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The Career Author Podcast: Episode 73 – Write to Audience

After going through the data from the recent Career Author survey, J. and Zach discuss the difference between “write to market” and “write to audience.”

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14 thoughts on “The Career Author Podcast: Episode 73 – Write to Audience

  • Morning guys. Great way today J. Totally agree with the money stuff. It works.
    Slightly confused today so I’ll put my thoughts here to see if it clears the fog.
    Sounds to me like habitual readers are pulp readers in that they are metaphorically subscribed to a monthly magazine and every metaphorical month they devour it no matter what is in it.
    My confusion revolves around what you are saying about writing for audience against writing for market – could be worth a revisit with simple examples. This is what I think I understood from your discussion.
    Writing for audience is not as easy as writing to market because you need to convince your audience that this is what they want even though they might not have considered it. Are you saying that if you found your audience to be ipad users aged between 35 and 50 that you need to convince them to buy your wild west alien romance books? Why would you try to do that when you could easily sell those books to wild west alien romance whale readers – the “market”. As you can see I’m confused.
    And how do you find your audience if you don’t do a survey?
    Are you mixing your podcast audience up with your readers?
    Another tip for surveys: consider how you are going to analyse the data before you write the questions.
    I really enjoyed the discussion today because I like things that make me think. Now that I have said I’m confused (it must be my age 🙂) I’ll listen again later and see if my unconscious mind can clear it up for me after I have voted in the European Elections – now there’s a dry topic guaranteed to bring anyone back to planet Earth.
    Did I hear you say rapid release is dead? Could this be time for my new paradigm – reluctant release – you heard it here first; sorry second 🙂. Great show.

  • Hey man! GREAT thoughts and you’re not alone. It took me a few weeks to process this and I’m not sure I have it yet. I’m sure we’ll follow up these thoughts in a future episode.

    For me, the distinction is between genre and audience. For example, I’m always looking for books/shows/movies that are dark in nature, intense, with complex characters. That means I like Sons of Anarchy as much as I like Game of Thrones but those are two TOTALLY different genres. I don’t just read/watch epic fantasy (GOT). A “whale” reader for epic fantasy might love your new epic fantasy but will burn through it and forget you. But someone who doesn’t read just epic fantasy will read yours and remember you.

    It’s really a matter of short bursts (write to market) versus long tail (write to audience).

    Being where readers are and listening is the way I’m doing research right now but that’s not easy because it isn’t just one place. The occasional reader isn’t just reading one thing.

    This is probably raising more questions than answers. If so, welcome to the inside of my brain.

    • Hi J I listened again and I think I understand it now but feel free to disagree.
      Why did the occasional reader read Game of Thrones (GoT) or Lord of the Rings (LOTR) when they claim they don’t like epic fantasy? I think there are two reasons:
      Because everybody at work (or in their peer group) was talking about them. Word of Mouth. Buzz. Why were they talking about them? In GoT’s case I suspect it was largely down to the fact that a TV series of 72 episodes was being made. It probably helped sales of the books that there was considerable overlap between book publication and TV series showing – people had plenty of time to pick up on the buzz and read the books before the next TV series was completed. Also massive media attention throughout the entire TV series probably helped. In LOTR before the films were made, people were talking about them and they entered into our culture via universities in the 1960s and fans like Led Zeppelin etc. LOTR was cool so even if you don’t read epic fantasy you had to read it.
      The second reason (excuse poor spelling here because as I type I am standing on my soapbox 🙂) is quality of writing and quality of story. Why do people still buy Hemingway and Chandler today when many of their peers are long forgotten? They wrote really good quality sentences and their stories make one think and some have deep and meaningful themes and idiosyncrasies that make them stand out and make writers want to copy them. The covers of many of their books were crap and redone many many times due to the longevity of sales. I don’t know but I doubt either of them had your mate Brian Cohen’s skills at blurb writing either. etc. They sold and they still sell because of the quality of the writing and quality of story.
      But a couple of things to remember. LOTR received mixed reviews when published in 1954. It sold well over a long period of time. I can’t be sure about GoT but I doubt the books would be anywhere near as successful without the TV series.
      So the point is much “Write to Market” stuff is pulp fiction, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. It sells well in the short term (the “spike”) if all the boxes are ticked and this is essential because bills need to be paid. A lot of this will not be being bought in twenty years time. It will be long forgotten.
      The occasional reader is not something a writer can target specifically – how and where do you find them? I believe eventually people will realize the occasional reader is someone who reads quality writing and yes it can be genre based. But for it to get noticed and found it needs “word of mouth” marketing. TV series and films obviously helps. But I think the writer cannot specifically target these people because they will never find them. How do you find someone who does not like what you write, but might like it if they ever read it? I think the only thing a writer can do is to improve the quality of their writing (yes the old sentence thing again). This way their output may stay afloat whilst all around sink. But this type of writing takes time and serious effort and the worse thing about it is it will not pay your Bills next month. It may pay your grand children’s bills long after you have gone. My message to all writers would be keep doing what you are doing but factor in continual improvement at writing sentences (J do you still practice scales on your guitar?) and who knows, one day you may rise above the dung heap. Sorry for the length of this reply but yes… I didn’t have time to make it shorter – always wanted to use that.🙂

