The Importance of Knowing & Writing For Our Target Readers

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? 


  1. Personally, I totally agree. There's simply no way to write a book that will please everyone and that's okay. We have our own preferences in books and so will our audience. I don't like the horror genre - that doesn't means it's worthless, just that it's not to my taste.

    But you've nailed it with the idea of knowing your genre and the target audience within that group. Then write the best book you can that pleases you and that group. Past that, I think we just need to let the chips fall where they may.

  2. I agree with you. If we please everyone then maybe we were doing something wrong. There are few, few books that have no negative reviews. So it does happen. And I mean real reviews, not just five stars from friends.

  3. I completely agree. Writers should focus on their target audiences. Attempting to please everyone would be entirely too distracting and stressful.

    However, I think a lot of best sellers (not just CBA but in general) cross genre lines and pull in readers who don't normally touch that genre. I'm currently reading an ABA murder mystery. I don't read much ABA, and I never read detective stories . . . except for this one author. And there's a reason for that. The detective her series features really resonates with me, and it's enough to keep drawing me back book after book.

    So yes, I think we focus on our target audience. But also think a writer who's growing will begin to branch out and catch some readers that don't fit into the target audience. I hope to one day be writing characters or plots that resonate with other readers. But it's a long process and won't happen overnight.

  4. You can't please everyone and when you try, you end up losing your voice.

    I think #2 is so important in writing. There is a reason why we write for the genre we choose. Normally, it is because that is what we love to read. You have to write the story you want to tell. Small changes might be necessary to keep with the "rules" of your readers, but it should still be your story.

    Not everyone is going to like and identity with your story. But, here's a secret. I don't like or identity with every other book I read, even if it follows all my rules and that is okay.

  5. I agree too. I think we need to keep our intended reader in mind as we write. What they like? well that's a bit harder to gauge, I think. I write the story that I like and hopefully, they will too! Thanks,

  6. I think there's so much wisdom in the saying: When we try to please everyone, we please no one.

    So true for our books. We need to target a specific person - a person who is like the embodiment of our target audience. And write our books with that person in mind.

  7. Goodmorning everyone! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Naomi, great point about growing. That's really encouraging. I think if we're striving to improve our writing, then hopefully we will eventually draw in more and more readers who like our story-telling, even if they're not particularly fans of our genre.

  8. Jody--It's a relief to know that your friend's feedback was taken kindly, as I'm sure that's how she intended it.

    And you're right--not every reader will enjoy every genre. They can appreciate what's good about the book--the writing, the historical education, and even the fact that they are supporting a friend's efforts by purchasing the book--and yet, at the end of the day, they realize that this genre is not for them.

    As far as your theory, I see nothing wrong with targeting a specific audience, and striving to tailor our product to that audience...but speaking for myself, I still don't aim to please them first and foremost. There is One whose opinion of my work is far more important to me than anyone else's, and He is the one I strive to please, first and foremost. As long as I'm sure my work pleases Him, and brings Him honor, I am satisfied.

    ~ Betsy

  9. Great post Jody! I've always written for myself with myself in mind. But I hear the voice that says: "One day other people will read this, and will they like it?"

    I feel I know my genre well. Or, I hope I do. Only time and an agent will tell!

  10. You gave a graet tip of reading the authors by the publishing house you're interested in. I've been reading books in my genre, but I haven't looked at the other authors from the same publisher. I think I will do that next!

    Thanks for a great post.

  11. I don't have a published novel (yet!), but I think I'd have such a hard time hearing negative comments about something I love so much. And yet I know that is part of the experience. It's so true we can't please everyone, in regular life and in the writing life.

  12. So hard to not have everyone love our stories. You're so right though and you made some very good points.

  13. I think if the writing is good, you will naturally pick up readers outside of the genre.

    I agree, you can't please everyone. It takes time to really be able to hear an honest opinion without feeling all red in the face. I don't have a book published yet, but I've learned in 10 years of writing to really listen to what the readers of our work have to say.

    Great post.

  14. A wise writer friend once told me "our books aren't for everyone." This has really freed me.

  15. Re: your friend's comment. There are some genres I don't like, but I can still appreciate a well-written book. (I say this not knowing exactly what your friend's "criticism" was.)

    It's true we can't please everyone. It's also true, as you say, that we write in a certain genre that not everyone is going to relate to. Hopefully, however, if it's a good story and well-written, our target audience will like it.

    You do have a good attitude, that comes from experience. It isn't easy to shake off a negative response, but we all have to do it.

    As always, Jody, this is an excellent and thought-provoking post.
    Ann Best, Memoir Author

  16. I agree in general about knowing your target audience. That is after all, a cardinal rule for any kind of writing, and it certainly applies to fiction.

    But on the other hand, something in me chafes at the idea of toeing a bright line, of keeping my writing slavishly within arbitrary parameters--parameters which, after all, must be subjective.

    Fiction, to be nourishing (for both reader and author), must reflect life, and life doesn't fit neatly into the boxes that genres define. For the effort of writing to be worthwhile, I find I must aim a bit higher than simply satisfying a "genre checklist." The result is a blurring of the borders of genres, which, while it carries the risk of alienating those who take the idea of genre most seriously, leads me to think that my writing is ultimately truer, and better, for it.

  17. This was so great, Jody. I am a people pleaser and I really worry that if/when I get published my friends won't like my books, because, well, they're written for ten-year-olds. But you are right. I think we need to focus on our audience and be okay with not entertaining everyone.

