What is the difference between writing to market and writing for a specific audience, and how does it affect they way you write?
Writing to market is sales-focused. It is writing what is currently popular in your genre, whether that be themes, tropes, subgenres, or topics. An important detail of this definition is “in your genre.” Jumping into new fads you don’t have experience with or haven’t researched usually doesn’t work out well. Writing to market requires constantly staying on top of genre trends and being ready to shift or switch focus quickly.
Writing to market also means knowing general audience expectations, likes, and dislikes. Generally, readers don’t have a strong preference for standalones or series, a plot that moves quickly and well-developed characters keeps readers from putting down a book, blurbs and book covers that don’t accurately portray a book upset readers, readers prefer to interact with authors on Facebook more than other platforms, most readers do want to interact with authors, and readers pay attention to reviews.
Writing to a specific audience is more reader focused. It takes into account general audience expectations then narrows them to a specific genre, subgenre, or trope. Writing to a specific audience takes researching and understanding who you readers are, what they want out of a specific book, and determining the story elements that will satisfy their expectations.
Understanding your audience means researching and identifying several key factors:
- Specific genre/subgenre conventions that must be utilized (not all conventions are a must and there is room for creativity and exploration)
- Trope elements that are expected by the reader (don’t be formulaic, but hit the crucial points that make the story fit the trope)
- What your book gives the reader (a story must fulfill something for the reader, whether it be escapism, a thrill, vicarious excitement/romance, etc.)
- Demographics of your audience (the data is out there, even if you might have to make a few leaps or assumptions to narrow it enough to your niche)
The key to writing to a specific audience is figuring out what they want from your specific book and then delivering it. If readers expect an HEA, there better be a very good and convincing reason not to give them one. If readers expect vivid sex scenes and barely gets a peck on the cheek, the reviews will reflect their unhappiness. Make a promise to your reader in the blurb and make sure you fulfill that promise with a great ending.
Writing to market and writing to a specific audience can feel limiting or frustrating when we focus too much on one or the other. Aiming for something in between is a helpful balance. Focusing too much on what sells can lessen the excitement of writing and the emotional connection to the story and characters. You need to love what you’re writing for readers to truly enjoy it as well. Know what is selling in the market and what readers want from a specific book, but add spice and uniqueness to tropes and conventions by delving more deeply into what will excite and satisfy readers on a personal level.
I’ve been working for a ghostwriting company on the side, doing writer engagement and training, and recently we discussed genre conventions and what readers expect from particular genres. It was a good experience to research the genres we work with, and I wanted to share what I found.
Below are some basic expectations, but I’d love readers to add to this list and/or discuss why these are important to meet when writing.
- Focus on an inspirational theme
- Underlying religious lessons or ethics
- Encourage spiritual growth
- Convey lessons about home/family, relationship, faith
- References to God/God’s plan – few references to Jesus Christ
- Lack of explicit sexuality – focus on emotion/relationship
- Moral values, traditional roles
- More defined framing of gender/gender and femininity/masculinity
- Character(s) have strong religious convictions, or do by the end
- Very light or no sexual content
- Fully developed, realistic-ish world
- Well-develop creatures that either follow mythology/folklore or are completely new
- Well-develop system or magic/abilities that either follow mythology/folklore or are completely new
- An epic journey – actual or self-discovery
- Unexpected hero/villain dynamic
- Use of archetypes
- Romantic relationship with non-human/supernatural beings common
- Unique voice/narration – often goes along with first person perspective
- Character is in the correct age group (12-18 YA; 18-25 NA)
- More simplistic prose
- “Firsts” subject matter/Coming of Age
- Tough subjects
- Happy For Now (HFN) endings more common
- Emotional development themes
- Focus on the personal rather than the outside world
- Parents are often absent, MC relies on friends for support
- Love is central to the plot, but lust can be the spark
- Characters overcome problems, HEA ending
- Full relationship arc – emotional develop is central
- Modern setting and language
- Realistic scenarios and outcomes
- Developed romantic backgrounds
- Realistic conflict
- Secondary storylines used
- Use of “sounding board” characters
- Sexuality/romance is PG-rated or less
- Focus is on emotional develop in relationship
- Little to no sexual overtly thoughts
- Little to no swearing/cursing
- Usually no non-realistic elements
- Usually limited to heterosexual relationships
- Off-camera sexual encounters debatable
- Focus on love not lust
- Details are accurate to the time period
- Time period is integral to the story
- Gender roles very important
- Focus on societal ideals/mores of the time on how it impacts the story
- Theme is interpreted through the lens of the time period
- Plot/conflict makes sense for the time period
- Romantic interactions follow the time period social rules, for the most part
- Sex is central to the plot
- Romance/relationship development is still important
- Dynamic characters are a must
- Typically told from the female’s POV, but not always
- Graphic descriptions
- Multiple (more than 2) sex scenes
- Use of foreplay – descriptive
- Tension runs throughout the full story
- Unique tropes not typically covered in other subgenres (menage, BDSM, alphas, etc.)
- There’s still a line not to cross – rape, incest, abuse, etc.
- HFN or HEA ending
- Suspense is secondary or equal to romance
- Source of suspense is resolved by the end
- Fast-paced plot, high action
- Source of suspense jeopardizes the romance
- Realistic details in a modern setting
- Suspense/danger draws characters together
- Characters are equally matched, or close to
- Characters have a believable motivation to be involved in the suspense
Feel free to share any additional genre expectations!