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Understanding Your Audience

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Who do you write for?

The answer to this question might seem self-explanatory (“my readers, obviously”), but how much thought have you actually given to thinking about your audience? Where are they? What are their interests? How do you connect with them?

This month, as part of our Year of Courage, we’re helping you better understand your audience and giving you the confidence to find your readers. 

Understanding your audience

Every reader has their unique preferences. Whether it’s certain genres, tropes, or writing styles, there’s some writing that readers adore, and some that’s just not for them. 

When you begin writing a story, it’s important to understand that it won’t appeal to all readers. But who will it appeal to? This is your audience. And the better you understand what types of readers make up your story’s audience, the easier it will be to grab their attention with your writing. 

You can pinpoint your audience by looking directly at your work. All these factors (and more) can impact your readership:

  • Genre

  • Character types

  • Tropes

  • Point of view

It’s important to note that “your audience” is more accurately “your work’s audience.” You might write two stories that appeal to two completely different types of readers, so you need to think about the unique audience for each piece you write. 

Your audience could be a huge group of people, or it could just be you—numbers aren’t important. What you should focus on is writing work that your specific audience just needs to get their hands on. 

The value of book comps

A good way to understand and explain your target audience is by using “comps,” or books that are similar to yours in the various story elements listed above. 

Consider everything, from the year it was written, to the character arcs, to the overarching themes. Then take a look at the author. Do they have a large social media presence? How do their readers talk about their work? These details can give you clues not only about what they like to read, but how you can engage with them. 

While comps can help you during the writing process, they’re especially important when you start submitting your work to publishers, if you choose to do so. Besides being a great piece of writing, publishers want to understand the specific audience for your work so they can market it effectively. 

(Take it from a Columbia Publishing Course grad: publishers love comps.)

Do some of the heavy lifting and include your comp findings in your pitch. Not only does this help your agent or publisher, it shows that you have a strong understanding of your book and its place in the literary world. 

Reaching your audience

Getting your work published by a big publisher is not always an option—or a preference—for many writers. Books published this way perhaps have the most potential for reaching a large audience, but that does not mean they have the most loyal or dedicated audience. 

Thankfully, big publishers aren’t the only way to reach your audience. There are a few alternative routes you can take:

  • Literary magazines

  • Indie/boutique publishers

  • Self-publishing

Each route has its advantages and disadvantages, but they all require you to have a strong understanding of your target audience. Literary magazines and other publishers will be more interested in your work if it matches the genres and themes of other work they’ve published, so it’s important to understand your own audience as well as theirs. 

There’s some stigma around self-published writing, but for many writers, it’s the perfect way to reach their audience. And there are a lot of ways to do it! You can go the traditional route of printing physical copies and selling them locally or online, but you can also make:

  • E-books

  • A blog or website for posting your work

  • A podcast where you read your work aloud

A lot of self-published work is boosted by the power of the internet. More and more, especially with the BookTok boom, big publishers are looking for writers with significant social media followings—a “built-in” audience. (Again, take it from a CPC grad). That could be an entire topic on its own. 

Whatever your personal thoughts are on social media, it’s a useful way to reach readers who will love your work. 

Never fear—your audience is out there

With the sheer mass of books, poems, essays, and short stories that come out each year, it can be scary trying to carve out a space for your own work. But that’s the thing—you don’t have to. 

The beautiful thing about writing and reading is that we are drawn to a multitude of stories. All our work can coexist and be cherished together. 

Remember that all readers are unique; some will exclusively pick up enemies-to-lovers romance novels, while others will read a work of any genre as long as it has a strong female lead. Instead of getting distracted by the latest book trends, focus on writing what interests you most, and seeking your audience later. Odds are, when you’ve finished your story, the trends will have completely changed. Perhaps in your favor!

There are readers out there who have been waiting for a story exactly like yours, and they’re just itching to get their hands on it. It’s one of your duties as a writer to make sure your audience finds your work; you both deserve it.


About the author: Lindsey has a BA in English and creative writing from Brandeis University and recently completed the Columbia Publishing Course, nicknamed the "West Point of publishing." She loves writing short stories and has more recently taken an interest in writing poetry. For three years she was an Editor-in-Chief for her school literary magazine, Laurel Moon. You can usually find her reading, crocheting, or bothering her cat, Sister. She hopes to be a writer and an editor in the future to continue to help others improve their work.

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