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Market Research (Creative Writing Exercise)

The lovely Kelley, writing at a coffee shop

Creative Writing Exercise

Last week, in my article about writing a good synopsis for your story, I talked about my Technical Writing semester project that involved sixteen full weeks of research and documentation concerning the target market for my first novel. That’s a little bit overboard.

Still, I talked yesterday about the incredible benefits of writing directly to an ideal reader, and I’ve talked again and again about the importance of audience analysis for a writer. When it comes right down to it, your story — no matter how good it is — has to have a market if it’s going to thrive.

The good news is that it probably does have a market. There’s an awful lot of readers out there — more now than ever — and with the impending collapse of the New York Publishing Houses as gatekeepers, people are getting better and better at finding the books that appeal to their individual tastes. The bad news is that, unless you’ve written a very genre piece in a genre you know really well, or actively worked to target a particular market, you probably haven’t completely written your story to please the market that’s craving it.

Weird, I know. It’s a problem I’m facing with the Ghost Targets series, and several of the writers I coach are going to run into it sooner or later. They’ve all written really neat stories with either vague categorization, or in a category they don’t really read. That’s exciting — it’s always good to stretch outside your comfort zones — but it’s also extra work. To make a story grow into anything other than a draft manuscript, you’ve got to shape it to its audience.

So that’s your job this week. Talk to me about your work-in-progress (I know you want to), but tell me specifically about the kind of readers who are going to love it. Tell me which buttons it pushes, which old themes it borrows heavily, which popular books it resembles, and how it compares against them. If you don’t know the answers to all those questions, look them up. If you can’t come up with sufficient answers, even after you research the markets you think it matches, maybe you’ve got another rewrite in store.

Don’t despair. That’s a good thing. It’s easy to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite out of perfectionism, or just nervous energy, hoping someday it will be “good enough.” That’s exhausting. Rewriting to achieve a specific, measurable purpose (with a clear and well-researched plan) is a much more rewarding process. Your ideal reader will thank you for it.

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

4 Responses to “Market Research (Creative Writing Exercise)”

  1. Trish Pogue says:

    Well, I have a few things that I’m working on; none of them fiction.

    First, I am planning a mission trip. I need to write letters to churches and individuals to raise money for the trip. I also just sent a letter to a big name school supplier requesting that they supply their product for free. I used some of you suggestions on how to write a letter while keeping in mind who I was writing to. I hope to hear back from this company soon. And I expect to get tons of free stuff and money to pay for my trip.

    Second, I have a blog that I really enjoy but I don’t spend as much time on it as I really want to. I have a family and other hobbies that capture my time. My target audience is anyone who has children in their home and who values a well rounded education. This week I am going to make a spreadsheet for my blog posts, much like the one that you shared. I feel strongly that this spreadsheet will help me organize my thoughts and get me on the right path to producing a few articles a week. I’m also going to challenge myself with getting some prewriting done.

    These two projects are enough to keep me busy let alone run a house and be a good wife, mom, and friend. I’m hoping that exercises like this can keep me focused and get me back on track if I wonder off. Thanks for the exercise.

    • Aaron Pogue says:

      I think you did a fantastic job with that letter, babe. It takes nerve to sit down and write something like that (I know it well), but it will never happen if you don’t ask. The nice thing about knowing some principles of good writing is that your letter is more likely to stand out (and will be more pleasant to read), so you’ve got a decent chance of getting heard.

      As far as the blogging goes…I know just how hard it is to make time to do something as huge as “become a blogger” (or, for that matter, “write a book”). The trick is always to break it into manageable tasks, and that’s what the exercises and the Blog Posting Schedule are for.

      I actually just worked up a Google Docs template for that. If you haven’t already started one, click here to check it out.

  2. My current WIP, Empath (first book in the Flawed series) is smack-dab in the middle of my own specific interest segment (so, basically I am my own ideal reader). I consider it thriller/urban fantasy/sci fi, but more the female reader side of that genre. It will appeal to fans of Ted Dekker (primarily the female ones) and also non-YA fans of Stephenie Meyer, particularly women between the ages of 18 to 35 who have an interest in Christian fiction and/or just clean stories with non-explicit content. As far as I can tell this early on, my ideal reader is probably not male, although this may change during the rest of the series (book 2 will have a male protagonist). But I think I will learn more about that once I get feedback from test readers.

    • Aaron Pogue says:

      Y’know, I didn’t mention it explicitly in this article or in last week’s about Story Descriptions, but it’s a great idea to know the names of some major writers or books with similar style or structure to yours. You did a great job including that here.

      Actually, that’s a great market description all around. It’s clear you’ve spent some time thinking about it, which is precisely the point of the exercise. When you decide to start sending out query letters for this project, you can look specifically for the agents marketing books that this audience is buying.

      Awesome work! Thanks for sharing.