Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Know Your Audience

I think one of the most important things, if not THE most important thing, for any writer is this:

Know your audience. 

When I sit down to write anything, I always have a target audience in mind. If I’m working on a YA novel, I’m thinking of teenagers between the ages of about 14 and 19. When I’m working on children’s picture books, I’m usually envisioning my own kids at ages 5 and 7. When I was in school and working on an essay or paper, I had my professor and classmates in mind. And when I wrote Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers, I had an audience of frustrated students who had to write a paper in mind.

If you know your audience, you can gear your book or project for them. And I'm not talking about writing for trends or trying to force your books to be what someone else wants them to be. I'm talking about knowing who you are writing for. Who is going to be reading your book?

If you know this, you can keep the writing, and the language specifically, appropriate. Now, I’m not talking about swearing or questionable jokes or anything. I mean using the big, field-specific technical language in your papers where your professor will appreciate them and keeping your young adult novels teen-friendly by using the type of language teens use when they speak; using kid-friendly words and terms in picture books; keeping the aliens in their sci-fi worlds and adding the hot and heavy sex scenes to the romance novels, but maybe keeping them out of a NF textbook :D

Can they blend a bit? Sure. I love a little overlap. I love a touch of romance in my sci-fi novels (or any novel really) :D I love a little supernatural in a good mystery. I love a hint of maturity in a cute MG. And maybe a bit of playful youthfulness in an adult novel. It can be hilarious to see an adult talking like a kid or a really smart kid sound more adult than the adults. Nothing is absolute and it certainly doesn't need to be when writing.

But think about it. How popular is your YA novel going to be if you use so many huge, unreadable words that your readers have to run it through a translator just to figure out what you are saying? How popular will your adult spy thriller be if your main character is a bunny named Buttons who solves crimes with his sidekick Terry Turtle? (Although that would be a totally cute PB! Might have to get on that....) What kind of grade are you going to get if you turn in that college-level essay peppered with phrases like “So, dude, like you should totally just listen to me cause I like tooootally get what I’m doing.” ?

No matter what you are writing, you’ve got to keep your audience in mind. I guarantee they’ll love you for it :)

Do you keep your audience in mind when you write?


Em-Musing said...

Yes, always...but my stories are a tough cookie to sell to agents who think that older women aren't as romantic and sexy as younger protagonists. Have they NOT noticed Meryl Streep?

Tiffany Garner said...

This is easier for me, since I'm writing YA and technically I still fit into that market. But I still find myself making slip ups, where I have too much 'adult reflection' on something. As one of my CPs pointed out, the YA audience doesn't care about adult motivations. I'm in that strange in between place where I do, so it bled into my writing, but I'm cleaning it up :)

Great post! And so true.

Mark Noce said...

Excellent point! I find that this is one of the biggest things to consider during the editing process. However, when it comes to YA I always wonder if the intended audience is really teens or adults;)

Katrina L. Lantz said...

My biggest problem with this is the age thing. When I was 16, I hated people discriminating against me (what I could do, what I was capable of) because of my age. And as an adult, I'm still that way, so it's weird to me that if you write a character who's 17, it's clearly YA but if they're 18, 19, or 20, it falls into the (some say) burgeoning category of New Adult. I understand WHY there are these market distinctions, but I definitely don't think they're genuine for readers.

I usually write for MG or YA, but every once in a while, an adult MC pops into my head, one who isn't middle-aged, and I think there's a piece of the market that's somehow missing for that. (End rant.)

Matthew MacNish said...

I often try to convince myself that I write for everybody, but that's just foolish. There is no way everyone is going to enjoy the same book.

Carole Anne Carr said...

I know I am writing for children, but sometimes it turns out that I've written something for the 9-12's and on other occasions the work is more suitable for 11 to 13's. Difficult.