The great Jimmy Stewart once said, “Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”
Now that’s something to think about.
Recently, I have been corresponding with a cousin of mine who is an aspiring writer. In his latest email, he confessed that he has been having trouble defining his target audience. He thinks it is one group but then thinks his work would appeal to another.
In my writing courses I devote a big chunk of time to understanding and defining one’s target audience. After all knowing who you are writing for is very important. Right? Right. However, unless you are querying an agent or publisher never consider it written in stone.
First and foremost -you must be your most important target. If you are not enjoying what you are writing and don’t relish the time you spend with your characters, then your writing will become a chore and believe me your audience will know.
Second- while it’s important to define your ideal reader and know your audience intimately in order to create authentic and relatable characters remember that when playing darts, you still get points for hitting the outer rings.
Some of the most successful artists ever, be they authors, playwrights, musicians, actors, poets or painters, have managed to capture the attention of the most coveted audience of all…the crossover audience (use your imagination here to insert rays of light, with cherubs flying around playing harps surrounding the words crossover audience,).
Think about Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight saga, or J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter dynasty. The adult population of readers for both these authors is not what they set out to capture but something in their stories did and it propelled them into the stratosphere.
I will never forget…never forget the day I was across the street at a neighbor’s house for a baby shower. I floated around from room to room mingling with small pockets of gossip until I heard this, “I just had to see why my teenage daughter was so interested in a book about Vampires. Oh my God, now I have to fight her every night for my turn with it.” Then from across the circle another middle aged woman responded, “My husband thinks I’m crazy and I had to remind him about the collection of Harry Potter books in the bottom drawer of his night stand.” Then another neighbor chimed in, “I know; we got hooked on Harry Potter after helping Nathan with the names and potion words in the book. So… show of hands, who is Team Edward and who is Team Jacob?” With that the group erupted into a frenzy of “Yeah but Jacob is this… and Bella that…and Edward…
At that moment, I suddenly understood the power of broad appeal and my relationship with my personal target audience changed forever. I stopped writing for them and started writing to them. They became my ghost writers or as Jimmy put it so perfectly-my partners. Suddenly my plot opened up and my protagonist and antagonist became stronger, richer and better connected to a more varied cast of characters. And if that wasn’t rewarding enough, my plot suddenly gave birth to sub-plots where some of my favorite and most memorable scenes unfold.
Since that epiphany I have re-tooled my writing process to include the following considerations:
1) I create a theme that is appropriate for and appealing to a specific genre of readers.
2) I create a plot that is much bigger than that population.
3) I make sure my audience is not my client for whom I wish to merely sell my story to but rather my partner helping me create the best story ever.
The next time you sit down to create, try and answer this…If my ideal reader was sitting in a public place enjoying my book what unexpected somebody might be reading over their shoulder enjoying it just the same?