Maybe it would have been a good idea to have thought about all this before I actually produced a novel but where would be the fun in that? My first novel was written spontaneously basically to entertain myself and a friend. The logical step then would be to work out which categories of readers I fall into and market it thus. That’s when it all got a bit messy.
I like stories that feature strong women characters but I’m not sure if what I write is women’s fiction. To be truthful, I’m not even sure what chick lit is but I imagine it to be something that appeals to women who like to read about real life issues, such as looking for Mr Right and being a yummy mummy. My life has taken a different path to most women’s and consequently what’s relevant to me isn’t that relevant to them as they juggle toddler tantrums, the school run and a career.
I prefer the fantasy of crime-fighting and adventure. All the stuff that would possibly appeal to a teenage boy were it not for the fact that he would be repulsed at the very concept of a middle aged woman tearing around. And that’s another thorny issue – allegedly readers only want to read about young people (32 is apparently the optimum age), Well, I don’t want to read or write about young people, they are tedious. Give me an old timer who’s seen better days any time.
Then there’s the setting because where you set your novel apparently has a massive impact on your market. I chose to set mine primarily in America because of the freedom that would offer. I imagined my readers would be UK based and to set your novel in a place that they know means you have to be more or less faithful to the truth. I never like to let the truth get in the way of a good story and so freed myself from that burden straight off the bat. I never anticipated that I would have American readers who would pick up on everything that is not authentic from dialogue to locality.
Still trying to pinpoint my potential audience then, I looked to my own reading tastes and thought about what categories they might fall into. It didn’t help and, I was left with the unsettling thought that if someone were to analyse my reading choices, they would possibly form an impression of me that’s very different from reality. For example, I love the Mitch Rapp series written by Vince Flynn but in real life I would be appalled by Mitch’s actions. I don’t know anything about Vince Flynn but following logic I would guess that his target audience is pretty right wing and nationalistic (Mitch is a one man war on terror with no regard for democracy or human rights). The problem with logic, however, is it doesn’t account for the thrill of escapism or guilty pleasure.
Guilty pleasure like the saucy novels that are currently flying off the shelves. If anything these prove that you can’t categorise readers. I was rather shocked a few months ago when a colleague told me all about her newfound love of erotica. She was a woman who I would have guessed only read highbrow literature and who would be appalled by anything so flimsy as soft porn. In reality, she got so carried away in her retelling of what she was reading, I had to put my fingers in my ears and beg her to stop.
An even bigger shock to me is the number of people who don’t read. I travel around a lot of schools and it’s shameful how many English teachers are happy to confess that they don’t read anything other than biographies which, let’s face it, don’t even count. Frankly, I would sack them all along with the librarian who blithely told me she’d never read a book in its totality. Such sacrilege is why libraries are now almost devoid of books and have become glorified job centre annexes, where people can complete CVs on the rows and rows of computers.
I digress, however, and my point is can we ever successfully put people into categories? I’d like to think not but, as marketing experts disagree, I’m no doubt wrong. If we want to sell books, it seems we have to write for an intended audience to whom we can then target our marketing strategies. Now it’s too late for me and, even if it weren’t, I’m not sure it would do me any good. I imagine it only works if you share the experiences of your audience and are able to write about them in a believable way. As we’ve already ascertained, my natural audience would be women but, even though I like them very much, I have very little in common with most of them. Everywoman’s story is not my story.
Would I have better luck with men then? I would have always said not but strangely, as I’m getting older, I find myself having more in common with men than ever before. Much as men love their children, they don’t have the same preoccupation with them that women do and so tend to have more room in their lives for frivolity. For instance, I spend a lot of my time alone in the cinema and women invariably find this odd whereas men wish it were them. I can’t help but think that men place more value on independence than women do.
Before we get too carried away, however, I don’t think my books would hold much appeal for most men. On the whole, I find men’s minds to be a complete mystery and, although I like the male characters that I have created just as much as the female ones, I suspect they are not the kind who would speak to other men. Most of the characters I create are pure wish fulfilment for me. The women have amazing adventures tackling wrong doing and the men are basically men I would want to go out with.
In conclusion then, it seems my target audience is myself and so all I need to do is find people who think like me. #Middleagedfantasist #toomuchtimeonmyhands and #selfindulgentlazyarse seem like a bit of a niche market though.