Monday, April 6, 2015

How Broad a Readership Do You Want?

Generally, authors want their books in front of anyone in the appropriate age group. Even so, most of us make conscious choices about our reading audience. We do that in the content itself, and who we populate the book with.

I write murder mysteries for adults, geared to readers who do not want to read about body parts that did not remain with the newly departed's torso. These are typically called traditional mysteries (think Agatha Christie, M.C. Beaton, Raymond Chandler, many books by Robert Parker) or more recently, cozy mysteries (Louise Penny, Parnell Hall, Dorothy Sayers, Donald Bain as Jessica Fletcher, often Mary Higgins Clark).

Many traditional mystery writers strike a middle ground for gore level. A key difference between the traditional and cozy categories is where the murder takes place—usually off screen, so to speak, in a cozy. Cozies often have an amateur sleuth, generally a woman.

You can debate categories. I put M.C. Beaton in the traditional category because her sleuths are (more or less in the case of Agatha Raisin) detecting professionals. Others say she writes cozies because they are set in quaint villages with quirky characters. I have seen Sue Grafton's novels listed as cozy mysteries, but Private Investigator Kinsey Milhone deals with more varied levels of violence than most cozy mysteries.

Cozy books frequently align with a hobby or non-law enforcement profession, and you won't find a car mechanic among them. There are a lot of bookstore, yarn shop, or coffee cafĂ© owners. Why? These authors have defined the bulk of their audience as women, and these are professions  with  more women than men. The pastel-colored covers with genteel furnishings (and cats) also cater to women. Some say cozies focus too much on the hobby/profession (how many kinds of coffee does a reader want to know about?), but for many readers, that's part of their reading enjoyment.

Not all amateur sleuths are in fields that hold more interest for women. Nancy Lynn Jarvis' Regan McHenry is a real estate agent, and my Jolie Gentil is a real estate appraiser. Some sleuths are college professors or people retired from varied professions. I picked the appraiser position for Jolie because it gave her time to get into trouble and she would be involved in a fairly broad cross-section of the town, including its business community.

Before a blog reader comments that my thoughts are sexist, take a pragmatic look at who buys books. Women read more in general, and read more fiction than men. Sadly, readership levels (as measured by the National Endowment for the Arts) are dropping. In a given year, barely half of U.S. adults read a book not required for work or school. Most authors don't write simply to sell books, and book quality can't be measured solely by sales. Still, if you're going to all the trouble to put a book out there…

Authors can't simply decide which readers to appeal to, they have to reach out to them. A traditional publisher helps do that (a lot) simply with a book's designation or the books they promote together. What author wouldn't want their book in the same publisher's newsletter as a new James Patterson, Robert Galbraith, or Janet Evanovich mystery? (None of which are cozies, and some have placed body parts in varied locations.)

As a self-published author, I reach readers through many publicity avenues. Most are through social media, but I also use traditional ways—library talks, book signings, letters to bookstores/libraries. The best (unpaid) publicists are the friends and readers on my monthly newsletter list. Personal relationships are as important in bookselling as life.

Some readers (mostly women) write reviews, and I truly value them. Occasionally I learn something about a character from a reviewer. I may see a person as quiet, readers may see them as aloof and uncaring. Do I want to maintain a character as perceived, or have them exhibit their quietness differently in a succeeding book? You can do that in a mystery series. The bottom line is that reviewer comments influence who else reads a book.

Iowa State Fair flowers
I'm continuing the Jolie Gentil series and starting a new one, the River's Edge series, set in a town on the Des Moines River in Iowa. The new protagonist is a female, but as a landscaper, she is more physically fit and does things that not every woman does. She can drive a tractor and get down and dirty in soil. Her brother taught his wife to rope a cow. Maybe Mel, the landscaper, can learn, too.

In choosing to make another protagonist a woman, I'm probably skewing readership to my own sex. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Jerry Seinfeld says. However, I've given her a more gender-neutral profession, and she drinks beer and roots for the Iowa Hawkeyes. My kind of woman.

And now the book is out! From Newsprint to Footprints is the first of the River's Edge Cozy Mystery series, set in a fictional town along the Des Moines River. Good humor and believable characters. Too bad about the murder...
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More soon!!!

1 comment:

  1. Real estate is such a great device for a protagonist in the cozy or near cozy category. Having been an agent for many years before starting the Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series, I found that because of the stress level involved in buying and selling real estate (third after death and divorce) people unload to those in the real estate community.

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