Today and I wanted to discuss the importance of knowing what genre you’re going to write in and what target audience you want to write for. A crucial mistake beginning writers make is not knowing what specific genre they’re going to write in, and an even bigger mistake is not knowing who their audience is. I’m going to talk about genre first since it’s the easiest of the two to pin down, and then we’ll move onto the target audience – who they are and why it’s necessary for you to know who they are.
Knowing your genre is very important when it comes to writing a novel. If you don’t know your genre, then you often end up with a tangled mess of a manuscript, where you, your readers, and any agents or publishers you may decide to show your novel to have a hard time figuring out what you want to say and who you want to say it to. Nailing down genre is a pretty easy task to do if you’re already knowledgeable of the various genres out there; and if you’re not sure about many of them, a little research goes a long way in informing you.
When it comes to selecting the genre you want to write in, you should probably start with your overarching genre. The overarching genre encompasses all of the little categories that you’ll then go through and select. Examples of overarching genres are as follows: Middle-Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, and Adult. (If you’ll notice, overarching genre tends to help narrow down your target audience just a bit. More on that later!)
We’ll go through, using me as an example for these scenarios in case there’s any confusion. My overarching genre that I chose is Young Adult. The books I enjoy reading are Young Adult, and after slowly working through and developing my writing style and figuring out the types of stories I enjoy writing, I realized that I enjoy writing Young Adult novels as well. (Note: pay attention to the genre you read the most of. This won’t happen all the time, but a good portion of the time, the genre you’ll enjoy writing in the most is the genre you like reading in the most.)
Now that I know my overarching genre, it’s time for me to look at the smaller genres that Young Adult encompasses. Honestly, these possibilities are endless. There’s YA science fiction, YA romance, YA contemporary, YA fantasy, and so on. And then from those categories, you break down into even smaller subsets of categories. For example, YA science fiction encompasses hard science fiction, soft science fiction, steampunk, raypunk, and dystopian, among others.
I wanted to note here that there are hundreds upon hundreds of subset genres you can delve into. Smoke and Mirrors‘ overarching genre is Young Adult, with the next category being YA science fiction, and its subset category being YA dystopian. It’s okay if you don’t necessarily know your subset genre, although if you do, it can be pretty beneficial for your research purposes. (You’d be able to research select books in that subset genre and then read them to find out tropes and stereotypes that you may not have considered existed in said genre.) The point here to remember is to not get overwhelmed, and to not feel like you can only pick one category and subset genre; it used to be that authors selected a genre and stayed within that genre. Nowadays, it’s more than acceptable for authors to bounce around.
J.K. Rowling is most renowned for her fantasy novels, although she has delved into the adult genre. (The success of her adult novels remains to be seen, however, so perhaps she isn’t the greatest example.) Nadine Brandes, author of Fawkes, originally wrote dystopian before delving into fantasy historical fiction. Leigh Bardugo wrote darker-themed/styled fantasy before delving into a super-hero fantasy. I started off with dystopian, but now I’m trying my hand at modern fantasy romance and planning on trying out contemporary. By all means, pick a genre and a category for your book to go in, but never feel like you have to stay in that genre just because one or two of your books are in said genre. Feel free to bounce around a little!
What is target audience? Your target audience is the demographic you plan on writing for. This means you need to figure out whether your novels will be geared toward women or men and what age group.
Of course, as everyone does, you’re hoping that your book will be read by men and women alike, and hopefully your book will be read by people not in your target age group. But hoping doesn’t help you sell your book. If you don’t figure out your target audience, you’re not going to know how to market to said audience. In fact, if you go the traditional publishing route, your agent and publisher will most likely turn around and tell you that they’re not sure who your book is geared toward and that you need to figure it out.
Target audience is key.
For Smoke and Mirrors, my target audience was women. Of course I had the underlying hope that men would read my book too, and so far I’ve been rewarded. But the point is I’m a female author and most women are automatically going to be interested in female authors. I also enjoy writing romantic subplots, so that was another key factor in my novel where I decided my target audience would be more geared toward women. Now that I knew the gender demographic my book was geared toward, I needed to figure out my target audience.
Here’s where the overarching genre help comes in! My overarching genre is Young Adult, which means that my target audience had to be for women somewhere between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. But I can’t stop there because that’s too broad of a scope – think about it. An eighteen year old probably isn’t going to be as thoroughly entertained with a YA book that’s geared for thirteen and fourteen year old’s. You have to narrow down your target audience further.
To help me continue to narrow down and find my target audience, I had to look at my book as a whole. What themes are present in my novel? Is my tone happy and light or really dark? There’s a ton of questions you can ask yourself in examining your novel, so I won’t go into all of them here. But due to the questions I asked myself, I realized that Smoke and Mirrors would be more appropriate for an older target audience in the YA spectrum.
With all of this in mind, how did Smoke and Mirrors turn out? My novel ended up being in the overarching genre of Young Adult, in the category of YA science fiction, and in the subset genre of YA dystopian. My target audience is young adult females between the ages of fifteen and eighteen.
Remember that limiting yourself to genre and target audience demographics are beneficial, not hindering to your process! If you’re self-publishing, it makes sure you don’t publish your book in the wrong overarching genre or category, and it also helps you to know who you need to market to. If you’re going the traditional publishing route, both of these things are still important because agents and publishers need to know these things if they’re going to take on your novel.
I hope this helps! Are there any questions? Is there anything you’d like to add?