Monthly Archives: November 2011

Identity Crisis and Target Audiences

Well, I suppose it was bound to happen eventually.

As a writer, I often feel like I belong on the Island of Misfit Toys.  Yes, I can say (and mean completely) that I write the stories that are in my heart.  BUT…where do I belong?  More importantly than that, almost, where do my books belong?

I asked J. Leigh the other day as we were doing unromantic, unwriterly things like going to the grocery store: “So…what exactly is Young Adult Lit?”  And after a Significant Pause, I added, “Do you think I’ve miscategorized Silesia: The Outworlder as a YA novel?”

It’s a critical question, I realize, and it’s plaguing me. I have yet to find a satisfactory answer.  I’ve been thinking about this again today because I had the chance to attend a webinar on marketing — specifically, building web-based buzz.  Useful information – it was a fantastic webinar.  But there was one thing that absolutely stood out from everything else, and it really served as the basis for all of the rest of the information the instructor gave.  It’s that one piece that I want to consider today.

That piece is the target audience.

In a webinar I attended a few months back on self-publishing, the instructor noted that identifying the target audience for your book(s) is key to being successful.  (Actually, this is true regardless of how you get your book out there.  If you send your manuscript to a romance publisher when you’ve written a crime novel with zero love interest, you’ve set yourself up for failure.)

Let’s pause and think for just a minute.  Target audience determines your market.  But it also determines your style, your tone, your voice, the complexity of the story, the content….   So, if you don’t know who will read your book, you’re writing for just one person.

You.

Oh, horrors.

Now, before I we completely freak out about the fact that we put the cart before the horse and wrote our story before we considered our target audience, leaving us now completely lost in terms placing our book, let’s consider the delineations between YA and adult fiction and see if we can’t make ourselves feel better find some answers.

There are many readers who enjoy YA literature who are not in the “target” age bracket of, say, 12-18 or 19 years old.  And there are many teens who skip YA lit altogether and dive straight into “adult” fiction.  I think Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy would be a fabulous example of a broadly-appealing “adult” novel, and the Harry Potter series could serve as an excellent example of “YA” literature that appealed to many adults.  So, the lines dividing the two are blurred in some respects.  But there are other novels, like the Sweet Valley High series, that would never be seen in the hands of anyone other than a tween-teen girl.  And, I would argue, there are some adult novels that aren’t appropriate for teens, but that is a more fluid distinction.

There’s a good deal of bleed-over in readership of adult and YA literature, then.  Sometimes.  Depending on the story.

Readers expect certain things from the author and the story depending on how it is categorized.  Readers choosing a YA novel will expect to find, for example, a main character who is either a teenager or very close to it.  They may expect faster action, a plot that is more straightforward, and dialogue and diction that is pitched to a teen audience.  Page length may also be a consideration.  Similarly, readers of adult fiction may expect more complexity in characters and in plot, a higher level of diction, and may have a higher tolerance for a longer page count.  But is all this written in stone?  No.

For that reason, it pays, I think, to stop thinking in such general terms.  Consider your story.  If you could walk into a little coffee shop and see someone sitting there reading your book, who would they be (ideally)?  Is she a Ren Faire gal who never leaves the Ren Faire behind?  Is he a busy executive?  Is she a college student majoring in biochemistry?  Is he a graduate student studying literature at the local college?  Is she a stay-at-home soccer mom with three kids and two dogs?  Is he a grandfather who enjoys fishing and telling war stories?  Is she a young teen who is struggling to make sense of life?  Try to be as specific as you can as you define your Ideal Reader.

It’s okay to have a niche.  It’s even okay to have a pretty small niche.  The key is to know what your niche is, and then write for that audience.  Will you have crossovers – those readers who usually only read crime novels but yours was the only thing available at the dentist’s office?  Sure.  But that’s not your target audience.

Focus on your target audience.  Write to please them, and chances are, you’ll find success.

