With Heartsnare out in the world, I’ve been thinking about something quite a lot: Who is my audience?
You’re really supposed to know who you are writing for when you start, I hear you say and I know, I know, but I have to be honest I never gave it too much thought. Not until now.
It’s an interesting question because when you make a book with the aim of crossing genre lines, it’s not quite as straightforward as “dark fantasy” or “horror”. That’s not to suggest that these categories are ever anything less than multilayered. In Dark Fantasy alone, which is itself a subgenre, you have dystopian, urban, traditional, high, low, and many other categories, all of which can interact too. When you have a book that blurs lines, getting that category right is even more difficult. It also serves to reinforce that genre is only a very vague guideline.
I wrote a book with several LGBT characters, so that’s a thing. Eric the main protagonist is queer, Alistair is omnisexual, Marishka is a trans lesbian while Dee is bisexual (there are more–Lance the tattooist is also hetero-flexible, for example). I would call it a queer book, but the spectrum is vast so this gives us only a hint at who might like it.
I wrote a book that is distinctly Northern, or that has a spirit that hopefully captures some of what it is like to live in the north of England, so northerners may find something to like there.
It has also been pointed out to me that I have written a book that has Strong Female Characters. I will at some point do an entire blog post on my strong, weak, rowdy, sensible, frustrating, inspiring, shocking, weird, mentally unwell, mentally healthy, successful (read:complex human beings) female characters, but for the sake of brevity I will begrudgingly say to that, yes I have and thus it may have appeal for women seeking (hopefully) well rounded female characters and heroes.
These are all landmarks. They’re nice signals to readers that the cafe is open, please do come and sit down if you think you’ll like what’s on the menu. They aren’t guarantees. As some of the reviews of Heartsnare show, this book is not for everyone. And as a writer I’m learning to be okay with that. But all this begs the original question:Who is my audience? As a write, my answer must always be: Me. Click To Tweet
Now, there are some people who write for audiences who are radically different from them, and they do make a fantastic living out of it. That is great. I am not that kind of writer. (It’s a formidable skill and I would probably be much richer if I could avail myself of it but having written freelance for several years it is now not my cup of tea.)
This advice also comes with a big caveat: it doesn’t mean everything you write is golden because it pleases you. Bugger no, you need editors and you need critique partners to tell you what is good and what is so bad it’s embarrassing–and, Jesus, the turnip saga in one of my short stories proves that point beyond a shadow of a doubt, but that’s a story for another day.
What we’re talking about here, then, is deciding who the end product is for. And it’s taken me a long time to really articulate this to myself.
I am my audience. As self-serving and as artistically devoid as it may sound, I can only write authentically if I write to please myself. There is a neat trick here though, isn’t there, and it’s something I want to pass on to others who might just be starting out.
I am not so different from many other people who crave dark stories with LGBT heroes who sound and act like the people they know and love, so what I like will roughly overlap with what they like. By writing to please myself, I am writing for my target audience.
So don’t sweat this question. Just keep writing the story that you truly love. I won’t guarantee that you will find a massive audience, nor that your book will sell by the truck-load, but I think it’s highly likely that there will be others who love your book too.
Photo credit: Alejandro Escamilla.