When you're doing any kind of media-related work, you have to be aware of who your audience is and how to best play off of their way of thinking. This is partly an issue of craft, but it also has a lot to do with the business side of art. You have to know who your customers are!
I think most novelists are aware of their audience from the start. Many aren't actively thinking about it while writing, but we tend to fit ourselves into a genre and category. Then, when we've finished writing and are editing and prepping for publication, the intended audience becomes a key consideration. Genre and category are where you start because those are the qualifications around which your book will be marketed. However, many big professionals in the field recommend that you think in even more detail about your intended audience. They recommend creating create a profile for your reader: not just their age and genre preference, but also gender, ethnicity, hometown, hobbies, and lifestyle. Obviously, most of your readers won't fit this exact profile, but it will help you focus in on what elements in your story you need to emphasize to optimize the read for that specific intended reader.
I hadn't honestly thought much about this until one American Foundations class last semester. We were discussing the American Revolution, and the professor explained how U.S. natives have this bias against England because we're taught about the Revolution from childhood as this huge success where we gained our freedom. In fact, he said, England was one of the freest places in the world at that time. As an aside, he pointed out how in Star Wars, George Lucas made the members of the Empire primarily speak with British accents. He played off of the bias of his intended audience by associating the antagonistic group with England.
Today, I'd like to share my A-Z guide that uses the letters of the alphabet to examine key parts of being a novelist. Check it out!
Though experimental short stories can sometimes get away with not having a conflict, every novel needs to include at least one: one reason why the main character can't get what they want or need. This means that every novel has an antagonist! Antagonists can come in the form of characters who cause trouble and get in the main character's way, but they can also be more abstract. The main character may be their own antagonist at times (which I love to explore), while other common antagonistic forces include nature and time. Make sure that you know what your conflict and antagonist are and that you make full use of them in your story. (Also keep in mind that there are often multiple conflicts and multiple antagonists in longer stories like novels.)
B: Beta Readers
It's important to choose people, besides your mom and your agent, to read and critique your work prior to publication--friends, family, fellow writers, even random people you come across online. These are your beta readers (or critique partners if it's a mutual thing). They give you early reader reactions, help you perfect your writing, and encourage you on your path to success. As tempting as it may be, if you want to be a career writer, you can't hide your work from the world. So go get those critiques!
Even though it's important to stand out, you also have to fit in enough that librarians, bookstore owners, and others can shelf and market your book appropriately. That's why you need to know your category and genre and keep to them as you write, edit, and promote your book. This is the first step in determining your audience, which can be a key factor in creating an effective story.
One of the interesting things about writing as a career is how much of it is self-taught. Anyone in any career needs to learn from real-life experiences, yes, but nothing seems to have that aspect quite so much as writing. When you're young, you learn to read and write in school. You keep taking English classes after that to improve your skills. If you're an English major in college, you take extra classes that look at both reading and writing, and there are creative writing classes too--but none of those things make you a career writer.
You don't write novels as school assignments. (Genre novelists in particular will struggle to find creative writing classes that focus on their craft.) You don't find beta readers or critique partners through your teacher. The majority of the traits needed to be a novelist aren't focused on in the classroom. Everything about the publishing industry that you need to understand has to be researched in your own time, and you have to keep up with changes over time. Writing and editing and sending queries all happens in your own time, and it's a very complicated and involved process.
So here are some of the things novelists need to teach themselves:
During my first semester at BYU - I, in the midst of trying to figure out how to do a giveaway on this blog myself, I kind of realized that I like winning free books, so I tracked down a bunch of blogs that do giveaways and followed them, and I rejoined Goodreads to enter their giveaways too. At this point I'm entering at least a couple giveaways every single day hoping for new additions to my book collection.
So far, I have won thirty books through giveaways, not a bad number! I also currently have four pages worth of giveaways I've entered on Goodreads that are still open, which is a lot, though not as much as usual for me. Heh. You can look at my list of books I've won in giveaways here, if you'd like. It's a hit or miss kind of thing. I like about half of the ones I win.
I may be a bit addicted, but the thing is, I'm pretty sure you can never have too many books. So I thought I'd infect you a little bit. Muahaha! Here are a few places where you'll find somewhat regular giveaways of cool YA books:
Goodreads First Reads
Adventures in YA Publishing
Cuddlebuggery Book Blog
Don't forget to subscribe to my email list using the thingy on the sidebar to get a roundup every week of giveaways I recommend, plus blog and website content updates and a quote of the week!
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Across the past couple of years, I've learned a lot about humanity, politics, and social justice. This is due in large part to Twitter, which has opened up my sheltered world to all kinds of different perspectives and to the voices of many authors who advocate for social change. I used to be pretty ignorant and uninvolved, despite being an idealist who was against stereotypes, I'd experienced sexism and ableism because of my own gender and disability, and I'd seen other women and disabled people in my life experience them too, but I didn't know much about the broader cultural and structural problems behind those experiences. I didn't know about how marginalized identities play into politics, about modern social justice movements, or even about words like "ableism." Learning the language of social justice (beginning with #YesAllWomen on Twitter) has been incredibly empowering for me. It's been such a relief to see others talking about things I once lacked the ability to truly understand or communicate about. I've become more politically and socially involved as a result, and my perspective on so many things has changed.
Living as a privileged person in a town where there's not a lot of racial, ethnic, religious, or class diversity, I hadn't previously realized how those issues continue to be relevant, just like gender and disability. I thought that they were mostly confined to history--"No more racism! Martin Luther King Jr. gives a speech," as I've seen it described online. I thought color-blindness was the ideal. But as I've learned the language to discuss the social justice issues that affect me personally, I've also learned so much about other marginalizations. I've learned to value diversity and to stand up against all the many subtle and unconscious ways that prejudice continues to affect us in our culture. (As well as the less subtle ways it does so.) I've learned to listen more to the voices of others and to promote and lift up those who know best how these issues need to be addressed.
I especially have great admiration for Kaye, a Muslim YA writer who began the #YesAllWomen campaign and who continues to stand up against racism, sexism, and Islamophobia on her Twitter account. I've learned so much from her. I've also learned a lot from the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, which I strongly support. We need to be able to learn from the experiences of all kinds of different people, whether we're similar to them or not. One of the best things about books is that they teach empathy!
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