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Multitasking

So, I’m an incorrigible multitasker.  There, see?  I came right out and admitted it like a big girl.  Truth is—I have a dreadful time unitasking.  (I think I made that word up.  Isn’t it fantastic?)  I like to have multiple things going on at the same time.  I like to throw myself into one bubbling pool of creativity, haul myself out, and dive right into the next one.

Ohhh, some might say that’s not an efficient way to work.  Focusing on one thing at a time is a much better way to get things done.

Perhaps there is some truth to that.  Or perhaps it’s just true for some people.  For me, I thrive on variation.  Focus too long on one thing, and I get bored, or worse, burned out.

Case in point?  Everyone knows it’s NaNoWriMo time.  Some of you might know that I’m working on Subverter, the sequel to Down a Lost Road.  Well, when I started thinking about WriMo, I went back and forth on whether or not I wanted to participate this year.  Finally I decided I would go a head and give it a shot… I would try to juggle writing two novels on rather short deadlines.  And I’m so glad I did.

See, I got to a place in Subverter where nothing was cooperating.  Merelin got herself into a bind, and I had no idea how to extract her without going all deus ex machina on the story.  Bleh.  So I dropped the story and focused entirely on Ethereal — my NaNovel — for a few days.  Didn’t get a jot written on Subverter.  Well, working on more than one story turned out to be a brilliant strategy.  Ethereal kept my writing juices flowing, while also giving me a break from a project I obviously needed to take a step away from for a while.  Then, in a flash of inspiration,  I figured out what to do with Merelin, and over the last two days I’ve churned out over 5,000 words on Subverter.  Tsha.  (Of course, poor Ethereal has languished for those couple of days…but that’s okay.  Emery and Therrei can wait a bit.  Subverter has a much stricter deadline…)

Everyone works differently.  Everyone handles writer’s block differently.  Some people work best when they can just plug away at their particular project, without distraction or deviation.  I definitely believe that we have to continue to be creative even when we don’t feel the inspiration for our current WIP, so sometimes that means starting something new…even if it’s a silly project we don’t intend to keep.  Or maybe we can try doing something else creative.

Personally, I like to have my options open, so that I can always have something to switch to, to get some distance from whatever is giving me fits.  Right now —in addition to my already insane ambitious 2 novel effort — I’m also working on illustrating a children’s book for a friend.  So if the words dry up, sometimes it’s easier to get the paint flowing.  And, even though I’m not really a composer, sometimes I like to pull up a music editor and do a little random experimentation with stuff.  It’s like…exercising different muscle groups.  Right?

The key to successful writing is to find a process that works for you.  That might involve insane attempts at multitasking.  If so, go for it!  And don’t let anyone convince you that this way or that way is not a good way to work.  Just like some people can’t imagine writing a novel without first outlining every step of the plot, and others take a flying leap into writing without looking twice, so also some people can’t imagine dividing their attention, and others can’t survive without it.

Once you know what works, you can laugh at the idea of writer’s block.  Make sure it’s an evil — or, even better, a maniacal — laugh.


NaNoWriMo 2011: Day 1

So.

How did your NaNoWriMo Day 1 go? 🙂

I logged 883 words today.  I didn’t think I’d get 1 written…so I’m fairly pleased.  But I did fall short of my 2K word goal…guess I’ll have to catch up later on in the month.

As so often happens when you have a project you absolutely need/want/must work on, life seems to pull out all the stops.  Obligations, issues, potty training disasters (x2)…all can put writing at the bottom of the to-do list, where it so often stays.  Then you wake up one winter morning and realize that NaNoWriMo was over a month ago…and you have nothing written whatsoever.

I was determined…absolutely determined…not to let Day 1 get past me without at least something to show for it.  With the day I’ve had, I would have settled for 10 words.  But I set the timer for 30 minutes, told the kids to blitz clean their room, sat the baby in her high chair with some of those strange dissolving vegetable puffs for a snack, turned on my iTunes Writing Mix, and blasted out 883 words.

The buzzer went off, and reality promptly dropped the anvil right back on my head.  But it’s all good.

I got 883 words done.

Ohhhhhhh yeahhhhh.

🙂

Bring it.

(Head on over here to read the synopsis of The Lords of Askalon.)