Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Who is your audience? Part One: determination

Bears are big. Bears are brown. Bears live in the woods.

The big, brown bear lived in the woods.

The ursine animal made his habitat in the flora of the forest.

Audience matters. The three sentences above all say the same thing yet the vocabulary for each is audience-specific. You can imagine a group of three-and-four-year olds sitting around a storyteller in the first example, a primary reader in the second -- and a freshman in high school trying to impress his teacher in the third. :)

We could also change our audience by changing the sentence structure. Try rewriting the above putting the prepositional phrase first, or starting with the verb. Our traditional grammatical structure (noun, verb, everything else) has infinite varieties.

Caveat: not all changes in sentence structure are good, but that's next week's blog post. My point this week is only that it can be done, not that it should be!

(Sidenote: In preparation for this workshop, I used an online dictionary to find synonyms for the word "bear" - as in the animal. What I found surprised me. There are only a few instances of the word being used as a noun: the animal is one, a grouch is another and a police officer is a third. Yet there are several dozen verb uses and half again as many adjective choices. English apparently latches onto the sound of a particular word and likes it so much, it reuses it over and over instead of making up new ones. No wonder non-native speakers get confused!)

So who is your audience? Are your readers young? Middle-aged? Old? Male? Female? Who is reading your books? Where are they located? Do they live in your country or do you have an international audience?

Some of that information you can get from your website stats (location, at least). But often, we never know who is actually picking up our books and reading them. I have about a 75-25 split female-to-male ratio if you look at those who have signed up for my newsletter, another set of data that can be used to gain information about my readership.

If you publish with a publisher, they can often tell you, in general terms, the type of person buying your books from the feedback they get and the information they take at the point of sale.

And of course, you might also have an idea in your head - a stereotypical reader you're telling your story to. As you write, who are you gearing your story towards? Those writing young adult novels have a very different picture in their heads than someone writing suspense or an author writing erotic romance.

That's not to say the audiences don't cross over -- they do! Readers are often eclectic in their tastes. However, we each have a target audience in our heads - and they're the ones we're writing the story for.


So, who is your audience? Today's activity has three parts:

Part One - write a brief description of your target reader. Who do you see buying your books? How do they purchase them (ebook or print?). Be as thorough as you can.

Part Two - collect the demographic information available. Put a data collector on your website (I use Stat Counter in addition to the stats Blogger gives me; each gives me valuable information). If you have a newsletter, go through your list of subscribers. That's your core audience right there. And last, ask your publisher who buys your books. They may be only able to give you a general idea, but it'll add to your picture.

Part Three - Remember, you are a reflective writer. Once you have all that information, review it. Does the info you gathered in Part Two of this activity match with your mental picture in Part One? Take some time and write about it as you reconcile the two.

Play safe!

Don't forget the tip :)

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