Who’s Your Audience and Why Should You Care?

winter-path-in-sunThe artistic process, whether painting or prose, is admittedly the child of self-expression. The long-standing image of the artist cloistered in her studio—hunched over a writing desk or standing before a canvas to create from the depths of his/her soul—is surely a truism. Artists create from the heart; we dive deep inside our often-tortured souls and closeted past to draw out the universal metaphors that speak to humanity and share—

Ay, there’s the rub. For to share is to have a dialogue and to have a meaningful dialogue is to demonstrate consideration of the other. Somewhere in that journey that began with self, others entered. It is, in fact, something of a paradox and a conundrum for many artists. One that has challenged the artistic community for centuries. It is also why many artists have relied on agents, benefactors, and advocates to effectively communicate, target — and even interpret—their often abstruse “message” to appropriate audiences.

Purists will tell you that a true artist need not consider her audience; because her self-expression naturally finds relevance with the culture and zeitgeist from which she writes through universally understood metaphor: her story is their story.

But is that enough?

I suppose it finally comes down to whether you are interested in sharing. I don’t know any published authors who don’t wish their books to sell. Every storyteller needs an audience to connect with and engage. That is ultimately what good storytelling does: engage, connect, rouse emotions and evoke empathic feelings. Make an impact.

Does identifying and targeting a specific audience result in more satisfied readers and ultimately better sales? Of course it does. The more you—and whoever is helping you market your work—know about your audience, the more likely you are going to attract them to your book, convince them to buy it and ultimately connect with them through story.

That’s the irony of art: it is a treasure that is created out of the depths of solitude but ultimately brought into the light and shared with the world. For your art to have impact, you must know and understand your world.

Knowing your audience will affect every aspect of your book project. It will help determine:

  • What your story is about and how you write it (e.g., language, “voice” or personality, narrative style, tone or mood/attitude, characters, setting and theme, even length)
  • What genre and sub-genre(s) it lies under
  • The look and tone of the cover and blurb (one that matches the story and its audience; I previously wrote about book jacket blurbs and book covers )
  • All aspects of promotion, including the language and images you use, where you direct your marketing and how (e.g., medium, timing, etc.)

For your work to succeed, it’s important to consider the following:

  • collision-with-paradise-smallWrite to the audience’s expectations (given the promise of your work): success of stories with readers will rely on the alignment of expected story structure, tone and endings. My romance SF therefore reads differently from my hard SF in so many ways.
  • darwins-paradoxWrite to the understanding level of your intended audience: how and what I write for my hard science fiction audience (with expectations on accurate and intelligent exploration and extrapolation on science) is different from the style I use for my historical fantasy. This will include “voice”, language and use of specific vocabulary, terms and concepts, sentence structure and pace.
  • Write with the knowledge of your relationship to the reader: how will you gain their empathy and buy-in to your story? This will depend on the genre of your work and expectations of its associated readership.

 

Understand Your Audience

Who is going to read your work? To what age group to they belong? What culture and sub-culture? What gender(s)? What education and intellectual capacity? Economic status? What regions? What political leanings? Prejudices and beliefs? What knowledge-base? For instance, you wouldn’t use a lot of multi-sylabic latinisms in an action thriller; but you might in a literary fiction or even high fantasy. If you research and create a profile of your intended reader, this will help you identify who you are writing to.  “Knowing or anticipating who will be reading what you have written is key to effective writing,” says SkillsYouNeed.com.

It isn’t enough to know who is reading, but why they are reading your writing. Ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Who do I want to read this? Who are you writing for? They are your primary audience; the ones you will truly resonate with your story; they will be your fans: who are they?
  2. Who else is likely to read this? This is your secondary audience, readers who may not necessarily read your genre but are interested in the issues or premise of your story or will appreciate how you’ve handled it in your story: who might they be? 

 

Writers are Solopreneurs

In his 2014 article in Forbes, Jayson DeMers shares that: “Market research was once the purview of only big companies. If you weren’t a Fortune 1000 brand, investing in any form of customer research was outside the scope of what many businesses could afford. Today, advances in market research technology have opened a whole range of services to even the smallest businesses. Small enterprises and solopreneurs routinely test ideas before they take them to market, saving tens of thousands of dollars and years of time developing products and services that fall flat with the market.”

Given the current publishing paradigm—which offers less and less to the author, writers are now more than ever required to understand their audience, given their need to be solopreneurs, succeeding on their own know-how, rather than relying on some marketing department that no longer exists.

