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Targeting a specific audience

Posted in Readers, and Romance

Learn from the experts, I always say. You know who the experts are for this purpose? The writers of Romance.

Something like 50% of all fiction sold is in the Romance genre. The most successful writers in this genre (and some are very successful) are specialists in volume and audience targeting.

Generally speaking, Romance readers are high-volume consumers of their favorite authors. Several books/week is not unusual. No one author can produce enough to satisfy them (though many are incredibly prolific), but they can be confident of selling each new work to their standard audience, which is a great motivator to pin down exactly what their audience wants.

The good news is that there are scores of romantic setups that work for one person or another, and for minute romantic specialties. The bad news is — disappoint one of your readers by not satisfying her (and it's usually “her”) expectations, and she may be gone forever.

I may not be a “typical” female, but I do read the occasional book in the genre, though there are very few authors/specialties that I find palatable. Let's take Nora Roberts as an excellent mainstream stand-in for an entire genre (she's got over 300 works in her bibliography, though some are duplicates). Even if we cavalierly discount the first half of her production as “earlier” work which is not as well regarded by modern audiences, that's still an awful lot of material. One series (“In Death” written under the pseudonym J. D. Robb) is 56 books long, and still going strong.

And yet…The ones I like are the In Death series (a sort of police procedural set in the near future, which I am excluding from what follows), but only a handful of her “conventional” romances. Why is that? Why those, and not others? Same author, same quality…

I know I'm not alone — if you glance at her reviews, you can see that a lot of them mention something like “this one isn't one of my favorites” or “another great book”. Except for the recycled older works (which result in bad reviews when someone is fooled by the new “date”), the objections are rarely about quality — they are comments about a reader not feeling like the right target.

And I believe I've figured it out. I must be a specimen of one of her very specific targeted audiences. Every one of the books I prefer contains these particular things (besides the basic romance plot):

  • A professional woman (already accomplished or headed that way), often in a one-person business (e.g., professional photographer) or building a small business.
  • Careers that are self-directed not office-bound
  • Lots of working with your hands (vs. white collar), generally entrepreneurial or creative
  • A remodeling project of significant size (entire inns, old houses, etc.)
  • One or more canines with some real character presence

There's something about that combo that works for me and no doubt for lots of other women. I'm not sentimental about babies or small children, I don't like “victim rescue” stories, and so forth. The list of things I don't care for in Romance plots is quite long. But I don't think it's an accident that these all occur together, with all the components.

Nora Roberts has written many books I don't care for that don't match this list. I think my list is a definition of a particular target, and Nora Roberts is the sort of professional author that would do that.

It's useful to know this, to understand how it works when I'm the reader. At the least, it will help me understand how to be consistent in what I offer my own readers.

[ Note: If you care, the individual Nora Roberts works that I am most fond of are:
High Noon
The Inn Boonsboro (trilogy)
The Liar
The Obsession
The Search
The Witness

Remember, your mileage may vary — you may be a different target! ]

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