How Defining Your Target Audience Can Make Your Story Stronger

by Kent Bridgeman
published in Community

Here’s a little word association exercise:  What pops into your head when you here the phrase “Target Market”?  If you’re like I used to be, you instantly get some kind of negative image.  Mine was a sleazy movie exec fanning himself with money and pouring over a copy of the latest census report.

What is a target market anyway?

It sounds like a horribly dry, textbook term that has nothing to do with us creative volk, the scriveners toiling away on creative conquests.  But in reality, it’s an incredibly powerful tool for making your story better.  Defining the target audience helps inform and sharpen ideas about your story.  It creates a focus for a rough draft, because you’re writing for somebody, not just throwing words at the wall and seeing what sticks.

Why Define a Target Audience?

If you’re like I was, you probably need a little more convincing.  I interviewed Randy Ingermanson  about target audiences.  Randy is a novelist and creative writing teacher, as well as the author of “How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method”.

He is a champion of the target audience as a writing tool.  I asked Randy why so many writers either feared or misunderstood the role of defining a target audience.

Here’s a few of his valuable insights:

Let’s first ask why so many writers hate or fear marketing.  There are several reasons:

  1. They don’t know how to market themselves.  Ignorance is a big driver of fear.
  2. They don’t want to look like an Amway salesman.  Nobody likes pimping themselves out.
  3. They don’t want to spend lots of time, energy, and money on something that might not work.

But see how defining your target audience relieves these fears:

  1. If you define your target audience in terms of what they love, then you’re no longer working on the basis of ignorance.  You’re working on the basis of knowledge.
  2. Marketing is not about pimping yourself out.  Marketing is about helping people in your target audience.  You do that by giving away as much free stuff as you can–stuff that will delight your target audience.  Once your target audience discovers you and realizes they like you, there’s no pimping required.  Your target audience will demand that you sell them more of that good stuff they like.
  3. The above takes very little time, energy, or money.  It does take a bit of creativity, but writers are creative types, so this is not hard.

Marketing is not some slimy, weaselly thing you do to persuade unwilling people to buy.  Marketing is helping people.  Marketing is giving away excellent stuff free that will make people’s lives better.  This is not some Pollyanna theory.  This is reality.  It works.  It’s fun.  It’s part of the writing life.

Defining your target audience isn’t a chincy marketing function; it’s a very grounded way of connection with your potential reader.  And in a more practical terms, it’s how booksellers know where to put your book on the bookshelf (either physically or digitally).

Convinced?  Good, let’s move out of theory and into the practice.

 How to Define a Target Audience

You are your own first audience.  By figuring out what you love in terms of the story you want to write (or are currently writing) you will get an insight into your target audience.  Do you love romance?  Comedy?  Maybe you’re writing for an audience that loves romantic comedies.

Sometimes, however, you won’t be exactly in your target audience, but you may know a lot about them.  For example, in this article (and this column as it were), my target audience is new novelists and creative writers who are a bit put off by marketing.  I connected to my love for writing and my love for the horribly misunderstood and creative elements of marketing to find my audience (and my idea!) for this column.

How do you define your target market?  Start with what you love in your story and connect that to folks who would love the same thing.

The Fine Art of Delighting Your Audience

 This section could be an entire book (or series of books).  But here are some ideas on how to start:

1) Write the best story you can.

Randy defines quality as “how well you delight your target audience”.  A famous literary critic may not enjoy your YA story about a werewolf in military school, but if your audience enjoys it, I count that as a tremendous success.

2) Meet expectations of the genre.

Don’t promise a zombie story, and then suddenly switch to a musical, unless you’ve got a really good reason.

 3)  Defy expectations.

I know this seems like contradicting advice, but really they are two sides of the same coin.  You can’t have a good zombie story without zombies, but you don’t want to bore them with tired tropes.

4) Get to know your audience

From Randy:

Once you’ve defined your target audience, you can brainstorm ways to make yourself discoverable to them.  If they’re all on WattPad and you’re on Twitter, they’re not going to discover you.

In his book on outlining novels, Randy calls defining the target audience “Step 0”.  It’s the prime mover of the writing process for him.  However, it’s still an incredibly powerful tool, even if you are mid-draft or beginning the revisions process.

Figuring out your target audience is one of the most powerful ways that marketing can inform and electrify your writing, no matter where you are in the process of writing.

Many thanks to Randy for his words of wisdom.  Check out his blog at:

HeadshotKent Bridgeman is a freelance writer and marketing strategist who also writes short stories, screenplays and poetry.  He helps his clients clarify their marketing messages and craft potent content. He lives in Chicago with his lovely fiancée D, and a grumpy parrot named Poncho. Check out his work at


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