Got You In My Sights: Knowing Your Audience

I see you. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Writing can be a kind of echo chamber: all you hear is the reverberations of your own shouting coming back at you from the walls. Part of being a inner process instead of an outer one. But the thing that you’re making—story, blog, article, novel, poem, manifesto, whatever—will, eventually, be read.*  And so you need to think of who the hell you’re writing for. In other words, it’s time to consider your audience.

And before we get any further, I’m not advocating writing to a market trend or any of that bullshit. For one thing, trends are as ephemeral as a unicorn fart. For another, you still have to be pleased and excited with what you’re doing, or that lack of interest will be as obvious as a dismembered corpse under a rug.

But there should be someone in mind when you start juicing your brain and smearing the results on the page. It doesn’t have to be real specific, but think about who would read this. “People who like epic fantasy” is perfectly acceptable, if broad. Likewise, “my mom” is also acceptable, if narrow. Aim for somewhere in the middle. For example, “people who like epic fantasy but are interested in seeing something other than an endless parade of interchangeable white dudes waving a Freudian Penis Metaphor as a weapon” could be your audience.

It’s not just fiction, either. When I get that first cup of coffee and hit the keys to write blog posts in the morning, I have a pretty good idea who would like to read this. My audience for Bare Knuckle Writer consists of: writers; people who want to write; people who like bizarre metaphors and profanity; and people I knew through various schools, jobs, and organizations who have found me online and are checking in to see if I ever did go crazy like they figured I would. Oh, and those people who accidentally find the page through search terms like “bare ass living” and “erotic shop dick”.**

Somewhere in the Venn diagram created by those things is my ideal reader: a writer who occasionally needs a boot to the ass for motivation, enjoys swearing, and likes watching the World Series of Going Insane as presented to you by me. And is not adverse to the odd pornographic reference because, hey, that’s just how I roll. That person might be you, for all I know. My powers are many and varied, but I can’t read people as they read the blog. Yet.

Think about your ideal reader. What person, when reading your work, will enjoy it the most? What categories does that person check off? What do they want, and, more importantly, how do you keep them reading? For fiction, those last two are often not the same. Readers want characters to be happy, but they keep reading because the characters are not happy yet. You need to get them on the hook.

When you figure out who your audience is, keep them in mind while you write. Not so you can pander, but so you can aim.

*I assume that, if you’re writing, you might be writing so that it can be read. If not, then you’re excused. Have a hall pass, go down to the study hall and count the tiles or something.
**Other gems from the recent search terms are “pocket sized flamethrower”, “yoga kick your ass”, and “earwig costume.”***
***I am overcome with speculation about whether this is a costume to allow you to dress as an earwig, or—and I’ll admit I find this idea far more interesting—a costume for an earwig.

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6 thoughts on “Got You In My Sights: Knowing Your Audience

  1. I came looking for erotic shop dicks and never left. I guess images like corpses under rugs just make me laugh (heloooo obvious corpse under here). Also, I want an earwig costume. Then I will run screaming after any regular size earwig I see and terrify them into leaving my house forever.

  2. Audience isn’t something I think about much when I write, but you’re correct (I just couldn’t do “right” because homophone) about keeping that in mind. It’s something I should probably do more often.

    Also, I am one of your perfect readers.

  3. I am your ideal reader. Boom.

    re: bizarre search terms – I still get a lot of hits for ‘kayak sex’. It’s, like, one of my most read articles.

    Lastly, I adore ALL of this: ““People who like epic fantasy” is perfectly acceptable, if broad. Likewise, “my mom” is also acceptable, if narrow. Aim for somewhere in the middle. For example, “people who like epic fantasy but are interested in seeing something other than an endless parade of interchangeable white dudes waving a Freudian Penis Metaphor as a weapon” could be your audience.”

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