stuff. Yes, you should know your audience. But you should not try to tailor your writing to a particular audience. Write the book you want and need to write. THEN start figuring out who your audience is, and if you have to do some editing to make a better fit, do it. But if you write for marketing purposes your book will suffer for it. My $.02.

  • That’s a good suggestion Razzicat, if you can find a good one. I got a little burned out on online communities a couple years ago because of too much “BUY MY BOOK” pushing by obnoxious people. But over the years, I have found one or two that disallow any form of promo and are actually pleasant and fun to hang out at.

    I agree, Faith. A good small press that fills a niche and becomes known for it is a good bridge and I think we will probably see more of them in the future. There has always been a sort of house loyalty along with genre loyalty amongst readers. Seeing a NY publisher’s logo on the side of the book let’s you know you’re getting a book that’s been vetted and polished and you probably know if you typically like the books that publisher puts out. Small presses are becoming the same way. I know there are some I don’t respect in the least because of the quality of material they put out while others are making names for themselves for a certain quality.

    David, I almost included a section on that in my post, but it was already obnoxiously long so I cut it. But I totally agree. Writing a book completely based on the market is problematic on several levels. 1) as mentioned on MW before, what readers see on shelves are actually what editors were buying 18 months and 2) as you said, if you’re heart isn’t in it the writing will reflect that fact. My working practice is that I write the first draft completely for myself. Subsequent drafts and revisions are for my editor, readers, and the needs of the market (if applicable) but that first draft is all me and the story.

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