Rick Riordan is an absolute genius. I mean that. Stacey over at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management highlighted his story a while ago. What I love the most about the Percy Jackson series is that he created his hero to share the same learning disabilities his son had. It's this focused creativity that, I think, made "The Lightening Thief" and the subsequent novels in that series the chart busting best sellers they became.
Non-fiction writers and academic writers have a mantra: "Know your audience." But fiction writers don't talk about this subject with the same veracity. Of course there are the YA, Middle Grade, Children's, and Picture Book writers who have to understand the developmental stage of children and adolescents, but when it comes to adult Fiction, writers don't take as much time researching the kind of people that will be reading their stories. By doing this, they are missing a valuable doorway to creating stories that have a powerful impact and become indispensable parts of people's libraries.
So, my question to you is, who are you writing for? (And you aren't allowed to say, "I write for myself!" Feel free to write for yourself, but don't complain when you are your only fan.) Your target audience may look like one of these options:
- Genre Fans: You write for fans of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror, etc. You know that these fans expect certain things from stories in the genre, and you would do well to include those elements. In other words, if Sci-Fi fans expect and enjoy reading about aliens and robots, maybe including those elements in your book is a good idea. If you're target is fans of the genre, that is. (This is a prime explanation for the influx of Vampire, Werewolf, and Greek Mythology storylines)
- Age Groups: Obviously in the aforementioned age specific genres of YA and KidLit, this is absolutely an element to consider. But I believe it's just as necessary when writing adult fiction. A book that is popular among 50 - 60 somethings will look much different than a book popular among 20-30 somethings. And rightly so. With a vast array of differences in life experience, tastes, and cultural background, to write without a consideration of the age of your audience can be literary suicide.
- Author Groupies: You love J. K. Rowling, and you know how to sound just like her when you write. Chances are, there are people out there that will buy your books if your voice is similar to their favorite author. If you utilize similar elements in your stories, you may be able to tap into an already established fan base. Why reinvent the wheel, right? Ok, so in all reality, this is probably a very bad idea. Everybody loves a successful trailblazer, but nobody loves a copycat, at least not for very long. Have you ever wondered why celebrity impersonators never go on world tours? It's because fans aren't stupid.
- Collective Background: My opinion, this is the target to lock in on. I'm talking here about people who have their own similar stories, similar life experience. There are a million people out there whose stories have never been told, or not in a way that they find appealing. Create a Fantasy about a Dragon that struggles with Bulimia, a Sci-Fi about a literal illegal alien, a mystery involving the kidnapping of someone's child out of their Florida time share villa. You just might tap into a powerful commonality between your characters and your readers. If readers can buy your characters, they will buy your book/movie/play/etc.
Can you think of any other target audience groups I didn't mention? Or, maybe you think I'm way off, go ahead and (nicely) clue me in!