  • I couldn’t agree more. The underlying assumption (for me) with every piece of art is QUALITY. I will be a student of writing for the rest of my life. I’m constantly taking classes, getting certifications, reading books on writing. I want every story I tell to be better than the previous one.

    “How do you find someone who does not like what you write, but might like it if they ever read it?”

    It’s not easy and I don’t have an exact answer. However, based on what Chris Fox talked about, I’m looking more for behaviors and demographics instead of reading preferences. It’s still a risk and not exact science. Luckily, I represent (generally speaking) the type of occasional reader I’m seeking. But if you’re trying to write YA, you’re probably not your customer archetype.

  • Great show, guys. Thanks.

    One thing I wanted to mention about surveys is that as a listener (and also supporter but that’s less important here) I was happy to be able to give back in some way. The survey is another opportunity for your audience to interact with you and your mission and feel like they’re contributing.

    I was also very interested to learn about the aggregate listener, since that’s apparently my peer group.Thanks for sharing that info back with the show.

  • Loved this episode!

    (And just bought Chris Fox’s book based on the recommendation here. 😊 I had heard about it on Chris’s YouTube videos but wasn’t sure if I wanted to attempt to read another book on ads. However, from what J said about finding audience, I thought I should check it out.)

    (And now, here’s my essay about today’s topic. LOL)

    I have often said it would be a travesty if I were to die with the stories which I wanted to write inside of me, having never shared it because I was chasing the money trail. In other words, I have not been focused on writing to market as much as writing what I wanted to read and assuming that there had to be more than just me who wanted to read these stories. As it turns out, there are some who do, and I think there would be (will be) more if I could convince them to read what I was writing as it does not hit the hot zone in the genre in which I write.

    I have been going against the flow to an extent in my genre from the beginning (5 or so years ago). I was told that what I was writing would not sell because it did not fit what was out there and popular. However, I am a stubborn sort of person and refused to listen. It has taken work – lots of it – but what I write does sell. (Not as well as the stuff that is written to market, but I do ok.)

    Part of how I have found my audience and how I continue to seek my audience is through content marketing. I have been posting stories as works in progress on my website for years. Since a lot of what I have written to date falls within a fan fiction genre, I have also posted these stories on forums for readers to read for free. I have also given away books to get my content in the hands of readers (not just as reader magnets 😉 ). I have done this because I know that once my audience discovers my stories and learns to trust me as a storyteller, they will come back for more. And I know it is working because I have gotten comments from readers on forums and in reviews on Amazon saying things such as “(either) I don’t normally read stories like this or about this character (or) I’m not a fan of (character), but (either) I tried it because it was a Leenie Brown book (or) I am a fan of Leenie Brown.” That right there is success to me, for in a fan fiction genre probably more than just in a regular genre there are many readers who are fans of the genre and follow favourite characters or tropes more than they follow authors. I want fans of my work not just fans of a genre, if that makes sense.

    It has taken a good deal of work to create this audience and it is only in its infancy. I’m still stretching into the stories I really want to write that mix the fan fiction genre with regular sweet Regency romance. So, hearing about writing to audience and not just to market was encouraging. I’d love to hear more on this topic, for sure.

    • “(either) I don’t normally read stories like this or about this character (or) I’m not a fan of (character), but (either) I tried it because it was a Leenie Brown book (or) I am a fan of Leenie Brown.”

      ^^That is exactly what I’m talking about. So thrilled to hear you’re making it work.

  • Hi Guys –

    Thanks for another great episode.
    I’d love to hear a follow-up discussing the challenges of how can you meet genre expectations when you’re writing cross-genre, or a mix of multiple story types? How innately necessary are the genres, conventions and obligatory scenes?

