Ideally, you know who your audience is before you sit down to write. A book is a conversation between the author and the reader. If you don’t know who you mean to speak with, it’s awfully hard to dial the correct phone number. That said, if you aren’t sure what your audience looks like after you finish your first draft, ask yourself these questions before editing.
Who Is Your Protagonist?
Your POV character’s age, gender, and situation should attract your audience. Readers empathize with characters with whom they share major attributes. That’s why the biggest defining element of YA fiction is the POV characters’ ages. Teens want to read about teens. The gap in reading material for readers 18-30 sparked the inception of New Adult Fiction. Adults who prefer to read about other adults typically go straight to their preferred genre sections because these usually feature adult protagonists they can relate to.
Although sex and gender do not have quite the same impact as age, keep in mind that more women read The Handmaid’s Tale than men, even though it’s considered an important piece of 20th Century literature. That doesn’t mean you must write about men to get a bigger audience! Just be aware of reader bias and determine who will be most interested in your story. Are you writing specifically for men or anyone who shares particular interests and experiences?
Does Your Book Fit a Genre?
Slipping your book into an established genre is a quick and easy way to find a ready readership. If you write speculative fiction, you probably read it, too, so you know what this particular audience wants. Books with dragons and wizards appeal to fantasy fans. Stories filled with sexual tension and romantic overtones belong in the romance category.
What Is in Focus?
Apart from genre devotees, who would identify with or enjoy your plot’s primary focus? Who would take away something meaningful from your main themes? LGBTQ+ readers tend to read across genre lines because there are still relative few books starring characters who are anything but straight and cis gender. Ethnic and racial minorities have the same frustrations and also read broadly to support authors and characters of color.
Do you discuss war in your book from a medical or unique psychological perspective? Do you deal with abuse or addiction? Look for real life struggles echoed in your fiction world’s drama. Just as you deal with your own demons through print, many readers wrestle with theirs through fictional reflections.
Who WON’T Like Your Story?
All books are influenced by your personal worldview, and wrestling with character development with any kind of depth will pull out some of our own biases and preferences. However, if your book is written expressly to convert people who don’t agree with you, you’re likely committing some pretty serious plot sins. More importantly, you’re isolating the audience you want to reach. In these cases, you’re probably writing to the wrong audience.
Christian fiction is a good example. There is nothing wrong with writing as a Christian for other Christians. You know your audience! Great work! There are entire bookstores dedicated to your genre! However, when you write a book to show outsiders how great your faith is and how horrible their world is in comparison, you lose them right off the bat. You aren’t writing for them. You are writing for other Christians. Christian fiction has a niche readership, and you have to respect that as you write. It isn’t a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just a matter of identifying your audience.
This lesson is the same for many other genres, like horror and romance, which almost always offend someone. That is fine. You aren’t writing for those readers. Keep your true audience in mind.
Have you figured out who’s in the audience? Keep asking questions. If you get really stuck, send your draft to two or three trusted beta readers. They should be able to help!