Wednesday, June 8, 2016

How Much Should a Novel’s Audience be a Consideration Before Starting the Book?

With one novel out in the world, promoting that title regularly, and a second novel well in the works, this is a question I find myself pondering.

One could argue in favor of carefully considering who one’s book will appeal to before even writing the first chapter. An author could contemplate what thriving markets exist? Which might be well suited for their story idea? What thematically similar successful books have preceded it recently? And how their title-to-be can be sold to that same audience.

This way of thinking might allow the marketing process to begin simultaneously with writing the first draft, rather than turning to marketing only after the polished manuscript is finished. It is clear from my book marketing experience, all-be-it brief, the sooner marketing and promoting is underway, the better. I’m sure most publishers feel identifying a target market sooner rather than latter is to an author’s advantage. Simple right?

However, how much would this steer the development of the novel toward the canon of books already in existence? Consciously, most authors would like to say “very little,” but what about subconsciously? When an author hits a crossroads while flushing out the story, how often would thoughts of a target audience and having pre-categorized the novel pull the story to familiar, tried-and-true, and comfortable, yet unoriginal if not exhausted territory? The road not-so-less traveled so to speak.

The alternative is to craft the novel for an audience of one — for the author him or herself, and leave thoughts for where the book might find its paying customers for contemplating after the story is complete. Now the author might be more free to weave an original tale — unpressured, un-pigeonholed, uninfluenced, unbounded…undefinable, uncategorizable, unmarketable. With no advance regard for an intended audience perhaps the finished novel would have no audience to find.

If you asked readers whether they prefer a book which is very original or something that is just a different spin on an already explored theme, genre, or even a specific story rehashed, most would shout “original!” But when those readers vote with their dollars it seems works which are similar but just a little different from already successful properties stand a better chance of flying off the shelves. I’m sure most authors and readers alike have noticed patterns such as a handful of smash hit Zombie novels, movies, and television shows leading to scores of novels featuring characters fighting to survive a zombie apocalypse. (By the way, I have a great idea for a novel. It’s set in a dystopian future where teenagers are only allowed to read books about teenagers in dystopian futures.)

My own experience has shown there are certainly hurdles to identifying and cultivating a novel’s audience after the book is complete. My novel, Until the Sun Rises – One Night in Drake Mansion is a mystery set in a supposedly haunted house, yet as the story progresses it takes a decidedly skeptical view of the paranormal, deviating sharply from the familiar haunted house tale. In many ways, the novel ended up different than I expected when I began writing it.

It was always intended to be a mystery which flirts with paranormal themes, and the story I initially thought I was going to write would have fit comfortably in the paranormal sub-genre. However, as I flushed the story out, I found the paranormal-skeptic character I’d created was leading down a path which was far more interesting than a typical ghost story. That character’s viewpoint ended up dictating a redirection of the novel, one I believe was beneficial to the plot and certainly bolstered the novel’s originality. I’m finding, however it might also have made marketing the book more challenging. Readers who don’t enjoy ghost stories might find the inclusion of a paranormal theme off-putting and never consider the book, yet fans of paranormal stories might be turned off by the confrontational nature the book’s skeptic tone poses to paranormal believers.

Would I have crafted the story differently had I been thinking of this audience conflict while writing? I’d like to say “no” because I’m quite proud of the product and its distinctiveness, but who can say for sure? I am certain in my next book, a sequel to Until the Sun Rises – One Night in Drake Mansion, I’m crafting the story to my taste, not the taste of an intended audience, but this volume will have the benefit of appealing to the audience I’ve already painstakingly cultivated for its predecessor.

Perhaps there is a balance to be struck? Write the book to the author’s taste, then edit the book to the audience’s taste?

Authors. What do you think? When do thoughts of who your book’s audience will be start factoring into your process?

Readers. How much are you drawn to novel which bare similarity to what you already love? How likely are you to pick up and read something totally new, something not easily categorized?

By Channing Whitaker 
Author's Blog


Diane Ransdell said...

Channing, I think this is an interesting and difficult question--especially because while readers do SAY they want something original..... I'm not sure they do. I'm not sure how much the average reader really wants to be tested. I'm not sure how much I want to be tested myself. Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, for example, was too much for me. Too weird, too taxing--I just wanted a story. On the other hand,while Until the Sun Rises took unexpected turns, and I don't typically read anything that hints of para-normal, I enjoyed the story because it was different--yet not so different that I had to spend the whole time I was reading working on reading the darned thing. Make sense? So I think the best plan is to think of the audience in a distant way--test that audience--but with more of a quiz than a Cambridge Entrance Exam.

Channing Whitaker said...

Interesting Diane. I like that metaphor.

Carolyn Niethammer said...

I, too, have contemplated this question for decades. Many years ago I had a little flirtation with trying to write romance novels. Never successful in selling one because there is a very tight format and I kept thinking it would be a good idea to be original. Similar with some other genres. Doing cross-genre also gets an author in trouble with shelving in the big bookstores where there are definite places for each specific genre. One location to a title.(I have been known to move one of my books from one place to another quietly).