Monday, February 21, 2011

Do I Have a Target Audience?

Do I have a target audience?

I did a phone-in interview with Spirit Blade Productions’ Paeter Frandsen a few nights ago (I’ll let everyone know when it’s posted) and that was the question he asked me: What is your target audience?

It’s not the first time I’ve been asked that in regards to my debut supernatural suspense novel The Strange Man, and I’m always stumped when it comes up.

After a second’s hesitation, I told Paeter the honest truth: When I wrote this story, I had no idea about things like the “market” or “target audience”. Would you believe I didn’t even know what “CBA” was?

I first began writing The Strange Man over ten years ago. I was barely into my twenties, still living at home, and was content to read comic books and watch horror movies—much like The Strange Man’s protagonist Dras Weldon. At the time, I was working with Christian filmmaker Rich Christiano with lofty ideas of breaking into the indy Christian film business and doing my own little film—one that would “change the world”. Up until that point (1998/1999) Christian film was mostly comprised of 20-30 minute “church movies” that youth groups might show at lock-ins or that a church might show at a revival or in a Sunday night service. They were short, high concept, but usually low story/low character/low budget pieces that had one simple goal: Share the Gospel. They were tools for evangelism, plain and simple, and didn’t really aspire to be anything else—certainly not “Hollywood”. I had plans to change that. Why couldn’t I share the Gospel and my faith, but in a dynamic, Hollywood way, in the genre I loved most—namely “horror”?

You see, I love monster movies. Scary stories, urban legends, monster books, you name it. I grew up in the 1980s where every middle school kid knew who Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers were—even if we were too young to watch their films (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween respectively). Since high school I had a burning drive in my gut to create something that combined my faith and convictions with all those monster stories I had loved hearing ever since I was a kid.

I wanted to write a “Christian Horror” story.

The Strange Man began life as a film script, but when I realized I couldn’t raise the money for that endeavor, I adapted it (and greatly expanded it) into a novel. Beyond that, it’s grown into The Coming Evil Trilogy—a sprawling epic of ordinary believers who must combat an invasion of hell’s worst monsters. This series has been my passion for my entire adult life and it’s something that’s wholly me: 100% Christian and 100% monster nerd.

But who in the world was my target audience?

Many Christians are going to be turned off by the scary elements (and there are plenty) and the horror crowd certainly doesn’t want to sit there and read a book that’s got the spirit and word of the Gospel in it. Did I just shoot myself in the foot or what?

The truth is I didn’t have a target audience except for two people: Me and God. I wanted something that honored Him, and something that entertained me. I wanted carnage and explosions and lots and lots of monsters, but also wanted to write something that was just as passionate about standing for truth, putting our trust in Christ, and laying down our lives for our faith. I wanted a Hollywood-quality thrill-a-minute roller coaster ride with the powerful Biblical truths that challenge me as a believer.

Will anyone else read that? For the longest time I figured nobody would even publish the thing, but Realms Fiction—God bless them—proved me wrong. Now the book is out there and people are really responding to it in a positive way. This little story that I wrote to amuse myself seems to be finding an audience, in spite of me.

So, no, I never had a target audience in mind, but I’m trying to trust that God does and that He’ll get the book into their hands.

How important do you think it is to have a target audience? To the writers out there--do you have a target audience?


Mike Duran said...

Greg, I wonder that it is actually better to start with "story" before "audience." If we allow our knowledge of a target market to shape our story, aren't we potentially sacrificing our own creativity on the altar of public opinion. Unless we are politicians, I think it's better to let our stories define our audience rather than vice-versa.

Mike Dellosso said...

I agree with Mike, story needs to come first. When I published my first book, The Hunted, I was where you are Greg. I didn't have a target audience in mind. But as my books keep coming out and my audience grows it is defining itself. Some like my style, some don't. Those that do . . . they're my audience. I see myself as more their target author than them being my target audience.

The Gill-Man said...

Mr. Duran makes a good point, because you have to be true to your artistic vision first and foremost, but I know that until I "met" you (if chatting on the internet actually qualifies as "meeting" someone) I wasn't sure that anyone would want to read the story that had been bouncing around in my head for years. I had a great "Christian Horror" story, but I didn't know of anybody who would be interested in such a tale. Since talking to you, and reading your fantastic book, I've found that I wont be writing a book that only I would want to read. I never wanted to compromise myself and tone down the Christian messages in my story, but I was afraid that no Christians would have any interest in reading it.

I was afraid that I would have to go the route of writing a more "mainstream" book, with only strong Christian "overtones", but I was extremely reluctant to do such a thing. It just seemed to betray the whole point of my story, and it ultimately felt like I wasn't telling the tale that God wanted me to tell.

So, following your example, and that of the other Christian authors you have hipped me to, I am writing the book that I NEED to write. If the story doesn't ultimately find a "target audience", so be it. I know there is a POTENTIAL audience nonetheless, and I hope it clicks with some of them. In the end, I have to write the story that is in my head, that God has given me the drive to tell. So, THANK YOU, not only for writing such an incredible book, but for staying the course and setting an example for other potential authors of Christian horror like myself!

Greg Mitchell said...

First off, I agree with the Two Mikes.

Second, thanks for the encouraging words, David :D

Linda Rios Brook said...

A good story finds its audience. Or the other way around:)

Jillian Kent said...

Hi Greg,
I'm in a little bit of a different place. I think most women who write romance know who there target audience is.:) Of course I'd love to find out I have some guys reading my books as they come out.
I loved Mike Dellosso's comment:"I see myself as more their target author than them being my target audience."

Because I think every author brings something unique to their writing along with their voice that too will also appeal to some folks and not to others.

I wonder how many readers out there read both horror and romance?

Martha W. Rogers said...

Oh, Jillian, I do read both. I love really scary stuff. I've read Stephen King, but don't go see the movies, and I don't even begin to try to write horror or suspense and probably won't try mystery, but I love to read them.

When I started writing historical romance, I knew not everyone liked historicals and not everyone likes romances. But I wrote the stories I wanted to write and let the audience take care of itself after that. A good story will sometimes get people to read a genre they don't usually read.

Mike Dellosso said...

Good point, Martha. Several years back I found myself reading Gilbert Morris' House of Winslow series and loving it. And my guilty pleasure reading is Nicholas Sparks :)