Mark Terry

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Who's Your Audience?

February 3, 2009
My oldest son is reading The Odyssey in English class. I commented to him that one of the things modern readers should keep in mind about The Odyssey is who the audience was. This is not a story that was necessarily being told to the general Greek public, but being told to soldiers. Yes, it's a story filled with glorious battles and victories and particularly clever soldiers, but more importantly, it's a story about a soldier who went off to war for nearly 20 years and when he came back his wife and son were waiting for him. 

My son commented on how odd it was that Telemacchus, Odysseus' son, greeted him and fought with him side-by-side, rather than told him to kiss off for being gone for so long. How odd it was for Odysseus' wife to be glad to see him.

Mmmm. Back to audience. That's exactly what the Greek soldiers wanted to hear. In fact, soldiers were probably quite glad to hear a story where they were stranded on an island with a hot goddess for 7 years or so and when they do finally make it back home the entire question of who you've been screwing while you were gone doesn't come up at all, but your wife remained chaste and faithful the whole time.

Anyway, in nonfiction audience is usually a no-brainer. When I write for Podiatry Management, I know exactly who the readers are--podiatrists who run their own practices. When I write for ADVANCE for Medical Laboratory Professionals, I know exactly who the readers are--medical technologists and technicians, sometimes managers of laboratories. If I wanted more demographic info, magazines have that right down to age and gender and geographic distribution.

Novels--not much. We often view our readers as a lot like us, because, after all, we liked the story enough to write it, we'd probably be the perfect reader. Yes and no. Anyone paying attention to reader demographics knows it skews toward women (about 60%) and a little older (mid-40s and up, which sounds a bit like "post-young children to death"). That isn't to say that men don't read or that younger people don't read, but the majority of book buyers fall into that demographic. So should your main character be a 50-something woman?

Probably not, unless that works. But I'm aware that a lot of the people who I've heard from about my own books tend to be women in their 50s or even older who bought the book for their husbands to read. Their e-mails often sound like this: I bought The Serpent's Kiss for my husband and he absolutely loved it and can't wait for the next one. When will the next one be out?

I mean--really--I've received a bunch of e-mails that sound like that. The women promise to be reading the book themselves soon and maybe they do, but I'm not so sure. That isn't to say women haven't read my books, they have. It just means that there's something slightly complicated going on with my reading demographic.

So, taking your own sorry self out of the demographic equation for a moment, who do you think are your readers going to be?

Mark Terry


Blogger Jude Hardin said...

What's James Patterson's demographic?

That's the one I want.

5:11 AM  
Blogger Davin C. Goodwin said...

Jude -- Everyone.

7:11 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

People who don't care whether he writes his own books or not. That's his demographic.

7:40 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

My readers are 40-70, some 20-25, not much in between. I know my readers VERY well. I know their hopes, dreams, fears, worries, everything. I very pointedly write to them and for them. I even know everything written in my niche. EVERYTHING.

So trying to write for NY? It's like trying to write with a blindfold on. It's too general, too big. I suppose the only thing to tap into are those universal truths.

9:00 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

(Women, I forgot to add. I have about a 2% male readership, LOL.)

9:03 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

It's hard for me to think about writing for an audience made up of women past forty, which is what the audience for most books tends to be, simply because I don't fit into that category and am not sure what such an audience would want to read. But luckily my co-author falls into that category. Also, since our books get read, I just take it on faith that a few women over forty like what I like! I guess I tend to think more in terms of writing for readers who enjoy historical mysteries. Which works when we are writing our mysteries but isn't helpful if I'm wondering what else I might write.

I should add that I find it especially tough to assimilate this country's reading demographics because I've spent so much time involved in sf fandom, in which there are still somewhat more men than women, and all the men are avid readers. My brother is a reader too. I tend to find myself working and associating with men who read. So even though most people in our society don't read, and particularly men don't usually read, as a writer, I just can't think about that. I write for readers, whoever they may be.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I think a big part of the problem for me in regards to this is somewhere along the line I realized that I'm NOT a typical reader, so writing for myself sometimes leaves me a little outside the mainstream of the market. That said, I do--or I should say used to--gravitate toward very commercial fiction.

I have found, for better or worse, that in the last year or two my reading has gotten broader. Very good from a human perspective, but somewhat puzzling as a writer. When it comes to what I read these days I'm leaning toward middle-grades fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, mysteries, nonfiction, particularly political or historical or travel.

I'm not sure what that says about me, actually.

10:20 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

I'd have to say my audience is not what I think my audience is. When I write my mysteries, I aim at women, ages 30-50. Some of my biggest fans, though, are teen girls and men over the age of 60. I'm not totally sure why. But if someone out of my demographic chooses to read and like my stuff, I most certainly won't turn them away.

My military memoirs, on the other hand, are targeted more toward males, specifically veterans, which brings me back to the beginning of your post. THE ODYSSEY is a book I chose to use in my classes this year, because I'd read ODYSSEUS IN AMERICA, a book by clinical psychiatrist Jonathan Shay. This book points to parallels within the plot of the classic to soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
Indeed, the book may well have had the intended audience of soldiers, but not for the reasons that are, at first, apparent.

THE ODYSSEY is also a good example of the Aristotelian plot structure in action. Maybe Aristotle read it and thought, wow, what a cool plot...

10:46 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

I think "everyone" is one of the more dangerous things we can think. Editors don't like to hear it, I've learned, because they hone their lists based on what they think they know about who buys their books. And every publisher knows every imprint isn't bought by "everyone."

In my next YA, my audience is females who want a real old-fashioned love-at-first sight tale with some history blended in. And for most of my romantic comedies I know my audience is NOT romance readers. My books tend to find loyal readers who think they are smarter than the "average" reader, a little more literate. I know most people over 50 (women) loathe my books (too foul-mouthed). They are not my demongraphic.

P.S. OK, my word verification is . . . wait for it . . .
inspermi. As in In Sperm I. I woke up this morning thinking, "I really would love to have another baby or adopt a baby"--is the Universe telling me something? ;-)

4:37 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Just say "no," Erica! :)

4:42 AM  
Anonymous Zoe Winters said...

hmmm, not sure I can take myself out of the equation for this. Because while some readers may be way out there on some other planet, many of them are "like me" in some way. And so when I'm marketing, I have to think, "Okay, where would I go to discover this?"

Almost every "group" I've figured out as a core part of my audience that I'm writing for is "like me in some way" and so I can't divorce myself from this equation.

1:59 PM  

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