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Who Is Your Target Reader?

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Guest Columns, What's New.

When you’re trying to sell your first novel, one of the questions that agents and editors will almost inevitably ask is “Who do you see as your target reader?”

Writers frequently punt with a vague answer, something along the lines of “Anyone who enjoys a good story” or “This theme is universal.” They’re probably trying to imply that their book has equal appeal for men and women, young and old, cuts that it across all racial and national lines and thus has the potential to be a best seller. Hmmm…yeah.

GIVEAWAY: Kim is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Writer 5512 won the book.)

 

 

      

Guest column by Kim Wright, who has worked for thirty years
as a travel writer, specializing in the areas of food, wine, and travel. 
She lives in Charlotte, NC and LOVE IN MID AIR is her first novel.

 

 

The reality is, agents and publishers are rarely impressed by such claims. If they ask a specific question, they expect a specific answer. Give them generalities and you may as well be wearing a t-shirt that reads “I haven’t thought about this AT ALL.”

Some authors write every sentence with a specific person in mind, almost as if the book is a letter, but if you don’t work like that you’ll have to think a little harder to describe your target reader. Probably the best way to zone in on the idea is to think back to what motivated you to write the book in the first place.

(11 Frequently Asked Questions About Book Royalties, Advances and Money.)

Let’s say you have an 11-year-old niece and you’ve watched with alarm over the past year as she and her friends have become increasingly obsessed with their appearance, their clothes, and a disturbingly premature sort of sexuality. Perhaps, not completely by coincidence, your next YA book features a plucky, tomboyish heroine and is in part a message to your niece that there’s more to life than being popular and cool. So when your agent says “Who’s your target reader?” you can say not just “10-12 year old girls” but respond with the story of your niece and her friends.

Or maybe you’re writing nonfiction and through the years you’ve become painfully aware that you and your weekend warrior athlete buddies are getting hurt more easily and staying hurt longer. This observation has resulted in “The Aging Jock,” an exercise and fitness book designed to help boomer athletes keep hitting the bike trails or ball court hard without sustaining so many injuries. So when the “Who’s your reader?” question comes up, you not only can say “50 year old men,” you can respond with the story of the sunny Sunday when a routine tackle took your buddy Dave out of the game for months.

This question is an enormous opportunity. When an editor or agent asks it, they aren’t just looking for a demographic – they’re looking for your motivation. Ideally you answer not just the surface question “Who’s the target reader?” but also the implied question behind it, which is “And why are you the right writer to tell this story?” The smartest responses are anecdotal, showing that you have a particular passion for your subject matter, that you didn’t just dream up this book at random but that it resonates within in you. See this question as an opportunity to show both the businesslike and passionate sides of yourself – i.e., why this is a marketable book and why you alone of all the souls on earth were born to write it.

(Are you writing middle grade, edgy paranormal, women’s fiction or sci-fi? Read about agents seeking your query NOW.)

So the right answer to “Who’s your target reader?” is something along the lines of “9-13 year old girls. It really bothers me how they’re pressured to grow up too fast. Last Christmas I was talking to my niece and it hit me that her childhood is so different from mine, that….” Editors and agents may or may not relate to the story about your niece, but it’s a far better shot than responding with a big fake smile and a big fake answer like “Everyone!”

Let them get to know you. Explain where your ideas come from and how they develop over time. It will not only make you more likely to be published – they’re looking for writers, not robots – but it’s good practice for what lies ahead.

GIVEAWAY: Delilah is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Writer 5512 won the book.)

 

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44 Responses to Who Is Your Target Reader?

  1. chramaqi says:

    At last, my holy grail. Oh how, this question has eluded, confounded and stupified me. Perhaps, the night terrors and ungodly cold sweats of fear and panic, will no longer find comfort in my ignorance.

  2. BlueZebra says:

    Great article! Love it! :)

  3. ratstar1001 says:

    Wow, that advice makes so much sense. I have never thought about my target audience like that before.