To know your audience is to know your story better.

A previous version of this article was published in the Clarion Foundation blog and presented by Lynda Williams.

 

nina-2014aaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

Know What You’re Writing: Short Story or Long Story?

winter boatsHow to Decide on the Length of Your Story 

Figuring out what you are writing isn’t always as easy as you think. Many writers, when they begin, may think they are writing a short story when they are actually writing a novel; or vice versa. When I first started, in fact this is what occurred.

Some time ago, when I was a budding novelist working on my second unpublished novel, I decided to write short stories. I’d been told time and again that it was easier to publish short stories (the market is far more diverse) and they provided excellent qualifications for when it came time to market my novel. It wasn’t as easy as I thought. I kept getting rejections with comments that my short story ought to be a novel! It took some time to master the art of short story telling. But when I did, I realized that I’d learned a lot about storytelling that I could apply to my novel. And by the time I was ready to publish my novel, I had several short story publications behind me to prove the salability of my work.

So, what are you really writing? Or, more to the point, what should you be writing?

A short story only has 7,500 words or less to get your tale across while a novel has over ten times that many words to do the same. It follows then that the short story format is a simpler one. This does not necessarily mean easier.

Short Vs. Long—What’s Your Focus?

Novels provide a sense of change, growth and solutions to problems and conflicts. Short stories must be more succinct, contain fewer characters and subplots, have less complicated story arcs and a single theme. You could say that a short story is a poem to a novel’s prose. “The short story doesn’t have the luxury of depicting change; the closest it can come is awareness,” writes Shelley Lowenkopf in her 2007 article “Telling Tales” in The Portable Writer’s Conference: Your Guide to Getting Published by Quill Driver Books. She goes on to describe the short story as a close-up to a novel’s landscape. The short story is, therefore, often more intense and powerful. A short story, more than a novel, has the power to transport, disturb and enlighten.

Renowned short story authors like Edgar Allen Poe, Nathanial Hawthorne, and Somerset Maugham emphasize the importance of striving for one effect when writing a short story: the single effect you wish to leave with the reader at the end. This is accomplished by selecting events or situations that build quickly into a combustible response.

Jack Bickham, in his book, Elements of Fiction Writing: Scene and Structure by Writer’s Digest Books (1993) writes that, “story length, author intention, traditional expectations of the audience, and all sorts of things may affect the form a story may take.” Choosing the appropriate length to tell your story relies on the complexity of your premise and theme.

Pick Your Length Checklist

The following short checklist will help you determine whether you should be writing a short story or something longer like a novel:

  • does your story have several main characters and minor characters?
  • is your story full of subplots?
  • does your story contain multilayered themes and story arcs?
  • do your characters learn and change notably?
  • is there significant change in your story?
  • does your story contain several settings and sub-stories?
  • does your story explore several ideas as opposed to one main idea?
  • does your story investigate several issues rather than making a single point?

If you answered “yes” to most of the above, then you should be writing a novel.

Defining Story Length

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America defined story length forms in the table below. Definitions vary among other sources but remain close to these.

Table 1: Terminology of Story Lengths
Name Description
Drabble (Flash Fiction) Exactly 100 words
Flash Fiction Less than 500 words
Short short Fiction 500-1,000 words
Short Story Less than 7,500 words
Novelette 7,500 to 17,500 words
Novella 17,500 to 40,000 words
Novel More than 40,000 words

 

Creative Options & Market Tips

During my early “salad” writing years as a short story writer, I discovered a system that helped me send out material and publish with more ease and efficiency. It helped that I was rather prolific with short story telling and that I was simultaneously working on a few novels. Here are some creative things you can do with both your short stories and novels (in the works or already published) to increase your productivity and publishing opportunities:

