Friday, September 24, 2010

Finding Your Audience

Free-form Friday

The genre into which your book falls is one of the basic pieces of information you're supposed to include in your query.* I approach things systematically, so I've thought about genre in library terms--that is as a way of organizing a spectrum of materials (with the implicit assumption that readers were like library patrons).

When I visit the library, liking a book is a secondary (or tertiary) concern, well behind basic questions like, "Does it provide the information I need?" Even with fiction, I survey the shelves and then scan the books, looking at more than the first page, to determine my interest.

In a book store, however, the fiction buyer is generally there to find something they like, not to survey the offerings. With the exception the exception of mega-best-sellers that become an independent cultural forces, not everyone will like your work.

In fact, most people won't.

Thanks to the practical matter of only having twenty four hours in a day, I don't "like" about 95% of what's in the book store.** It follows, then, that 95% of the people won't "like" our work. That thought lead to the
epiphany that getting published is really about finding an audience.

Notions like genre are at best an approximation of an audience. So are all the rules and expectations of genres and commercial publishing. The zeal with which the gatekeepers sometimes seem to uphold these rules only shows their best guesses as to what a given audience wants.

So what does all this mean?

We'll be on a much more positive footing with both gatekeepers and the buying public if we don't try to please everybody but look instead for the people with whom our work resonates.

* Indeed, before we query, we're supposed to go to the book store, find the spot where our books will be shelved, and make a space that will be filled someday.

** Not "liking" 95% of what's in the book store isn't a matter of good or bad. It's simply that I don't have the time to pay attention to all that material.

Image: Photography by BJWOK /

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