Audience: Why You Have to Know Who They Are

Saturday, October 19, 2019
You have to know who your audience is. Otherwise, you can’t give them what they want. Don’t see the link? Then you should have been with my husband and I when we were trying to pick out an audiobook for a recent road trip.

I had three different books already checked out. I just had to get him to choose one. They were:

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land. A journalist’s memoir about her struggle as a single mother to survive on a domestic’s salary. Land often contrasts her life with that of the upper middle-class who employed her.

Spying on the South by Tony Horwitz. Over 150 years later, the author retraces Frederick Law Olmstead's epic journey across the American South in the 1850s.

11/22/63 by Stephen King. A high school English teacher has the opportunity to travel back to 1958 and attempt to prevent the assassination of JFK.

But each title got voted down. I knew Maid was going to be a stretch, but it’s my book club book. I tried! Spying on the South also received a no vote because he doesn’t know who Frederick Law Olmstead is. Wait, I stand corrected. He knows who Olmstead is and that's why the book got voted down. 11/22/63 got a no vote from both of us because it is 30 hours long and we only have a ten hour trip. Trying to find 20 hours to finish a book when we get home is not a realistic goal.

Back to the library! By this point I was getting a little slap happy and started suggesting everything with a man’s well-muscled torso on the cover, a solid design element in the romance section. Not that I read romances, but those covers might convince me to give it a try.

This time we came away with:

The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan. A modern middle grade fantasy set in the same world at Percy Jackson.

I Know a Secret by Tess Garritson. A mystery in which a female detective and a female medical examiner work together to solve crimes. Also a TNT series.

Case Studies by Kate Atkinson A private detective takes on three cold cases that took place in or around London.

What does this teach us about audience? Most people read a variety of books. I’m the children’s writer but my husband chose The Hidden Oracle. He also picked I Know a Secret. My choice was Case Studies. I will attempt just about anything except romance.

Another thing to remember about audience – go with the common wisdom and you are going to get it wrong. If you write romance, you are writing for romance fans, not women in general. Really.

We are told men read nonfiction. I’m female and I read nonfiction. My son reads nonfiction. My husband? Almost never unless he is fixing something or building something. Urban fantasy, alternate history and science fiction are much more likely. I paid the price for ignoring this and had to try again.

Which of course sent me to the library and all those romance covers.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins November 18th, 2019.


Margo Dill said...

Great post. I was actually wondering which your husband would finally pick--so I'm glad you didn't leave us in suspense.

THis reminds me of the advice: know where your book fits on the bookstore shelf. If you don't know that, you can still write the book, but you will have a very hard time marketing it.

Hopefully this audio book worked out well!

Renee Roberson said...

Well, now I have a whole new list of books to check out thanks to this post! I find it so interesting that your husband picked out the YA fantasy in the midst of all those other titles. I've been thinking about this topic a lot. My son (now 13) has never been an avid reader so he struggles with picking out books he has to read for "free choice" in his language arts class. And I struggle because his older sister is such a voracious reader that she never struggled to find titles. But they are two completely different children. So far this school year he's read "The Candymakers" by Wendy Mass (his sister's recommendation) and "Refugee" by Alan Gratz. He told me both were good but "Refugee" was really sad (but he did learn a lot). We struggled this weekend to find him a new book and he finally settled on "The Outsiders," which surprised me. If he had his way, he would read nothing but nonfiction sports books but I'm trying to broaden his horizons.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Definitely good advice about the bookstore shelf. There are always those people who think their books is a mystery-romance-political thriller in equal parts. But then where will your reader FIND it?

My son had the same problem when it came to finding a book to read. Not that he would have gone with nonfiction sports. His was military history nonfiction. I think this is where book bundles come in handy - you recommend three or so books at once with one being fiction, one nonfiction and one a graphic novel or poetry. Or whatever. But it has to be three books that are fairly different and only tied together by theme.


Cathy C. Hall said...

Yep, knowing your audience is crucial! And P.S. I hope you read Case Studies--it's so well written and intriguing, too. I loved it!

(But it would've been a tough one to listen to--three perspectives, twisty turns, literary prose. Or maybe that's just me! :-))

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I can usually listen to fiction but nonfiction can be tough if there are too many names. But I will definitely keep it in mind. If I get confused I'll request the print book. I love my library!

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