  18. Great post.

    So in my day job, I learned that you can't please all of the people all of the time (I work with computers). Not just in the market in general, but in your target market.

    I've come up with a personal rule to deal with that. I shoot for pleasing 80% of my market.

    So with my writing, I'd be absolutely ecstatic if I could have an average review of 4 stars outa 5. Even within my genre (urban fantasy). It'll be a lot of work to get there, but it's a goal.

    I've also found that I can't learn as well from positive feedback, so I do like some negative feedback, especially if it's constructive.

    And some negative feedback can even be positive. "There wasn't much fantasy action and the sex scenes were way too graphic" would be great feedback for a paranormal romance, heavy on the romance.

  19. I agree with your thoughts. I also think it's worth saying that only a true friend feels comfortable to tell you her honest thoughts.

  20. I agree and John Locke, best-selling author and author of "How I Sold 1 Million e-Books in 5 Months" agrees with you too. That's a major part of John's advice - know your audience and write to and market to them.
    I also think your advice about reading everything you can get your hands on in your genre is right on. I started really focusing on studying books in my genre about a year ago and it has made a huge difference in my writing. I'm tighter, less all over the place.
    I enjoy your posts; thank you.

  21. I have a difficult time deciding on whether to make my kids books "christian" or just "regular." That has been my biggest struggle so far. :O)

  22. I'm trying to prepare myself for this now. I don't want people to feel bad if they don't like my book, and I don't want to feel bad either! LOL
    Well said, Jody. :-) Oh, and I'm planning to write a post about me being my reader. Because my target peeps read the same stuff I do! (I hope, lol)

  23. I think it's a balance of knowing your genre and also knowing your voice.
    And then there's the aspect of knowing where your sense of worth comes from. Is it from how many positive reviews I receive? Or is it something more eternal than that?
    I'm not saying I stay focused on the truth--the right perspective--all the time. But I know what the right perspective is. And I am thankful for the community of writers I associate with you remind me where my value comes from.

  24. The uncertainty over whether everyone (or anyone) will like our writing can be cushioned by getting lots of feedback from critique partners, beta readers and contests before attempting publication. That should help prepare us for for facing evaluations from industry professionals and the reading public. I like your suggestion about knowing which opinions matter.

    I write mostly for myself right now, but then I'm not published yet so maybe that's something I need to think about. You always provide thought-provoking posts, Jody!

  25. Hi Jody - I think the answer really depends on where you are in your publishing career. With a first book, it's so hard to know what the outcome will be. People are either going to love it or hate it. Few will fall in the middle. At least that's my experience to date, and fortunately nobody has written to say they hate my book! Some writers will stick to one genre, like yourself, and that's what you will become known for. With the feedback I'm getting from readers, I think I'll be read more for style than for falling into a particular genre. My next book is nothing like the first, it's a women's fiction novel set in the backwoods of Maine, while my first was a romance that took place in a warzone! But my hope is that readers who enjoyed Yesterday's Tomorrow will pick up Hidden the Heart when it comes out because they know what to expect in my writing. I don't want to become one of those authors who crank out the same story with different characters book after book after book. Sure I might make a million bucks doing it, but I think it might get a little boring after a while!!

  26. I've had to swallow an honest critique this week and now I'm re-writing a book that was all in rhyme and I'd checked the meter a thousand times (186+ stanzas). I'd even subbed it to my dream agent. I was told that even the best rhymers wouldn't attempt that. Tis true but I wanted to be the second person I know of in the world to do it. I've only just started it in prose but its already funnier and in my voice. So, I'm happy and it will work out in the end.

    You're going to have to come up with a code word for the Doctor's Lady I'm getting too excited :)

  27. Hi Jody! I haven't been here in awhile... I've missed hearing from you! This post is especially for us non-fiction writers (although I know that wasn't your intent) as our target readers are the ones who will love our books... and others may completely disagree with our philosophy. My book has gotten some stinging reviews from people who had different ideas on pregnancy than I do and I need to remember that those women are not who I'm writing for.

  28. Excellent post Jody, there are so many critics out there we just have to keep focused. It's easy for others to criticize it's much harder for us to sort out what we can actually use from that criticism without our emotions coming into play. The longer you are exposed to that criticism the more you can critically analyze it and actually have something to take away from their words.

  29. I agree. I particularly liked that you said we should work to please genre fans. When you hear or read about writing proposals and they talk about your target market, I often hear that we need to define the age demographic. That always felt too narrow for me. I'm not saying everyone will like my book, but to say women 20-35 just seemed too narrow. Who's to say a 45 year old woman won't like it.
    Am I taking too much away from your statements, or do you think that's correct?


  30. Kristen, Great question! I think genre fans can involve a wide age range. And it is hard to narrow down exact ages of who will like your book the most. For example, my book probably appeals most to middle age women. That doesn't mean younger and older won't read it. But middle age are a huge readership of inspirational romances. So I do need to take that into consideration. But mostly, I look at my genre fans as a whole and try to determine what anyone who loves a historical romance would enjoy.

  31. Great points - I hope I can get good at not expecting everyone to like what I write. ;)

  32. I hope it doesn't seem self-serving to mention it, but my last post at discusses the "R" word, rejection, in what I hope is a constructive way. If you happen to get around to it, please feel free to leave a comment.