One thing has become very clear to me over the past year: I can’t please everyone with my books.
Thankfully, I haven’t had too many stinging reviews on The Preacher’s Bride (my debut book). And it’s still slightly early to have reviews on The Doctor’s Lady. But they will come . . . eventually. As much as I hope everyone will like my second book, I know it won’t resonate with each reader. I’ve accepted that. In fact, negative feedback doesn’t bother me as much as it once did.
Recently a dear friend shared with me her thoughts about my book. She started by explaining some of the things about my writing she appreciated. And then, she expressed her concerns (very kindly!) about the aspects of the book she didn’t like. When I walked away from our conversation, I wasn’t upset in the least.
Of course, her presentation of feedback was textbook perfect. But still, how could I NOT be hurt that a friend didn’t like my book?
Why wasn’t I disappointed?
Because I’ve learned to listen to comments about my book and weigh them on different scales.
Not all readers are created equal.
In other words, we as writers need to know which readers’ opinions matter the most and give their words the most weight.
That doesn’t mean I don’t value my friend and her thoughts. But she’s not my target reader. My target readers are those that adore and devour inspirational historical romances. And they’re the ones I’m aiming to please first and foremost.
Sure, we as writers can work at trying to broaden the appeal of our books so that a wide variety of people will enjoy and appreciate our stories. But ultimately, we need to find out who our readers are (or will be) and make sure we’re striving to make them happy.
Here are three methods I’ve used in getting to know and please my readers:
1. Know your genre inside & out.
One of the best ways to get to know your genre is to read just about everything you possibly can within that genre. Look at publishers you want to target, read all of their authors, and get a feel for what is selling.
Even though I’m published, I still regularly read other inspirational historical romance authors. I want to see what other writers are doing not only with my publisher, but also from other competing houses. I look at other authors’ styles/voices, what works for them, and how my writing fits into the bigger publishing picture.
2. Figure out what YOU like best about your genre.
When I’m trying to decide what readers will like best, I first have to ask myself what I like the most. After all, I’m a huge fan of my genre. It’s what I like reading the most. And obviously, if we don’t like reading within the genre we’re writing, we have to ask ourselves why we’re writing it.
Over the years, I’ve narrowed down the things within my genre that keep drawing me back, the techniques I especially love in books I read, or the things I miss when an author doesn’t include them. I’ve learned what makes an especially enjoyable read for myself. And now, I try to include all of those things in my books.
3. Investigate the aspects of your genre that are magnetic to most READERS.
Yes, we need to craft stories that WE as writers absolutely love. That’s the starting point. But beyond that, we also need to know the genre aspects that are magnetic to readers.
Most genres have non-negotiables—criteria that are essential for pleasing a reader. We can usually figure out what those things are through voracious reading and studying of our genre. But it helps to partner with other writers or editors within our genre, who can help us see what we might be missing.
My critique partner writes historical romances too, and she offers insights about what readers will or won’t like about my first drafts. My in-house editors also point out areas that I’ve needed to change to make my books as appealing as possible to my genre readers.
My Summary: We can’t please everyone. In fact, if we strive to please everyone, we might end up with a story that doesn’t please anyone. Instead, when we hone in on our target readership, we’ll likely hit the bulls-eye.
Do you agree or disagree with my theory? Should writers strive to make their books appealing to a wide audience? Or do you think they should focus primarily on pleasing genre fans? And what methods do you use to find out what your target readers like best?