  4. Doropatent says:

    Great advice! The personal connection is always the best way to get what you want, I believe. If people can see you as another person, and a likeable, interesting one, they are much more likely to remember you and what you have to offer.

  5. shellywmf says:

    Love in Mid Air is a great title!! Good luck and congratulations!

    Michelle F.

  6. SixString_Chris says:

    If I were to be asked who my “target audience” is, before taking the time to think about it, I’d probably reply with something like “I am!” After all, I’m the one who wrote the story, so I think I would want to appeal to like-minded people. However, I think it’s vitally important to keep a “target audience” in mind during the writing process, so as not to stray into the murk of trying to please everybody.

    This is great info, and something that all of us should pay attention to – sort of like preparing for a job interview: understand the types of questions that will be asked, and the best way to answer them (honestly).

    Thanks!!

  7. pmettert says:

    This is something I hadn’t really thought about! Thanks for the info.

  8. Di says:

    Great advice. Motivation is apparent on so many levels – why I’m writing, who I’m writing for, what I’m writing – it makes my WIP such a dynamic learning process. Congratulations on publishing your first novel!

  9. katieje says:

    As a beginning author, this article was very helpful and really made me think about my target audience. Thank you!

  10. Silverlore says:

    This sounds like it would be a great book.

  11. Zephyrsaerie says:

    Ah, the illusive target reader. Yes, agents et al may go to the next level with you when you flash this by them, but it really boils down to story. And platform…which I’m still trying to understand at a deeper level. When you get a grip on that, will you share?

  12. sacha says:

    At first I thought this question was overly simplistic – of course, I know who my target audience is! If I’m writing something with the intention of publishing it, the focus and genre would almost automatically dictate the target audience, right? But then, as with any “why,” or in this case, “who,” I did let it rattle around, and I came up with a more specific target audience and purpose, so thanks, Kim!

  13. Excellent article–thanks! Target audience is something critical we must think about every time we write an article or story, no matter how long we’ve been writing. When that’s fuzzy in our own minds, our writing is less likely to meet our potential readers’ needs or even get their attention.

  14. ncbooklady says:

    Your advice has really helped me clarify my target audience. So I have gone from “Every woman who as ever daydreamed about being a trophy wife” to “Every spurned woman who has dreamed of a do-over revenge and returned to the “ex” as a throphy wife”. Well, it’s a start. Made me think about the lingering anger and resentment that is prompting the novel.

  15. llowe says:

    I think this is a great way to answer this question. Short and to the point. I’ve struggled with how to answer this and what a perfect response.

  16. WKS says:

    I appreciate how you explained the way to answer who the target audience is. Simple and direct.

  17. sbcrispell says:

    What a great way to look at target audience. I know the general audience for my novel, but it’ll be interesting to think about the push behind what made me write it and why others will relate to it and want to read it.

  18. Dessie says:

    Is this something you should put in the query letter? Or should it wait until (or IF) an agent asks? Many of the agents are so persnickety about what goes in the query letter — I don’t recall seeing “target reader” in many descriptions of what they want to see in the query.

  19. bapost says:

    Great article! I found it very helpful with a new way to consider the question of “who’s your target audience?” It now finally clicks! Thanks!

  20. writer5512 says:

    This article really made me think. As a writer just starting out, I had a slightly specific idea of who my target audience was. Then I read this article and started to think that wasn’t good enough. But as I finished reading, I discovered that maybe my inspiration came from deeper than I thought. I’ve taken some family ties and experiences and put them into my writing, almost without realizing it.

  21. samcarter46 says:

    Nice thoughts on target readers.

  22. mincontro says:

    Great post. Reminds me that there are other things to think about besides plot, character development, narrative arc, etc. We need to be able to identify the emotional connection we have to the material and, from there, picture the target audience. I’m on it! Thanks.

