Newbie Writing Mistakes Monday–Aim for a Target

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After watching a couple episodes of Top Shot with my kiddos, I realized a couple of things.

One, since I can’t even hold a virtual gun steady in my video game playing, I have to admit I will never become the world-revered sniper I had hoped to be. The guys and gals on Top Shot are so well-qualified, they can even hit the target with tomahawks and blowdarts. Now, that’s saying something.

And two, (you knew it was coming!) as writers, we have to have a target audience lined up and ready to foist our novels upon.

Newbie novelists wonder Who is my audience? I know when I started out, I felt my books could transcend gender, race and geographical location and bond the world together in peace gender and age. But then I read a really quick and easy way to narrow it down for that all-important proposal.

What age is your protagonist? That’s the audience you’re reaching. This is why Twilight is categorized as Young Adult, even though plenty, if not even more adult women people read the books. Because Bella Swan was a teen.

If you intersperse scenes from someone’s childhood with their adult years, you have to focus on the here and now–how old is your protagonist now? I think that’s a good clue as to which audience it will hit.

However, The Notebook is an example of a book that targeted both young and older couples, since the main couple is both young and old in the book. I don’t know how Nicholas Sparks proposed that book, but hey, he’s Nicholas Sparks, and he can probably do just about anything he wants to (except dystopian sci-fi, perhaps).

We also have to have a target genre. Especially for our very important query letter, we have to figure out what category our break-in book needs to fall into, so that agent can read it and know it’s a niche that has openings.

This can be tricky. I think I’ve mentioned before that when I was entering contests filled with YA, dystopian or steampunk novels, I seriously thought about categorizing my plain-old historical fiction entry Iron-Age Steamy Punk.” I did not succumb to this desire, by the way.

Yes, your book may have elements from all over the place. It may be a sci-fi historical Amish fiction novel. I would just recommend you pick one main category and the rest will be self-explanatory with your query. So maybe sci-fi, then tack on the age range you’re shooting for, like old-age sci-fi. (My kind of sci-fi, I think.)

Hope this has helped you zero in on your target. Agents will appreciate your thoroughness in figuring out the best fit and audience for your book for them. And a good agent will tell if you’ve misidentified your audience or genre.

So go out and hit your target!

****Have you had trouble identifying your audience or genre? What steps did you take to figure it out?****

23 thoughts on “Newbie Writing Mistakes Monday–Aim for a Target

  1. Used to go to "Halo" parties (for the XBox) and I'd spend the whole game trying to find my way out of the corner until someone would come and rifle butt me in the back of the head. I stink at shooter type games, but I am a decent shot at the gun range.Thanks for the good advice, loved how you tied the theme into writing. : )

  2. I think YA is a challenging genre. As you said, we are writing from the perspective of a teen protagonist, but most YA is read and enjoyed by adults too. I find this mixed readership a wonderful reminder not to overly simplify my writing. You certainly cant dumb things down for teens.Interestingly, I grew up reading "juvenile" that often had adult protagonists, but modern YA seems to have moved away from that?

  3. Yes I have had a tough time identifying these things, but I think I can over analyze things and make it harder than it has to be. I think it's also a learning process, though thankfully I know people like you who help guide me- thank you!

  4. Kimberlee, yes, I loved Halo, too, but only if I was in a tank, so I was well-nigh indestructible! Basically, those who play all the time know the boards so well, they can kill you anywhere!And Graeme, interesting observation! I'm thinking YA is such a recent explosion, it seems focused on the YAs, all the while catering to adults. Weird concept for sure. Glad you're not dumbing things down for teens–sometimes I feel things are dumbed down for adults, simply to make a faster read. I suppose we could debate the pros and cons of that approach, but it seems to sell…hee.I remember YA books like A Wrinkle in Time, that made me think about bigger scientific concepts, and sprinkled in big words. I loved that!

  5. And thanks for your comment, TC! I definitely want to save other writers from those "newbie" mistakes I've made! I love learning from writers who are a step or two ahead of me in this writing "gig!"

  6. I have gone through this dilemma with one of my books. The voice felt wrong for YA, but the content wasn't middle grade and then I wondered if it should be an adult book. As a result, I've had to scrap the whole thing and start over, making sure it has a YA voice this time. Great post!

  7. Ah, some great thoughts.I thought I was writing general women's fiction until several people told me my writers voice was YA… And from then, that s what I write … I love it!

  8. Michelle, that's so cool that your friends helped you nail down your voice! Sometimes I think YA would be SO FUN to write, but when I started writing it, I fizzled kinda fast. Even though I swore to myself I'd never forget how I felt during those angst-ridden years, I'm at such a different place now with a different burden. I love how God chooses writers to minister to different segments of people–from children's books to mysteries!

  9. Great thoughts on how to "line up" your targets. Even if we hope to hit a general audience, we really do need that target so we can make sure we're appealing to an audience!

  10. Great points, Heather. My genre is historical fiction and my target audience are women, probably between 21 and 55? I'd never considered the idea that your target audience would be about the age of your protagonist – interesting.

  11. Thanks for finding me, Jennifer–I kept trying to click to your blog link via Books & Such but it wouldn't do it for some reason. Will try again! And yes, take it easy w/those airsoft rifles (my son loves his airsoft guns!).And Gabrielle, that was an easy tip I'd read somewhere online. Sounds like you know your audience already, though!

  12. Oh, Heather. You don't know how much this speaks to me. The manuscript I'm working on now is about a teen in the 18th century, trying to discourage one suitor for the favor of another. Definately YA I guess, but I never considered myself a YA writer. Are there sub-genres in YA? Laugh at me for not knowing, but I've always read Women's Fiction and Romances, so I'm not sure…

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