Saturday, 18 April 2015

7 Things You Need To Know About Your Target Audience

1. Know Who They Are

This one goes without question. There's no point writing a book for children, for example and filling it full of adult themes and language. Whenever you put pen to paper (or cursor to screen!) you should always have your target audience in mind: what do they want to read? What language do they know? What themes would they find interesting? What will make them want to keep on reading? Then use this as a guide to your writing. As I'm writing a series of Young Adults (YA) books set in space I always try to think about what a teenager's reaction would be when they're reading it: What do they think of the main characters? What would they find cool? What would make them run off to their friends and tell them all about it?

2. What Subjects Do They Want To Read About?

Ever since J.K Rowling published the Harry Potter books, Children's and YA fiction has been dominated by genre books: books that feature wizards, monsters, alien worlds, and parallel universes, etc. Any author who writes for this age group has to be aware of this and dream-up suitable plots and settings accordingly. Children and YA's want to read books that are in a similar vein to what they've already read. One has only to look at Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and The Olympians to see how much it ties in with the Harry Potter series: a realm of magic, a disadvantaged male protagonist, an absent father, a close-knit group of friends, a female character that is initially brighter and more knowledgeable than the male protagonist ... the list goes on ... this is not to say that it's a rip-off - it's just that the author has read the Harry Potter series, taken it on board, and re-packaged it in his own distinctive way to make it sufficiently original for his target audience to buy in their droves.

3. What characters Do They Want To Read About?

Again using Children's/YA fiction as an example, an 11 year old kid is highly unlikely to be very interested in following an adult protagonist - they want to read about someone who they can RELATE to - someone who looks like them, talks like them, and does the things they do. Every child on the planet can easily relate to Harry Potter and Hermione Granger because - magic aside - they are NORMAL people thrust into a magical setting over which they have no control. Deep down every child reading about Harry Potter or Percy Jackson wishes they were him, because in a way they already are.

4. What Settings Do They Want To Read About?

When I first heard that Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was rejected twelve times by publishers I was amazed - what kid wouldn't want to read about a kid going to magic school? It seems like an obvious thing that a young person would be into. Now, if Harry Potter was merely camping in the rainy Lake District instead of living it up magic-style at Hogwarts, J.K Rowling's target audience might have been less impressed and as a result less forthcoming with their hard-earned pocket money. Ultimately, J.K Rowling's genius was to stir the imaginations - just like you have to - of her readership to such a degree that they talked about nothing else for eons.

5. What Plots Do They Want To Read About?

The writer's job is to create convincing storylines for their target audience and then fill it with all kinds of twists and turns that will ultimately make the reader recommend the book to someone else. Here the writer also has to be the reader: What would you find exciting and surprising? Place yourself in their shoes and then write accordingly. Sometimes the writer has to give the reader exactly what they expect (The Battle of Helm's Deep towards the end of J.R.R Tolkien's The Two Towers comes to mind here) and deliver it well, which is no easy feat, but other times the writer has do the unexpected and create new avenues for the reader to walk down. J.K Rowling did this so well with the death of Sirius Black and Professor Dumbledore in books 5 and 6 of the Harry Potter series, and the same too can be said of the infamous Red Wedding scene in George R.R Martin's A Storm of Swords. Remember you're an entertainer - so go on entertain!

6. How Do Other Authors Do It?

A good writer is also a good reader. To write successfully for your target audience you also have to read around a lot and see how other authors do it. For example Stephen King, one of the greatest writers of our time, reads between 70 and 80 books a year. Now, I don't get anywhere near that myself - I'm not a professional author with 7 days free to both read and write - but I do read for at least 1-2 hours every day. Reading keeps the writer aware of their target audience and what books they are prepared to pay money for. At the end of the day it's an investment not just in their future, but also yours too. So go on read a book! 

7. Get Some Feedback

Okay, so you've finished your book. Now you must get some of your target audience to read and review it. What do they think? What do they find interesting? What do they find uninteresting? How do they think you can improve it? What do they think of the key characters and the main plot points? etc etc. Once you've finished soliciting their opinions, use them as a guide in the editing process until you arrive at a final draft that your target audience will accept and hopefully fall in love with.

Final Word

If you want to read my novel - Jack Strong and the Red Giant - about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space check out the link below:

Sunday, 5 April 2015

5 Reasons Why Teaching Helps Your Writing

1. Your English Improves

Becoming a teacher has been one of the best decisions I've ever made. It's given me a career path, a goal, and a whole lot of fun teaching young people, but it's also been a tremendous boost to my writing, not least because my all-round English has improved as a result. Writers need words like an addict needs crack, and when you're teaching, particularly if you're teaching English, you are around words all the time; words which ultimately fizz around your brain and find their way into your books.

2. Your Characters Improve

You meet so many different people teaching, whether be they teachers, parents, or students. In every one of my books there are at least 2-3 people that I have met during my teaching career swirling around in my characters. Teaching helps me to decide whether that kid would smoke, or that one would swear, and how they would act in any given situation, etc. Without these real people I doubt that my characters would have been quite so easy to write, quite so believable to the reader.

3. Your Dialogue Improves

Being close to young people also brings you closer to English as it's actually spoken, as opposed to how a dictionary would have it, i.e 'me and you' vs 'you and I'. This is of particular benefit to anyone who is either writing Children's/Young Adults fiction or who has some child/teenage characters in their book. So if you're teaching pay attention to how your students speak, what words they use, what topics they talk about, or even how frequently they interrupt each other etc. When the reader reads your dialogue they have to believe it completely, and that the character is speaking to them. There's no point in having a bunch of kids from lower-income families speaking like Harvard freshmen now is there? They must speak in your book as they would in real life.

4. Your Awareness Of Society Improves

Teaching brings you closer to people from all walks of life: girls, boys, rich, poor, urban, rural, christian, muslim, jewish, atheist: the list is endless. Teaching is a window into their world, and it allows you to see what their life experience is like, so that when you are dreaming-up characters and plotlines they become more believable and more realistic to the reader. The rich and supremely spoilt Padget Penárgon from my Jack Strong books for example, was that much easier to write precisely because of my job teaching a lot of fantasically wealthy kids in China. I knew how he would act, how he would think, behave, talk etc. So in a sense he wrote himself rather than the other way around.

5. Your Awareness Of Your Audience Improves

Kids are readers too, and teaching them also allows you to get a good handle on what books they are currently reading, and what characters they like. This is of particular benefit to anyone who - like me - is writing for Children and/or Young Adults. But since you also meet a lot of other teachers, it can also be helpful for adult fiction writers to find out what books other people are reading and what they might be interested in in the future. After all, there's no point in writing a book if your target audience is just not interested in what you have to say.

Final Word

If you aren't a teacher and are looking for that extra little ingredient that's missing from your writing, why not give teaching a try? It doesn't have to be a full-time job either - it can just be an hour here or there or the odd day at the weekend. What's the worst thing that can happen? If it doesn't work out then you can just walk away and try something else, but if it gives you an idea or two or helps you to freshen up a few of your characters then your books will not just be better written but also more readable as a result.

Some notable teacher/writers

1. Stephen King  2. William Shakespeare  3. Lewis Carroll  4. Robert Frost  5. J.R.R Tolkien  6. J.K Rowling  7. Dan Brown 8. William Golding

If you would like to read my book, Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures on a strange, alien spaceship then check out the link below: