Identifying Your Target Audience and Age Range – A Daunting Task
Chapters Completed: 11
Chapters In Progress: 9
Chapters Left to Start: 14
“Chronicling The Craft” is an article series where I share my experience with writing my current work-in-progress (WIP), which is a fantasy novel. Every 5,000 words, I let readers know what I’ve accomplished since the previous article and share advice, discoveries, techniques, etc. Besides the word count in each article title, a “chapter ticker” at the top also tracks my progress as I use the skip-around / “writercopter” method to write the novel. Today’s installment celebrates the book reaching 45,000 words in length.
Wow! Even with taking a weekend off from the WIP recently to attend WANACon, I managed to crank out another 5,000 words in 4 weeks. Considering I have a day job and other commitments, I have to say I surprised myself once again. Then again, this winter has been a good period for writing. I’ve turned into a sort of hibernating bear with all the bitter cold and frequent snowstorms we’ve had here. Hibernating yet productive and happy. Can’t complain about that!
Here’s what I’ve been up to since the previous Chronicle:
- Chapter 13 is done! Here, the protagonist leads her travel party into a seemingly normal but dangerous area at the command of the party’s leader – and the consequences of the leader’s decision threaten everyone’s lives.
- After realizing I was trying to cram too much into Chapter 13, I realized I needed to split said chapter into two so that it wouldn’t be too long compared to my other chapters and would allow the scene to play out to my satisfaction. This is probably the third or fourth “split decision” I’ve made while writing this novel. I guess pacing isn’t one of my strengths – but at least I’m recognizing it now instead of later. So, Chapter 14 is done, and it shows the resolution to the event that began in Chapter 13.
- Chapter 3’s opening scene is almost finished. My hope is to focus on that chapter during the next couple writing sessions…
- Once I’ve finished writing Chapter 31, of course. (Makes sense, right? *lol*) I heard a particular piece of music recently that reminds me of the shame and guilt the protagonist feels in her darkest hour of the story. And when a specific muse calls out to me, I’m compelled to respond as soon as I can. This chapter’s already halfway done, and so far I’m pleased with how it’s turning out.
- Finally, I’m still working on a couple backstory pieces, mostly on developing the protagonist’s supporting cast.
While the act of novel-writing has flowed like a river lately, one big-picture aspect of the WIP gives me a headache whenever I think about it: target audience. I dread being asked that question, “Who are you writing this book for?” In some ways, the question shouldn’t cause me stress. The genre I’m writing for is fantasy, which is loaded with avid readers. But when I try to hone in further – particularly on age range – I keep getting stuck. Maybe with today’s Chronicle, you the reader can help me figure it out.
Let’s start with seven clues that can help me draw a clear enough picture for you without giving too much of the story away. These clues are actual suggestions from Jan Bear’s “Finding Your Novel’s Target Market: 7 Keys Hidden In Your Story” at Build Book Buzz. They are:
- Genre: I’ve already mentioned the WIP is a fantasy novel. To be even more specific, it’s high fantasy set “in a time long ago.” Think Middle-Earth long-ago.
- Setting: The story takes place on a fictional continent roughly the size of North America. This continent features a wide range of landscapes you’d find in a real setting (mountains, hills, forests, grasslands / plains, bodies of water) with distinctive features in each region. There are also medieval-era kingdoms, towns, and villages.
- Milieu: Within the setting described above, the novel focuses on two creeds (larger-than-life Faeries, and Mountain Men), cultural and personal differences, and the bonds created despite those differences. It’s also a “physical journey” story, where the protagonist and her travel party must go from Point A to Point B in order to accomplish their goal. Humans also appear in this story, as does an antagonist species I’ll reveal in a later Chronicle.
- Character: The protagonist is a 17 / 18-year-old female Faerie (her birthday falls during the novel’s timeframe) with expert fighting and magic skills and a LOT of baggage. You’ll learn more about her during the next Chronicle (to celebrate hitting the 50,000-word mark), but this should suffice for now.
