10.06.2011

Who's My Audience? No, Really...

Who's your audience? 

As a writer, I already hate this question. I'm a writer, I'm not a marketer. There is a small exception to the rule on this, but people who write books for a living are usually not born business people. But as a fiction writer? I hate that question so hard I want to punch it with brass knuckles.

But that's not good enough, because in today's publishing world, we writers can't just sit back and be creative and collect money. We have to be the business people we weren't born to be. We have to strategize, or whatever. And in order to effect a good book selling strategy, we have to know (among other things) who our audience is.

WHO ARE YOU WRITING FOR?! /Jack Bauer yell

Okay okay, put down the gun, Jack. I'm gonna try and figure this out. Let's first start with the kind of stories I write.

That's easy. I write horror stories! Except when they're not really horror, but kinda dark supernatural ghosty or science fiction. Or both. Except when they're not really about ghosts or science fiction, but just plain weird or funny. Or when I write fantasy. Or spiritual stuff. And then there's that one political thriller I tried to write and still might finish. And that women's fiction story I still want to do. And the dieselpunk-noir. Can't forget that. Or the steampunk collaboration! Or the vampire satire book. Golly, this hasn't accomplished much.

It might be easier to narrow down what I don't write. I do not, as a general rule, write:

1. Romance
2. Erotica
3. Religious stuff

And I'm pretty sure I will never write (at least from a purist standpoint, because I'm not quite nerdy enough):

1. Military stuff
2. Hard sci-fi
3. Pure historical fiction (the kind without a speculative or weird element)

That was much easier. So going back to the paragraph on what I do write, it's very hard to find a core audience for all of those genres. There are some people who do like all those things. They're usually the kind of readers who will read based on author loyalty rather than specific genres. Ultimately, I think that's why writers like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman are so popular. They aren't all that restricted by genre. They write what they want to write, whether it's scary supernatural or by-the-book mainstream, and people will read it because they trust the author will spin them one hell of a yarn.

That's the kind of author I want to be. So when someone asks me who my audience is, the answer I most want to give is, "open-minded people who like to read interesting and possibly weird shit." And then hope like hell I've delivered on the interesting part, because if I haven't, I'm doomed to be a failure.

I realize this will do nothing to help prospective publishers or agents. They want to know where my book is going to sit on a shelf. They'll want to know how I might devise a marketing campaign for my book. It will depend on what I've written that they deem salable, I guess. I know I can come up with some possible marketing strategies for the individual books I write. But what I can't guarantee is that the readers will cross over when I stray from the kind of story that drew them in in the first place. If they like my version of horror, will they come and read my science-fiction? What about the fantasy or the women's fiction? I can't definitively answer this, because (see second paragraph), I'm not a marketer, and I'm not sure any strategy I have in mind would work any better than just writing the best thing I can write. It's not my job to know whether they will follow or how. I just have to create the best conditions under which they can do so. I can try to make my own way with it, but it will likely wind up being a sloppy, mostly failure-filled effort as I make my way along this craggy cave with no flashlight.

I certainly hope they'll follow, and I'll do my best to try to entice them. But all I know is that they won't do it if everything I write isn't at least good. If tasked with trying to figure out who my core audience is right now, or the people who would follow me and my work no matter what genre I write, I'd surely fail. Based on reviews I receive and the readership I have among my friends and family, most of my fans so far are women. Nerdy women who are not terribly unlike me. But I also have my share of male fans, at least that I know of. They're also pretty geeky/nerdy.

So I'm pretty sure I'm writing for nerds and geeks. But that's not enough. There are a lot of people on the nerd/geek spectrum. The ones who insist on utterly perfect science and correct minute facts are going to hate my guts. I'd love get a demographic breakdown of the 15000 people who have downloaded UNDER THE SCOTCH BROOM the 3000 or so who have downloaded ARIA so far, but I'm not sure it would reveal more than "people who like free books."

So I write for broke nerds/geeks. That's probably the least desirable audience right there, because if they can't find your stuff for free, they're probably smart enough to pirate it from elsewhere.

Great. I've really effed myself now.

But in all seriousness, good things are happening in Allie's indie world. For the first time since I've started doing this, I'm getting some actual exposure with my writing. And it seems a small handful of them have come back to buy something that costs money. And the reviews I've managed to scare up so far have largely been positive. I'm grateful for the bump in paid sales, and I'm utterly stoked that thousands of people are giving me reason every day to refresh my Amazon sales page once every five minutes or so. It means maybe I'm making some fans out there. That people are interested in my stuff. That they might follow me wherever I go, or at least recognize my name in their heads if they ever pass it in a bookstore. We'll see. Maybe if any of those fans are reading right now, they can tell me their age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, preferred political party, and whether they like Coke or Pepsi., and then I can put together a real demographic chart. The kind that gives marketing people wet dreams.

Until then, I guess I'll just keep writing what I want and see who sticks around for more helpings.  All right, Mr. Bauer, you may fire when ready.

2 comments:

  1. It's all so awesome, Allie. You're a good writer and a good editor, a combo made for self-publishing, if ever there was one.

    I've given this a lot of thought myself, this marketing crap. Some people use pseudonyms for their different genres, but I've not heard of anyone who uses more than 3 names, and usually only 2. I write a lot of different genres. I guess if somebody started paying me to write then I'd narrow it down. But where I am right now is too muddy. I write a lot of different things. Like you, I'm writing for people who like a good story, excluding a handful of genres. That's a wide swath.

    Good luck going forward. I'll be cheering you on.

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  2. Thank you so much, Sherri! When I read your story the other day, I was thinking, "Holy crap, this reminds me of something I would write." lol I love it. In fact, to get an idea of how close it is to something I would write, I'll show you a blog I wrote several years ago. You might have already seen this, though:
    http://inner-cheese.blogspot.com/2007/09/animals-with-dirty-stuffing.html

    Anyway, it's great to share this road with you!

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