  23. HannaAnna says:

    I’m glad I read this. It’s nice to know what will help me stand out to an agent.

  24. KarenLange says:

    Thanks for the info. Great food for thought!

  25. verdemom says:

    I’d love to win your book, but if not…I’ll be sure to buy it! Loved these tips on who my readers are, this helped me so much and was very timely. Thank you so much.

  26. larabritt says:

    Great advice. Seems as if we should be thinking about our target audience before we write the book. That will help me make sure I’m on target before face-time with the agents.

  27. L. Fiske says:

    Great advice! Thank you.

    I’ve just written a novel inspired by my grandmother’s life. It’s a story I have carried with me from the time I was a young girl growing up sharing a room with this amazing woman. In the early 1900’s, an illiterate farm girl in the Middle East becomes known as the “Mother of All Children” – the story of a widow who becomes a midwife in order to keep and support her three children.

  28. Kati says:

    Now I’m tempted to make an “I haven’t thought about this AT ALL” t-shirt and wear it to a writer’s conference. Great advice!

  29. JMLacey says:

    I love that Ms. Wright was so targeted, especially: “When an editor or agent asks it, they aren’t just looking for a demographic – they’re looking for your motivation…why are you the right writer to tell this story?…that you didn’t just dream up this book at random but that it resonates within in you. See this question as an opportunity to show both the businesslike and passionate sides of yourself – i.e., why this is a marketable book and why you alone of all the souls on earth were born to write it.” I honestly had never thought of it that way and it’s as if her advice lifted a weight off my shoulders. This gives me a lot to work with. Thanks!

  30. resnyder says:

    This is good advice. It makes you think carefully about your intended audience, and make sure that you are writing to persuade them, or at least entertain them.

  31. Jennifer Velez says:

    I’ve always been too general when answering this question, but it makes sense to be more specific. It gives the impression that you’ve put thought into your target audience. Great advice, Kim.

  32. Miss Eve says:

    Good advice! I enjoy the act of writing so much that I sometimes forget I’m writing for other people besides myself.

  33. rochhamp says:

    Thank you for the advice, Kim. I will be attending the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference next week, and the source of my anxiety is having that “I haven’t thought about this AT ALL” look when an agent asks me a question.
    –Rochelle

  34. Jackie says:

    Thanks for sharing! This is great advice I can use at my next writer’s conference pitch.

  35. Jackie says:

    Thanks for sharing! This is great advice I can use when at my next writer’s conference pitch.

  36. Cerece says:

    Thank you so much for this article and this blog. It has been tremendously helpful to me! I have worn that “I haven’t thought about this question AT ALL” t-shirt quite a bit. But, thanks to your wonderful article, I’ve realized that I DO know who my target audience is. Plus, you’ve given me the confidence to actually articulate it. How great is that!?!

  37. sefmac20 says:

    Thanks! I never considered responding to this question by explaining the inspiration.

  38. judy murray says:

    Great Article. As writers we’re so concerned that we muddy our queries with personal nonsense, we neglect to add in the heart – the reason why we were compelled to write!

  39. Glenda says:

    I’m new to ‘writing’ and I’m absorbing all the information and advice my little brain will hold. Thank you for what sounds like good instruction.

  40. happybones says:

    I’m not there yet but I want to thank you for the gold nugget.

  41. amadan says:

    A useful reminder that while I might intuitively know who my target readers are, I need to be able to articulate it. Thanks!

  42. Kim,

    Great info about target audience…I’m going to go right now to my query letter and change it! Thanks so much. All best wishes with your new book…would love to get the free copy to read.

  43. lisaahn says:

    I love this idea. I’ve been struggling with the concept of a target reader, and this sense of narrative, of a story from my own experience, helps a lot. Thank you.

  44. Debbie says:

    Kim’s article is very informative. I will be attending three writer conferences over the course of the next few months and her tips will help me have a better answer when I am asked about my target audience. Thank you!

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