Why You Can't Write for "Everyone"

Audience?Image by orkomedix via Flickr



Okay – technically, you can write for everyone.  But should you try?  That is, should your target audience be every living soul on the face of the planet?

Beginning writers often make the mistake of saying their target audience is everyone. And, on the surface, that seems wise. Who would want to exclude potential readers? And don’t the most successful works of fiction (e.g., Harry Potter) have broad appeal?

Well, yes and no.

In the first Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry is 11 years old. Mid-grade novels are usually written for children a year or two younger than the protagonist; therefore, J.K. Rowling’s intended audience was aged 9-10. Certainly, the cover and interior illustrations were designed for that audience, and Rowling even adopted her gender-neutral nom de plume to appeal to boys.

It happened that the world Rowling created was so magical and Harry so universally identifiable that the series appealed to girls, teens, and even adults as well as 9-10 year-old boys. But that outcome is rare.

Instead of targeting “everybody,” writers should focus on a narrow audience.

Who do you envision as your primary readers? Men? Women? What age range? What socioeconomic status? Do you see your readers having a religious affiliation? A political one? What would their interests and hobbies be? What music, TV shows, sports do they follow? What is their level of education?

The better you know your target audience, the better you’ll know what likely appeals to them and what likely turns them off.

This does not mean your characters have to be carbon copies of some imaginary reader who is male, 35, lives in the suburbs, goes to a Methodist church, votes Democrat, roots for the St. Louis Cardinals, and has a B.A. in architectural design.   In fact, you might want to avoid using such overly specific details in your story unless they are important.

But no character or story can appeal to every reader.

No, not even Harry Potter. When authors say their book is targeted to everyone, it usually means they haven’t given their audience much thought. 

Unless you are writing exclusively for yourself, you should consider who is going to see your book on the shelf or online, whose eye is going to be attracted by the cover design, and who is going to pay money to read the words you have worked so hard to craft.

Have you narrowed down your audience?

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Comments

Kristi Bernard said…
Good question. My primary focus for my middle grade novel is boys ages 9-10. The main characters are aged 12-13, and since kids read up this is a perfect age group. My hope is to get boys reading books with characters they can relate to.
I think 9-10 year olds will enjoy reading about Zach and Tony, Kristi.

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