Know Your Audience…

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This weekend my husband and I took our daughter to the Casa Manana children’s theater. We have season tickets that my mother-in-law gets us every year. All in all they are awesome. I was wowed by their production of Treasure Island, I cried when Charlotte climbed up to her web for that last time, when Shere Khan stepped out onto that orange stage I laughed out loud, and my daughter still talks about that other snowman from the Frosty show.

But, this time–they did not impress.

Their production of Alamo, the Musical was completely inappropriate. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking, “Jamie, how can they tell the story of the Alamo without a little death and canon shooting?”

I’m not upset about that, I am upset about Santa Anna holding an old man at knife point in front of my four year old–it was unnecessary to the story, and not at all in line with their audience.

You see, when that happened I started looking around the Casa Manana theater and gauging the ages of the audience. Adults aside, (because seriously, we’re just there for our kids) the average age of the theater goers was four or five. So, here we are watching a play with a great set and some of the best singing I’ve heard from that theater in the last four years, and they bombed it because they didn’t know WHO they were putting on the play for.

Which, got me to thinking…

When I sit in writer’s workshop on Wednesday nights, I hear a lot of really great stories… but I don’t get who they are for. You hear all the time in the writing business that you should just write a good story and not worry about things like trends or things like that, but I do think you need to worry about WHO your story is for. YA writers think a lot about this when they are monitoring their bad words, romantic scenes, etc., but I wonder if it’s more…

How do we really know that the stories we’re telling are geared toward the people we’re writing them for?

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  1. I don’t think I could write YA. I’m a fairly young mom of three teen boys and I honestly am surprised at how much I *don’t* understand about their world. I had them young so I could relate better to them when they reached this age. Yes, I do better than most of the older parents, but still…so much has changed about being that age in the last 20 years. Since mine are all boys, I’d probably do better writing a boy YA book, but that’s so not my style.

    As far as my own writing, I definitely keep audience in mind. That’s been drilled into me since I was very young. It applies no matter what I’m writing. My husband didn’t “get” a few things about my main character. I almost made changes based on that input, but then remembered he’s NOT my target audience so of course he doesn’t get it. My target audience did understand why she’s the way she is about certain things.

    ALWAYS know your audience. I think this is the most important advice a writer can have, whether they’re writing essays for school or fiction for seniors.
    .-= Kristie Cook´s last blog ..Procrastination…or Funk? =-.

  2. Hi Jamie,
    I read your post on Guide to Literary Agents and thought it was great. I’m excited to find your blog.
    Have a great day!
    .-= Amy L. Sonnichsen´s last blog ..Montana =-.

  3. I think it varies person to person, and obviously genre to genre. But honestly, I think as long as the story is true – believable, frank, fearless – then no matter what age the readers are, they’ll enjoy it. One of the worst things about children’s books (and why I didn’t bother to read until I was 6) is that they’re all aimed toward children, in the sense that they’re boring, largely plotless, and rely mostly on colorful pictures. When I was ten, I hated books written for my age, but I loved The Hobbit by Tolkien. Basically, the story must be well written, and if the character’s are true and the story is rich, then it’ll work. Again, there’s obviously some aim required, but I think it’s better to let it flow naturally, and then edit it, if necessary. Just my opinion!

    1. @Bethany, I couldn’t agree more Bethany… it’s all about telling a GOOD story, then the rest of it sort of goes to the wayside 🙂
      .-= Jamie´s last blog ..Know Your Audience… =-.

  4. I think my daughter would’ve been tramatized by that.
    Great points about knowing your audience. It’s easier to say “just write” when you aren’t planning to market to a specific genre. 🙂

    1. @LS Murphy, I did one of those, oh hey daughter–look at this cool thing on my phone moves. I felt like such a loser parent for letting her see that!

  5. I’m all for giving kids more credit than they usually get, but you’re right, knife point in the name of drama is not appropriate for a 4 year old.

    I’m also a YA writer (though I dabble in women’s fiction, too), and one of the greatest things I did for myself recently was read BREAK by Hannah Moskowitz. Was it the greatest book I ever read? No. But Hannah wrote it when she was a sophomore in high school and it was pub’d when she was a junior. She proves that high school kids are honest, smarter than we think and don’t speak only in slang. Worth a read.

    – Liz
    .-= Liz Czukas´s last blog ..I’m a Tepee, I’m a Wigwam: I’m Torn Between Two Tense(s) =-.

    1. @Liz Czukas, yes absolutely! I am with you. Most of the time I think kids can handle more than we think they can… but sometimes people are idiots, ya know?

      I’ve been meaning to read Hannah’s book… I should get on that, eh?

  6. Terrific point about knowing your audience! This was one of my biggest struggles during the submission process before my agent finally landed me this current deal. I write quirky romantic comedy, sometimes with a touch of mystery, but ALWAYS with a lot of offbeat humor. On several occasions, the feedback we got from editors said, “everything about this is great, but we worry it might confuse our older readers who are more comfortable with stories about knitting circles and flower shops.” Drove me nuts, but I’m happy my new editor has a clear vision for who my audience is (and who it IS NOT).

    Love the blog, as always!

    .-= Tawna Fenske´s last blog ..Deeply proufound lessons from my weekend (volume #2) =-.

  7. I think that’s one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to jump back into my writing. I wanted to figure out who I’d be writing for.

    Audience is such as huge factor.
    .-= Carin´s last blog ..Simply Saturday =-.

      1. @Jamie, I think I did. 🙂 I’m really excited, so now…all I need to do is write.
        .-= Carin´s last blog ..Simply Saturday =-.

  8. Hey, Jamie!

    I read a lot of YA, and I’m currently writing a book in that genre. As far as audience goes, I think most authors obsess over sounding like a teen. Content is truly an important element of the story as well. It’s what separates the “edgy” label from everything else (even though many will say that it doesn’t exist anymore). Bottom line, writers should focus on telling an unforgettable story, and two things make it so: a great voice (without being forced or dumbed down), and content that doesn’t push the envelope just to shock the reader. Both of these things have to go hand in hand for me.

    1. @Amparo Ortiz, I so agree that people try to sound like teens, and then they just sound like grown people trying to sound like kids. It’s like when your mom asks if you’re on the youface!

  9. You’re so right. If we don’t nail down exactly who our audience is and what they want (and give it to them!) we won’t sell very many books. Love or hate her that’s exactly what Stephanie Meyer did, and she did it brilliantly.
    .-= Heather´s last blog ..Monday’s Muse~Dragons & Lavender =-.

    1. @Heather, yeah–she really did. I think people forget that about her. She knew WHO she was writing to, and she gave them a good show!

      1. @Jamie, actually, she’ll admit she didn’t know she wrote a YA book until after the first was done. When she started researching getting published, she learned her audience. She’s said in interviews that she’s not surprised Mom’s like her books and fell in love with Edward because she was writing it for herself. Now the rest of the series…yes, she hit it well.
        .-= Kristie Cook´s last blog ..Procrastination…or Funk? =-.

  10. THAT why I can’t write YA if I begged until my knees started to bleed. I think any YA author is amazing because to truly write for that audience is gifted. I can read YA until my eyes bleed and I haven’t found one where I went, “Whoa! That ain’t right!”

    I write for women 25-40 crowd and try to imagine most of my friends and what they like. I can make em laugh most days and I could even make em cry if I really wanted to.

    Now under that age? I’m a mother of an 11 year old…I can’t talk to her without wanting to strangle her.

    Hmmmm? Perhaps a YA horror in my future? 😉
    .-= Jeanie´s last blog ..You’ve been "purged." =-.

    1. @Jeanie, ohhh YA horror would be SO fun 🙂 Although… maybe a little scary how you need to get there haha!

      That’s the thing with YA, anything goes… you know as long as you remember your readers are kids LOL