By JPC Allen
Author’s Note: This article first appeared on Rebecca Waters’s site A Novel Creation at WatersWords.com.
After I finished my YA Christian fiction novel and edited it a few hundred times, I looked into publishing it. All agents and editors gave the same advice, “Know your audience!”
It seemed so overwhelming to me, getting to know the reading preferences of thousands of teen readers. But I dove into researching my audience and nearly drowned in discouragement.
Most YA Christian fiction is either romance or speculative fiction, which often breaks down into fantasies and dystopian fiction. My novel, set in contemporary West Virginia with crime elements and a male protagonist, seemed to have no place in the current publishing landscape.
But I continued my research. Eventually I realized that when it came to tailoring my novel to the YA audience, I had to understand what I can do and what I can’t do.
What I Can’t Do
I can’t write a romance or speculative fiction novel. This is not a case of lack of confidence or fear of stretching my skills. Some things I just can’t do, like flying or running faster than my teenage nephew.
I don’t read romance. I know none of the rules of the genre and would give myself and any future readers unspeakable nightmares if I wrote one. I do like some speculative fiction but don’t have the imagination to create something fresh. Anything I wrote would easily be identified as a collision of Middle-earth, Star Trek, and Narnia.
What I Can Do
Even if I don’t write romance or speculative fiction, I could learn from them and see if those lessons could apply to my novel.
One reason I believe speculative fiction is so popular is because writers can pack in a lot of action sequences. My novel needed more of them, so I added two scenes and made sure they were reasonable within my setting.
Another reason is that both genres appeal to emotions. Will the girl get the boy when his family is prejudiced against her? Will the teen rebels save the world from the evil tyrant?
My novel has high stakes for my characters, which leads to many emotions. Will Junior Lody keep his family of eight siblings together after their aunt who has raised them dies and the sheriff is determined to tear them apart? Since I write from Junior’s viewpoint, it’s easy to let readers experience and identify with Junior’s fear, rage, triumphs, and more.
Best Audience Analysis
The best way to get to know my audience was to let real live teens read my novel. They filled out a one-page questionnaire for me. Because one boy said I had too much exposition at the beginning, I examined my first chapters and saw I could lop off the first two and start with the action in the third.
And I discovered something else. I can’t write to please thousands of readers. But when I see my future readers as individuals, like the teens who critiqued my book, Amanda and Andy and James and Brooke, I feel compelled to go beyond my best.
I am still getting to know my audience – one reader at a time.
JPC Allen is a 2016 Genesis semi-finalist in the YA category for her contemporary novel The Truth and Other Strangers. She offers writing advice and prompts at JPCAllenWrites.com and on Facebook/JPCAllenWrites. A life-long Midwesterner, she has deep roots in the Mountain State.