Friday, April 6, 2012

Know Your Reader, Know Your Genre

A few years ago I had the awesome opportunity to go to a one day conference where the amazing Erin Healy spoke about knowing who your reader is. I wish I could share with you everything she shared with us that day, but it's her lesson, not mine, so you'll just have to hear her speak if you have the chance.

I am, however, going to tell you more or less what I gleaned from what she (and others) have advised over the years and how that information has helped me tremendously to figure out what genre to write, what kind of characters and settings I should be writing, and so on.

Today we're going to be talking about genre and how knowing who your reader is will help you nail down not only your genre but every sub-genre or writing style you want to include with it.

First, you need to start by asking yourself these questions, and try to be as honest as possible.

When you imagine someone reading your book, who is it?

Male or female?
Approximate age?
What kind of job? (Lots of hours, lots of stress, stay-at-home, etc.)
Do they read a lot or not?

And if you've filled in those blanks, try this:

When I write, this is what I intend to accomplish:

Do I want to entertain the reader?
Do I want them to laugh or cry?
Do I want them to feel moved with a deep message?
Do I want them to savor each page because of amazing prose or do I want them moving through to get to the next piece of action or snippet of dialogue?

And lastly, what specific genre do you gravitate toward when looking for a book? And if it's more than one, pick the one you most love to read. And be specific. Don't just say romance, but say Amish romance with comedy, or literary romantic science fiction (if there is such a thing).

These questions are so important because truly knowing your reader is going to help you in every aspect of your writing. The first and foremost biggest thing it helped me with was discovering which genre I wanted to write.

I thought I knew. Seriously. My stories usually had a deeper feel, with a strong theme, always a romance, and a few snippets of humor. So where did that fit? Literary romantic and comedic women's fiction? I needed to narrow it down, and I needed to discover who I was writing for. And once I did, I knew exactly what I should be writing.

I discovered my reader was female, late twenties to early forties. She probably has kids. She probably has a fairly routine or mundane job or she's a SAHM. She needs an escape, and loves to do it through reading. She loves to be crafty, likes to laugh, and likes to be entertained. Sure, a message or theme is fine, but she'd rather leave the story with a smile on her face and an HEA. She wants to flip through the pages and finish the book in two days because she can't put it down. (I could go on and on).

Anyway, my reader wants romantic comedy, without a doubt. And that's what I want to write.

Do you see how my picture of my reader didn't fit the women's/literary fiction style I was previously writing?

So see if you can answer the questions above, even make a list to keep to reference. You'll see as this series progresses, the more you know your reader, the more you'll know exactly what to write for them.

Do you know who your reader is? Is it a specific person or can you give specifics about who they are? I'd love to see you share in the comments.

***photo by cheylyne

Cindy is a Colorado native, living near the mountains with her husband and three beautiful daughters. She writes contemporary Christian romance, seeking to enrich lives with her stories of faith, love, and a touch of humor.

To learn more about Cindy, visit her at her personal blog,


Bonnee Crawford said...

Hmm, would you say that the answers to these questions may change with each project or are you suggesting that you stick to a specific genre? Because I don't think I could do that. My current target audience is teenagers-Y/A, probably 13-30yrs or there abouts, who want to escape from schoolwork or real work into a fantasy world which I have created for them. They want to forget this world and become part of this new one, and the character's adventure. Is that too broad?

Jeanne T said...

Cindy, first of all, I love the photo you picked for this post. To see a young man reading....blesses my heart. :)

Okay, secondly, I haven't really asked myself the questions you shared here. So, thank you! My story is women's fiction, probably for women, mostly likely married, between 28-45. I think. :) I don't want to preach a message but my hope is that this story will encourage women in their marriages.

Thanks for making me think this morning. Have a wonderful Easter weekend.

Elizabeth Saunders said...

Thanks for making me think about this, Cindy.

I imagine my reader female, 30s to early 50s, with children, educated, either a professional or SAHM, busy, who reads in spurts, and wants to learn something and have a happy ending.

I'd like to impart a gospel message while entertaining.

My favorites are historical, with lots of period details, a combination of intrigue and romance. I don't like characters who make stupid decisions, or happy endings that come from unbelievable last-second plot twists.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi Bonnee, yes, I'm suggesting to stick to a specific genre. I'm suggesting that you discover specifically who you're writing toward and focus on writing in that genre once you decide to start pursuing publication.

So, P.S. to all you readers out there, not only are these questions to help you narrow down A genre, they're to help you narrow down THE genre. I know many of us started off writing in more than one genre, and this is how to help focus in on one if we're ready to start pursuing publication.

Anyway, sorry Bonnie :) I think that's a great start. If you're just beginning with writing, it's a great way to figure out what kinds of things to put in your stories because of who they'll reach. And if you're further along in your journey, really try to narrow this down because it will help when you start thinking about things like branding.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi Jeanne, those were some great specifics. It really sounds like you know the kind of person you're trying to reach, and have a passion about what you're writing. I hope you have a blessed weekend!

Elizabeth, historical romance maybe? I love how you answered these questions. Knowing what your reader likes or doesn't like gives you a sort of formula for all the books that you're going to write. Definitely HEA's and definitely a bit of romance. Oh, and entertaining the reader - please tell me you write romance because I want to know what your story is about! :) Have a great weekend.

Casey said...

All great questions to ask.

I took a class from Erin at ACFW and loved it. She has a great style of teaching, very calm and to the point. I'd definitely take another class from her again. :)

Elizabeth Saunders said...

Thanks for your comment, Cindy. I think my genre is inspirational historical - actually a series (in work) about my real Quaker ancestors in 17th- and 18th-century Ireland.

Yes, there's a romance in each book, but not always at the end like in traditional romance. The characters have other dramatic storylines going on, too.

Angie Dicken said...

Good post, Cindy. I have to think on this one...I thought I knew, but now, not so sure!;)

Nichole L. Reber said...

Just discovered your blog through Robert Lee Brewer's social media challenge month. This is gorgeous and immediately useful.
Your post on determining one's audience reminds us of something we occasionally forget but must-- repeat: must-- consider.

Consider me signed up to receive future posts.

Cheers y saludos,
Nichole L. Reber

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Casey, I agree about Erin. That was the first class I've ever taken about writing and it's still the most memorable.

Elizabeth, that sounds interesting! It sounds like you have a great handle on what you're writing :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi Angie, it's different when you actually sit down to think about it, right? Really narrowing down who you're writing for is fun and daunting. It puts you in a box--not in a bad way--but really sets good boundaries for what you're putting on paper, and for who you're trying to reach.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi Nichole, I'm so glad you stopped by! I completely agree that we have to keep reminding ourselves who our audience is. It's important to always keep in the back of our minds. I look forward to seeing you around here. Have a wonderful weekend!