  • Use Novel Excerpts: Here’s something I did to save time, hone my craft, and receive early recognition: I took “aha” excerpts from my ongoing novel and adapted them into stand alone short stories—altering at least 20% of the content and other elements like setting, names, etc. In each case, I ensured a powerful story by focusing on the single thematic element. I sold at least five short stories to good magazines this way. The short stories went on to receive recognition, awards and a place in some “Best of” anthologies, long before my novels received similar recognition. In each case, the short story became an equally—if not more—powerful version of its sister work in my novel, much like a poem is to a piece of prose. Try it; you might really like it.
  • Adapt A Short Story into a Novel or Novella: you may find that a powerful thought expressed in your short story engenders interest in a larger plot with more depth, such as a novel. Nancy Kress and Ray Bradbury are two short story/Novella writers who adapted some of their works into longer forms to create something both new and compelling.
  • Run Your Novel and Short Story Submissions Like a Bus Depot: When I was writing a lot of short stories, I kept a list of what and where I submitted, along with the most important item: where to submit NEXT. At any given time, I made sure that I had at least x-number of submissions out there and each story had a designated place to go if it returned. As soon as a story came back from magazine A, I simply re-packaged it and sent it to magazine B. The critical part of the list was to have a contingency for each story: the next place where I would send the story once it returned. I was planning on the story being rejected with the hope that it would be accepted; that way, a rejection became part of a story’s journey rather than a final comment. I ran my submissions like a bus terminal. A story was in and out so fast it never had a chance to cool off. And, since I had five other pieces out there, I could do this with little emotion. I was running a fast-paced “story depot”, after all. All my stories had to be out there as soon as possible; if they were sitting in the terminal, they were doing nothing for me.
  • Reprint Your Published Short Stories: You can only do this if you ensure that you initially only sell First Rights with your story’s first publication. My short story “Virtually Yours” has been reprinted five times and is continuing its journey still. It has appeared in “Best of” anthologies, several collections (e.g., Natural Selection); it has been translated into several languages and published all over the planet. Don’t let your story languish on its first success. See where else it can go. Foreign markets are a largely untapped area.
  • Do Foreign Translations and Reprints: Thankfully, Douglas Smith, a colleague of mine and celebrated short story writer has compiled a list for short story foreign markets. He also recently put out a book on marketing your short story, called “Playing the Short Game”.

 

References:

Smith, Douglas. 2014. “Playing the Short Game: How to Market and Sell Short Fiction”. Lucky Bat Books. 230pp

Munteanu, Nina. 2009. The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! winter boatsStarfire World Syndicate. 266pp.

NaturalSelection-frontHRMunteanu, Nina. 2013. “Virtually Yours” in Natural Selection: a Collection of Short Stories. Pixl Press. 120pp.

 

This article is an excerpt from Chapter R of The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! (Starfire, 2009).

 

nina-2014aaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

Who’s Your Audience and Why Should You Care?

sea urchinsThe artistic process, whether painting or prose, is admittedly the child of self-expression. The long-standing image of the cloistered artist in her studio — hunched over her writing desk or standing before her canvas to create from the depths of her soul — is surely a truism. Artists create from the heart; we dive deep inside our often tortured souls and closeted past to draw out the universal metaphors that speak to humanity and share—

Ay, there’s the rub. For to share is to have a dialogue and to have a meaningful dialogue is to demonstrate consideration of the other. Somewhere in that journey that began with self, others entered. It is, in fact, something of a paradox and a conundrum for many artists. One that has challenged the artistic community for centuries. It is also why many artists have relied on agents, benefactors, and advocates to effectively communicate, target — and even interpret — their often abstruse “message” to their appropriate audiences.

Purists will tell you that a true artist need not consider her audience; because her self-expression naturally finds relevance with the culture and zeitgeist from which she writes through universally understood metaphor: her story is their story.

But is that enough?

I suppose it finally comes back to whether you are interested in sharing. I don’t know any published authors who don’t wish their books to sell. Every storyteller needs an audience to connect with and engage. That is ultimately what good storytelling does: engage, connect, rouse emotions and evoke empathic feelings. Make an impact.

Does identifying and targeting a specific audience result in more satisfied readers and ultimately better sales? Of course it does. The more you—and whoever is helping you market your work—know about your audience, the more likely you are going to attract them to your book, convince them to buy it and ultimately connect with them. That’s the irony of art: it is a treasure that is created out of the depths of solitude but ultimately brought into the light and shared with the world. For your art to have impact, you must know and understand your world.

Knowing your audience will affect every aspect of your book project. It will help determine:

  • What your story is about and how you write it (from language, voice or personality, narrative style, tone or mood/attitude, characters, setting and theme)
  • What genre it lies under
  • the look and tone of the cover and blurb
  • all aspects of promotion

For instance, who are your intended readers? To what age group to they belong? What culture and sub-culture? What gender(s)? What education and intellectual capacity? Economic status? What regions? What political leanings? Prejudices and beliefs? What knowledge-base?sea urchins

To know your audience is to know your story better.

 

nina-2014aaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.