Blogger: Rachel Zurakowski
Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
As I’m reading proposals, so often I see really great writing, but the project has little hope of publication because the audience is so small. Here are some things to keep in mind when you create your proposal:
You can significantly limit your audience through centering a novel around too culturally-specific an area of the country. If your main plot takes place with a Piggly-Wiggly storeowner in the heart of Oklahoma, you need to watch out. Same thing with writing about an executive at a large company in New York. Both plots can be done successfully, but you need to ask yourself: What in my plot is going to draw average readers to my characters and story? No matter where your story is set, be sure to focus on universal ideas that will appeal to everyone.
You can limit your audience through specifying a church denomination in your book or by going into detail about “rituals” and events that are denomination specific. It’s best to remain vague when it comes to denominations and things like baptism and communion unless you’re writing for a denominational press. In fiction, characters’ behaviors can also be offensive to certain denominations–drinking wine, for example, is unacceptable in some churches. You can limit your audience through including an alcoholic beverage.
Writing a crossover book can take away the possibility of an audience because the project could straddle audiences. It is hard to find a publisher in either the Christian market or the general market that will publish a “crossover” story because the straddling means it might appeal to neither the Christian audience nor the general audience. General-audience publishers seldom want a story with a lot of overt Christianity; meanwhile, Christian publishers don’t want stories with compromised morals or that aren’t in agreement with their publishing house’s statement of believe–which all of them have. Memoir is one genre where the crossover style is more acceptable because reality usually is a natural mix of the world and religion.
Choice of protagonist can also limit the audience, especially the age and gender of your protagonist. A twentysomething reader will rarely choose to read a book that is about middle-aged women. A 19-year-old doesn’t want to read a book about a 12-year-old. Men are less likely to read a book about a woman than women are to read a book about a man. Look at Harry Potter and Twilight. The Harry Potter series was appealing to both boys and girls, with Harry as the main character; whereas Twilight, told in Bella’s voice, is considered a book for teen girls.
In nonfiction, your chosen topic can usually be expanded pretty easily if it is too narrow. You want to select your target audience before you even start to write. Target your writing to appeal to a broad but defined audience. If you write for mothers, write for mothers of elementary-school children instead of a book for mothers of kindergartners or write for mothers of teens instead of writing a book for moms who have new teens. If you’re going to write an encouraging book full of essays about owning animals, try My Pet Is My Friend instead of Chinese-Crested Dogs Bring Comfort.
I know many best-selling exceptions exist for each of these precepts, but remembering your audience as you write and trying to appeal to a large yet defined group of people is the best way to approach your book idea.
Very good advice, but I’m wondering what you think about niche markets, which we seem to be hearing more and more about. My understanding is that because readers are assaulted on so many fronts for their reading time, the niche book, blog, etc. gives them exactly what they want. This view contradicts what you’ve said in your post.
Is there way to appeal to a certain niches without making the mistakes you mentioned?
You bring up an interesting question: Do we TELL a story or TARGET a story? This all leads me to big philosophical thinking and causes me to procrastinate on today’s writing. 🙂 Just a little bit, but it’s all good musing.
My current work involves an alcoholic parent (the mother). The addiction, the hiding, the unkept promises. The child looks for God in the midst of it all. Will it only be palatable for Christian readers/market if it contains pat answers? Will it be unpalatable for the secular audience if a character comes to Christ?
Lots of fun musing. I’m enjoying the challenge.
I’m still learning that lesson. It’s a fine line. Thanks for the information!
True, true. Nice example of the Harry Potter vs Twilight. I mentor a couple young girls, and one of the girls’ father read Twilight and I thought, “Wow, way to get involved.” I offered to lend him my copies of book 2, 3, and 4 and he smiled. “Yeah, not so much.”
So, is it safe to say that both young guys and gals will read a story from a guy’s POV more than a guy will read a story from a girl’s POV? I’ve heard that before.
Hey, great post.
Thank you for the clarification Rachel. It all makes sense (as much as anything in publishing can right now).
Niche marketing is most likely the future for publishing (especially with the rise of e-books and e-readers), but at this point publishers (especially the large publishing companies)are still thinking about the broad market when they’re acquiring books. Everything is in transition right now.
I agree with the point that Marilyn brought up. It is a challenge to write these days, but it’s all about writing what you’re passionate about in a way that will appeal to the broadest audience. You tell your story, but you target it to your readers. After all, we share our stories to accomplish a goal in one way or another. We want to help other people not to make the same mistake we did or we want to help them grow in their faith. If we target our stories, we can help our “goal,” whatever it is, reach and touch the biggest and best audience.
“So, is it safe to say that both young guys and gals will read a story from a guy’s POV more than a guy will read a story from a girl’s POV? I’ve heard that before.”
Lynn, yes I think it’s safe to say that. Of course this doesn’t mean that you should only write stories with a male main character, but it’s something to think about as you start your story. Do you want men to read your book or is it a topic that will appeal mostly to women?