It doesn’t matter what you’re writing, you must know who you are writing for because by trying to appeal to everyone – you end up appealing to no one. Remember that you’re not writing for a faceless book-buying crowd – you’re writing for Aunt Sally or Grandma Rose, or even yourself. Writing for readers distinguishes okay books from great books.
A Lesson From Disney
One of my favorite Disney movies is Aladdin (don’t mock me). I thought Robin Williams as the Genie was fabulous – he cracked me up. My kids watch that movie and they don’t get the Groucho Marks, Jack Nicholson, Rodney Dangerfield impressions, the ‘quid pro quo’ reference – they’re all about the slapstick humor. “Well I feel sheepish.” Genie morphs into a sheep. “Alright baaaaad boy, but no more freebies.”
Disney understands their main audience is kids, so they use simple story lines kids can relate to, incorporate slapstick comedy with great animation — and a powerful marketing strategy aimed at that audience. But Disney also knows that every kid has a parent watching over their shoulder so they sprinkle in ‘grown-up’ humor and deeper story lines to keep adults happy.
Take the movie UP! Do kids understand the bigger story going on beyond the humorous exchange between Mr. Fredrickson and Russell? No. Kids like Russell because he’s dealing with stuff they deal with every day like he has to go to the bathroom — RIGHT NOW, and the bigger issue of his dad never having time for him. My kids understood that Russell is lonely and finally finds a grownup who wants to spend time with him.
The adults catch the bigger story about Mr. Fredrickson not having any children, losing his wife Ellie, and feeling like life is over. But that backstory blurs past in the first minute of the movie for the grownups. Adults understand that Mr. F has set out to fulfill a promise to his late wife, doesn’t plan on coming back, and in the end realizes there’s a few more pages left in his scrapbook after all. Brilliant story-telling.
But Disney appealed to the kids first — their primary audience. If they didn’t catch the kids’ interest, the movie was going to fail.
“I want to give the audience a hint of a scene. No more than that. Give them too much and they won’t contribute anything themselves. Give them just a suggestion and you get them working with you.” -Orson Welles-
I’ve read proposals that list audience as: adults. While that may be true, it’s too broad. No book is going to appeal to everyone so don’t try. By telling agents or editors that your audience is adults you’re not making yourself more marketable — you’re marking yourself as an amateur. Romance writers know their primary audience is female readers between 31 and 45 who are married. The more you can narrow your audience, the more your work relates to them. Some writers create work for an extremely narrow demographic and appeal to a niche audience.
Your primary audience is who you’re writing the book for. When I’m writing copy, I envision the typical person I’m writing for – such as a woman over 45 who’s married with an empty-nest. I have a picture of that woman in my head. She has a name, a husband, kids. I constantly ask myself questions like: would she like this word, would she understand this turn of phrase, would this image resonate with her? Do you know who you are writing for? Be specific.
Over The Shoulder Audience
This is a group of people outside of your primary audience who may find value in your writing. If you’re writing an article or book about comforting a loved one during a terminal illness, your primary audience will be immediate family caregivers. That doesn’t mean no one else will find value in your work. Your writing may interest others who will read over-the-shoulder of your primary audience – so in this case the topic may interest medical professionals, those sick with a terminal illness who don’t yet need constant care, etc. But you can’t write to your over-the-shoulder audience and still resonate with your primary audience. If Disney stopped appealing to kids, parents would stop buying their movies.
Over The Shoulder Audiences Are Forgiving
One of my husband’s favorite authors is John Eldredge. He writes books for men. I enjoy reading Eldredge’s books because many of the things he talks about I can relate to – but I overlook those things that appeal specifically to men because I understand that he didn’t write the book for me.
The Twilight series is another good example. I understand that because the books are being marketed for 9-12yr olds, the characters in the books are going to be young, the sex, violence, etc. everything will be written to appeal to that younger audience. I’m willing to overlook that because I know the books weren’t written for someone my age – but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy them.
Marcy and I are editing our WIP for a different audience than the first draft was intended for and it’s been rough going. What about you? Who’s your audience?