Reading and Audience
How age, gender, and other demographics factor into book creation and marketing.
March 28, 2018
Renee Frey, COO, Authors 4 Authors Publishing
I remember, shortly after reading Pride and Prejudice, seeing a follow-up novel written by a contemporary author in the bookstore. I eagerly asked my mother to buy it. She hesitated, and told me she wanted to check it before I could read it.
Many years later, I went back and read the book—and it was definitely NOT appropriate for a young ‘tween!
But how did I find a book that was so out of my interests and ability? Why did it appeal to me? And what does this have to do with how books are marketed and sold?
Genre and age classification are, in fact, two separate things. Today, I want to highlight how publishers determine age category, and what that means for you when you are writing or selecting your next book.
At this moment, books are usually split into child, young adult, and adult age categories. However, much like the remote control, you decide what to read. I read “adult” books as a middle schooler, and know many adults who read “young adult” or “children’s” books. The category is more about how the book is marketed.
No matter what age category, all books strive to have the targeted age demographic as the protagonist(s). Almost no adult books have child protagonists, or if the protagonist is a child, they don’t interact with the world as a child (like Ender in Ender’s Game). The book should also have themes that correspond to the targeted age or demographic’s personal issues, dilemmas, and struggles. A young adult book will deal with coming of age themes, such as identity and sexual awakening, whereas an adult book may handle financial struggles, career problems, or mature relationship problems like commitment or infidelity.
Children’s books are for younger ages, including both read aloud books and beginning reader books. Characterized by a sense of joy and earnesty, children’s books:
- Have strong characters
- Are instructive either literally or emotionally/psychologically
- Seek to expand concepts, vocabulary, and world view.
Read more about what makes a good children’s book here.
Young Adult Books
Young adult typically includes high school readers. Some post-high school readers do exist, but are not typically the target demographic of these books. Young adult books:
- Are told from a young adult’s point of view, often in first person
- Have the young adult protagonist solving problems for themselves, independent of adult intercession
- Is fast paced (especially compared to adult classics)
- Include diverse people and situations
- Are mostly optimistic, with the protagonist accomplishing a lot despite numerous setbacks
- Deal with emotions that are important to young adults, usually along the lines of coming of age, identity, and responsibility
- Can include any genre.
Read more about the common elements of young adult literature here.
Adult books are unique in that they are separated by genre, with differing genre conventions applied to their relative works. These books have more intense targeting, usually broken down by gender, specific age, socio-economic class, political ideology, and religion. As it would be impossible to cover every specific genre here, we are doing a high level overview of genres and subgenres in the following weeks.
Just as television advertising is geared to the demographic watching the program, book covers and marketing are geared to specific demographics. This is even more true post-Kindle, where strong niche markets consisting of key subgenres of subgenres exist. Romance, for example, could be different or same gender couples, targeting LGBT audiences, although they are overwhelmingly male and female single combinations targeted for adult woman readers.
Publishers use a combination of cover art and targeted marketing to help books find their readers. Likewise, as a publishing company, we review submissions with the reader in mind: who would read this story?
What Does This Mean For Writers
As part of a writing group and as an author myself, I’ve heard lots of rules and adages about writing. One phrase keeps coming back: write your story. This is self-serving and disingenuous. As a writer, you must consider your reader, and target the story to the reader. If I want to sell to a female audience, objectifying a woman character is probably not a good choice. So tell your story, but consider your audience, and adapt your choices accordingly.
What Does This Mean For Readers
Nothing—and everything! As you learn about genres, audience, and the writing process, you can make more specific and targeted selections of books to read. If you prefer a certain style, while you may not belong to the specific demographic, you can find other related stories by following the audience parameters. However, just as an older child can read and enjoy an adult book, so too can adults enjoy books intended for younger audiences.
Are there any differences we didn’t cover? Any other ways that understanding audience can help a writer or a reader? Post a note on our Facebook page!