We are often approached by authors who have finished a full draft of their novel, but have not yet given much thought to who their readers will be. “I’m writing for me” is a phrase we hear regularly, and while it’s true that you will always be your first – and most important! – reader, if you intend to make money from your self-publishing venture, you need to consider who else might be interested in reading your novel. In this article, we take a look at how to write with an audience in mind to ensure the success of your novel.
Your book needs readers; that’s just a simple fact when you publish for profit. So in order for your book to find traction and sell, you need to be aware of where and how it fits into the publishing landscape. You must have a clear idea of exactly who your readers may be.
This process is not as easy as it may sound; sometimes, it makes new authors feel as though their book is being reduced to nothing more than a commodity on a shelf. The truth is, while it is certainly not a can of soup or box of cereal, your book will be sitting on a shelf (virtual or otherwise) next to similar books. Potential buyers are going to have certain expectations when they buy it. If you disappoint these early readers, then you open yourself up to poor reviews and your sales will consequently suffer.
Here is what we suggest to help you find your niche:
Step One: Write what you like – and know
Many (if not all) books start out as a personal project. Maybe you finished reading a book and said to yourself, “I can do better.” Or perhaps an idea for a story popped into your head when you were doing something mundane like washing the dishes.
However you got started, it is important to enjoy what you are writing and not simply pander to the market. The basis for your story must come from within you, and shouldn’t be exclusively informed by what’s “hot” right now. This way, your writing will immediately be more authentic – and ultimately enjoyable – for the reader.
We also suggest you write what you know. Don’t take this too literally – obviously nobody has ever ridden a dragon, so that sort of stuff is open to interpretation. But avoid writing about, say, horse-riding if you’ve never ridden a horse. Here is the fun bit, though: if you are writing about something you are not familiar with, go and do some research. If you can, go to the places where you are setting your story. Experience what you are making your characters do.
By extension, if you are including real locations in your book (like a notorious prison, famous college, or popular holiday destination, for example), research what it is like there. What are the rules and customs? All of this can become inspirational material for your story.
Step Two: Read as much as you can
Chances are that you are writing a story based on the sorts of books you like to read. It’s imperative that you read as widely in your chosen genre as possible. Familiarize yourself with the books that will stand alongside yours. If you aren’t doing that, then your book is likely to seem trite and weak to those hardcore fans of the genre (who are going to be your first readers). This is part of writing what you know, and will help you once you reach the next step…
Step Three: Think about where your story will fit into the overall literary landscape
Take a step back and re-read those books you love with fresh eyes. What makes them special to you? What are the common threads running through each? Think about how your book is similar and different.
Most importantly, really consider into which genres your book will fall. Take a look around Amazon to see how they have categorized your favorite books. Better yet, get up and go to your nearest bookstore (preferably an independent one!). Where would your book be displayed if it was for sale there?
The final thing to think about in this step is: Will my book be commercially viable? If my ideal reader is me, are there enough “mes” out there to buy my book? This is something on which traditional publishers base all of their decisions, and you should also have a hard think about it. Take a look at what is topping the charts on Amazon. Will your book be mass market, with a voracious but fickle audience, like Young Adult Romance novels? Or will it have a smaller but potentially more loyal following, which Science Fiction books often enjoy?
If you are unsure of where your book fits in, consider buying our Manuscript Assessment package. Your report will include a recommendation and assessment of the suitability of your manuscript’s genre.
Step Four: Revise your story
This is the hardest part of all. You may be partway through writing your manuscript or finished a first draft, but if you have done your research properly, chances are that you need to revise your story to make it more marketable. By this point, you should be an expert in your own genre. You should know what your readers will expect, what they will find fresh and exciting, and what has been overdone by other authors. The key is finding a balance between meeting those reader expectations, and surprising them just enough that your story will stand out in a crowded marketplace.
If you have finished your manuscript, this may be the perfect time to start sending it to “beta-readers”, who can provide valuable feedback and fresh eyes. We talk about the process of revision and why it is so important in our blog post, The Dreaded “R” Word.
Time to play the field
Many authors see the approach outlined above as restrictive and stifling; but we prefer to see it as a means of helping you to focus on finishing your story in the best way possible.To put it in sporting terms: you know where the goal posts are (a finished manuscript), but by thinking about what genre your book falls into and its target market, you are also defining the boundaries of the playing field, thereby guiding and focusing you.
What are your top tips on how to write with an audience in mind? Share them now in our comments section!