- Problem: The WIP contains parallel plots – one is external, the other internal. Externally, it shows a peacekeeping troupe of Faerie warrior-magicians who accompany a band of Mountain Men as they set out to find long-lost artifacts of their last king. The internal story unfolds within the protagonist, who’s one of the Faerie peacekeepers. How can the mission succeed if she’s secretly promised herself revenge against the Mountain Men, the creed who killed her parents in front of her when she was a child?
- Theme: I’m planning to discuss several of the novel’s themes in yet another future Chronicle. However, in my opinion, the most salient theme of this story is forgiveness – not just forgiving others, but also yourself.
- You, The Author: Fantasy has been my favorite genre of both literature and film for years. I also gravitate more toward medieval-style fantasies; current trends like contemporary urban fantasy and horror / supernatural re-imaginings of classic stories just don’t appeal to me. So, why not try to put a new spin on the eras and settings that drew me to fantasy in the first place?
If I hadn’t made it obvious before that the WIP is a full-blown fantasy novel, I sure have now! *tee hee* Where I keep stalling, though, is a potential age range. Any writer who wants to be a published author and has done their homework should be familiar with the terms Middle Grade (MG), Young Adult (YA), New Adult (NA), and Adult. Literary agencies and publishing houses alike want to know what your target age range is from the get-go these days. Even query pitch contests ask for this particular. So, it’s become increasingly important for authors to focus on how old – or young – the readership for their novel should be.
The easiest way of figuring this out? The age of your main character. Your target audience (usually) wants to read about other people their age. That similarity is one of the greatest keys to forging connections between your protagonist and your readers. In most cases, will a 16-year-old girl be interested in reading a novel narrated by a 35-year-old man? Or will a 40-year-old unmarried woman choose a book about a 12-year-old boy? Probably not. Of course, there are notable exceptions (Harry Potter, anyone?), especially when the age gap isn’t as wide as the cases I gave. But, realistically, the answer to both would be “no.”
When I described my protagonist to another writer last year, that writer said, “She’d make a great lead character for a Young Adult novel!” Other people have said the same. I can see where they’re coming from, given the protagonist’s age and the struggles she’ll go through during the course of the story. But… I have the damndest time imagining this novel being labeled as YA fantasy, or even New Adult fantasy. It might be because, in her culture and time period, the protagonist has already “come of age.” Sure, the WIP touches on love, loss of innocence, friendship, and other related themes – but the heart of this story is lies in the protagonist’s transformation. She realizes she needs to change some of her attitudes and behaviors, and must rise to the occasion to fight against true evil. Also, I’ve heard and read that some older readers don’t like reading (or refuse to read) YA literature because of supposed stigmas like “immature characters,” or “it’s not real literature / it doesn’t tell a real story. ” Honestly I want people of all ages to read my book when it’s ready – so if it gets the YA label, should I be concerned of losing potential readers in other age groups?
Funny thing is, whenever I get concerned about target age range, I remember a bit of advice from YA author Lucy Christopher. I attended a session she hosted at the 2013 AWP Conference and met her at the book fair later on. During her session (on taboo subjects in YA literature), Lucy mentioned she had seesawed back and forth on her target audience as she was writing her debut novel Stolen. Someone later asked Lucy a question I’d thought of asking: what advice she’d offer to writers going through a similar struggle. Her answer was, “Just write your story. Sometimes you figure it out as you go along. Other times your agent or your publishing house can help you determine your audience. That’s what happened with Stolen in the end.”
And, really, writing the story is what’s most important for me right now. Bogging myself down with debating my WIP’s target age range will only become a nasty distraction from the work I need and want to do. Who knows – maybe I’ll read this post again a few months from now and say to myself, “Hey, I think I answered my own question without knowing it!” But at the moment, it’s hard to see through the haze.
So, that’s what I’ve been up to with the WIP and what I’ve been thinking about lately. I hope you’ll come back for the next Chronicle – it will celebrate the 50,000-word mark! And I have a special topic already planned for it: an introduction to my protagonist. 🙂 In the meantime, have you struggled with determining your target audience or age range? Or did you have a clear-cut idea from the beginning? Feel free to share your experiences by commenting on this post.
Next Chronicle: When I reach 50,000 words
Until Then: Tomorrow is Mini-Review Monday! Stay tuned for a review of Kowai’s debut album Dissonance.