    It’s something I’ve long questioned:
    1. Humanity has always used story to convey information and life lessons, to enjoy and build empathy.
    2. Shawn Coyne says stories fall into set genres, and those genres have conventions and obligatory scenes that must be in a story or else that story is not fulfilling its genre, and will disappoint the reader’s expectations.
    However:
    Between 1 and 2, there are tens of thousands of years of people telling stories about all kinds of subjects. Humanity surely told love stories for eons before Jane Austen set down what a love story ‘must’ have.
    Or did she “merely” observe and follow herself what the genre had evolved into over the millennia?

    Yes, the shortest distance between two points, the path of least resistance, says an author today, particularly a new author, must abide by the paradigms genre-defining authors have set down or refined, as that is what the readers, the buyers of fiction today, are looking for, it’s what they desire —and nothing less will satisfy them.

    But: in today’s market we have thousands of other authors in each genre looking at the same list of conventions and obligatory scenes — and even lists of act breaks, scenes, and beats…
    We have over-experienced readers who are tired of the same old tropes more than they desire to see them again…
    And we have cross-genre books and audiences.
    In all that, when is it a better choice for an author to say “Okay, I understand all those old rules and obligations, but I am not going to abide by them? Or at least, not slavishly follow them beat by beat?”

    In the example of Chris Fox’ TechnoMage cross-genre books: clearly he couldn’t write a story that hit all the conventions and obligatory scenes of magic fantasy *and* space opera.

    In my case: I am writing Paranormal Suspense and Thriller, or at least that is the umbrella under which what I write best falls.
    But I can’t fulfill every obligation of the ghost story, the suspense story, or the thriller.
    The stories I am writing are none of those things in particular, and bits and pieces of all those things.
    My inspiration is Twin Peaks, which was a weird combination of small town soap opera, nostalgia-fueled feel good family stories, detective story, police procedural, murder mystery, conspiracy theories, ghosts, demons, and surrealism. (Phew!)
    Of course Twin Peaks was cancelled as that was too overwhelming a mix of too many elements for most viewers…
    But it also was a momentary cultural phenomena, and it is still loved by thousands of fans 30 years later.

    My thought/hope is that the certain type of reader I’m after doesn’t want another ghost story, as even the best one written in the last decade is really just another ghost story, and they’ve read those tropes and obligatory scenes many times.
    This potential reader instead wants something somewhat new (even if, as is often the case, that means a hopefully unique mix of different aspects of other old things).

    It’s tempting to simply start off by looking at a top-selling book in a genre, note down its tropes, mood, scenes, and general structure, and then do my own semi-original spin on that to produce a more “pure” work that has a stronger chance of immediately satisfying (and selling to) a large audience that knows what it likes.

    However, as Leenie just said, I am more motivated to tell the stories I’ve long had in mind than I am to write a generic top-seller.
    But it’s hard not to second-guess that: is that hobbling my writing career before it starts, putting ego before sales?

    I don’t think there are any simple answers to all the above — though I’d love to hear more on it all from those writers who are much more experienced.

    Thanks,
    Paul

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Paul. You’re right. There are no simple answers and I won’t pretend to have any. But I will share my perspective.

      “In the example of Chris Fox’ TechnoMage cross-genre books: clearly he couldn’t write a story that hit all the conventions and obligatory scenes of magic fantasy *and* space opera.”

      Couldn’t agree more. By definition, hitting some conventions and OS of magic fantasy means he is breaking some in space opera. The key is to know which ones you can break and which ones you can’t. Which means…

      You MUST know the conventions and obligatory scenes inside and out. Of both genres. I would caution less experienced writers trying this first without fully understanding the conventions they set out to break. If you’ve never written any epic fantasy, I can’t see how you can write your own version of Game of Thrones. Yes, you can be well read in epic fantasy, but you have to write it to really know the reader expectations.

      Finally, I think it’s a fine line between doing what Fox is doing and simply writing whatever the hell you want and then rationalizing it based on “write to audience.” You still need to serve the market what it wants although you get to pick the market.

  • Very cool distinction between write to market & write to audience….also how you utilize listener surveys. Def listen to you guys for more of the evergreen over-arching topics such as mindset and craft over short-term tatics…mostly appreciate your transparency…🙂

  • Great episode. As someone past the upper end of your demographic, the attending cons question didn’t surprise me, but it had me wondering: If you haven’t attended one or more conferences in the past year, why not?

    What is stopping people?

    For me, it’s cost of cons plus travel and lodging, as well as finding time with a full-time job and family commitments. Also, a health diagnosis kept me from the Sell More Books Summit this year.

    So how to get more of your demographic out to cons would be interesting to discover.

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