Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lesson One: Defining my audience

Zoe Fowler,
interviewed at When Words Count Retreat
I was interviewed about my book. I like talking about my novel and will happily chat away forever about my characters, my choice of city and location, moments of drama and suspense, motivations and epiphanies... But the question which I stumbled over in this interview was 'Who do you want to read your book?'

As a novice, the simple unconsidered answer would have been to say 'anyone'; but that is as arrogant as it is unlikely. My grandfather used to say, 'You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time; but you can't please all of the people all of the time'. My book has no high-speed car chases, unsolved murders, explicit sex scenes, or lengthy factually accurate descriptions of war ships; therefore, I have lost the potential interest of at least half of my family members already. My mother will probably read my book, but that is most likely to be as a consequence of the name inscribed on the book's jacket!

Who do I want to read my book? It's a good question. Who reads any books? We live in a changing world. A few years ago there were dire predictions that no-one would read books in the future because the advent of new technologies. While those predictions haven't been realized, new technologies continue to change the publishing world and the ways we experience the books we read. Sales of e-books, for example, accounted for 11% of sales in 2012, and Generation Y (those born between 1979 and 1989) now consume the greatest amount of books (Bowker report). But most books are published in hard and digital versions, and I would intend my book to be distributed via both media. The question is, to whom do I want my book to appeal?

Despite my best Google-sleuthing, I've struggled to find statistical evidence about what kinds of people read what kinds of books: the markets are fluid and subjective. So, when I consider who I want to read my book, perhaps I need to align myself with other books that people are already reading. This is an easier task than trying to pin down abstract readers through a collation of statistical reports.

I want my book to appeal to people who enjoy reading Kate Atkinson's joy of story-telling; Jeanette Winterson's experimentation with language; Margaret Atwood's enthusiasm for developing character; E.L. Doctorow's exploration of historical accuracy and magic realism. I want to build a world which is as credible to the reader as A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book and as compelling as Sarah Waters' Fingersmith.

With the exception of Winterson, each of these authors have written historical fiction, in the sense that their books take place within an accurately rendered historical context. I've set my ambitions high: I consider these books to be some of the best novels ever written. But ambition is no bad thing if it will encourage me to strive to be the best writer that I can be and, even if I don't achieve the heights attained by these novelists, perhaps their readers will also find moments of pleasure, intrigue and entertainment in the company of my book.

So, in answer to the question of who I want to read my books, I want the readers of the other books listed here.


  1. Look forward to reading your book! Also, Life After Life is one of the books I hope to read this summer!! Both your book and Atkinson's look very interesting.

  2. Loved your answer! Looking forward to the book.

  3. I've never thought seriously about who I'd like to read my novel either, but doing so really focuses your style and genre, as well as your target audience. A good thought to hold in your mind as you reach your deadline...