Know Your Demographic

If there is one thing that many independent and amateur writers fall for is the idea that their particular genre or idea for a novel will be an instant best seller.  As I write this I imagine billions of writers out there toiling away at novels they deeply believe are books that people will want to read.

I am one of those novelists…at least I used to be.  One very important thing that my agent is teaching me is that I should know what kind of demographic I am writing to and whether or not it is a large enough demographic to matter.  Let’s face it.  The publishing industry is about making money.  Publishers are always looking for the next big thing or the next best selling writer to come along who can really bring in the dough.  It is time for a reality check, writers.  That epic fantasy novel you have always wanted to write or that Roman soldier epic set during the time of Christ may not be the thing they are looking for.  It may not be the thing that anyone is looking for (except maybe for your mom and those few friends who think you are the next Hemingway).

It’s time to get real.  It’s time to look deeply into the great crystal ball of the internet and see if we can research our way to a good writing topic.  You have to ask yourself these questions:

  1. What Is Popular Right Now? – All you need to do to figure out what NOT to write is go to your local Wal-Mart and see what types of books are selling there.  My last trip to Wal-Mart found vampire novels, pulp romance, dystopian future stories and novels based on movies and television.  The last two are written only after being sought out by the producers of those programs, and the others are currently flooding the inboxes of literary agents and publishers everywhere.
  2. What’s Trending on Twitter? – Twitter has a very good tool that shows you what is currently trending and is a good way to see where the culture is going.  Take some time to peruse Twitter’s trending subjects and see if you can’t find a few sparks that might ignite a novel.  Don’t knock it until you try it.
  3. What’s Trending On Other Websites? – Some websites that I frequent when looking for things to write about are:
  • io9.com – This site is great for geeks like me who want to find out where the fanboy trends are going.  The site has tons of articles about every fanboy thing one could geek out about, with plenty of commentary to boot.
  • Trendhunter – This site has trends in everything from fashion to culture to the bizarre.  These people do their best to find the latest trends in everything and really do a good job of it.  Worth a look.  I’m not saying they will give you an idea for your next novel, but they can spark some thoughts once you visit a few of their pages.
  • Religious Insights – Since my mission is to write novels that have a religious bent and usually become some kind of satire or commentary on current Christian issues within the church I peruse this site quite often.  It may be of no use to you if you are not religious or write about this kind of thing, but for me it is sometimes full of gold.
  • Adage – Want to find out what people are buying?  Check out this site for some interesting and sometimes sobering news on the subject.  It might inform what kind of novel you write.

The biggest question to ask, however is: How narrow is my demographic?  Look around and do some research.  Who would buy your book if it were to get into the right hands?  What would have to happen to realize that?  Understand that as a first time novelist, you will probably start out on the bottom, having to pay for your own cover design and marketing.  It’s best to do the research and figure this out before writing a 180,000 word tome that no one will read.

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