Most of the anecdotes that come to mind when I consider the importance of knowing one’s audience have to do with pregnancy.
I could tell tales of the highly detailed ‘birth stories’ related to me by more experienced friends when I was still an innocent little unmarried lass. Kindly meant, but talk about terrifying…
I might also tell some of the stories random people would relate once I was obviously expecting: tales of delivery room drama, tragic losses, and parenting woes. Not exactly topics you want to be thinking about as the “D day” looms.
Of course, after three rounds in the delivery room, these stories have lost any power to shock me. (Now I have my own to tell, ha HA! But I won’t…) Only one still stings. My best anecdote for this post comes from 10 months after my first child was born.
My cherished car, nearly rusted out from Minnesota’s winter road treatments and nearing the 300,000 mile mark, had begun making alarming noises. Single, I would have ignored them. With a baby in tow, it was time to find a replacement.
I’d never actually shopped for a car, and was mildly excited about the prospect. The salesman didn’t really inspire confidence, but he didn’t completely lose me until he asked THE QUESTION.
“So, when are you due?”
In spite of the fact that I was sleep deprived and had, until that moment, been pleased with how quickly I was loosing the ‘baby weight’, I flatter myself I kept calm as I informed him that I was NOT pregnant.
He did not apologize.
He did however try to sell me several cars that were not only the wrong make and model, but cost several thousand dollars over the budget I’d given him. (Yes, yes. Now I know that I shouldn’t have told him how much I actually wanted to pay. At the time I thought that if I were just straightforward with him he would respect that…or something. Sigh.)
Gents, if you don’t already know this, I’m going to let you in on a tip.
Never assume a woman is pregnant.
Just, DON’T DO IT.
Unless the following apply, you are treading on dangerous ground.
- She’s so big she’s about to pop,
- She is in Baby’s R Us registering, AND
- You HEAR her say, “Yes, I’m due in x weeks!”
If all three requirements are met…I still wouldn’t risk it. Just wait for her to tell you herself.
ANYHOW. Deep breaths, on to the point.
That salesman utterly failed to know his audience. Because of this, he failed to make a sale.
As a writer, I don’t really like to think of myself as a salesperson, but as I put the finishing touches on my query, and prepare my first round of novel submissions, I’m feeling more and more like one.
How oh how am I to ‘sell’ my writing to literary agents, and convince them that they want to sell my work too?
I’m trying to ‘read’ people who I don’t know, and trying to choose ‘dream agents’ from lists of people I’ve never met. Not quite as terrifying as the birth stories, but still, a bit intimidating, isn’t it?
I’ve hunted the internet to accumulate names of agents who seem like they might be a good fit. In an attempt to better understand this ‘audience,’ I’ve been applying advice from people who know much more about this than I do.
- Visit their website. Most of the agents I’ve looked at include the types of books they are seeking as part of their bio. This is valuable information. Just as a woman whose figure hasn’t magically “SPROINGED!” back into pre-pregnancy shape isn’t likely to welcome due date inquiries, a suspense novel is probably not going to entice an agent who specializes in non fiction.
- Check multiple sources. Most of the agents I’m looking into have public Twitter accounts, where they list their interests. I’ve also looked on mswl.com (Manuscript Wish List) to see who is looking for what, though it’s important to check that the wishes listed are current. Other sites like query tracker provide information about wait times on agent responses etc.
- Don’t use all of your names in one go. I was advised to divide up my list of agents rather than submitting to all of them at once. I’ve divided my list into three columns. Each column includes some ‘great’ picks, some that might fit, and a couple of long shots. That way, if I only get echoing silence in round one (or better yet, feedback on how to improve) I still have some solid querying options.
After all, whether querying, writing, or just meeting a female on the street with a suspicious looking bump, taking time to consider one’s audience in the first place can save a world of trouble in the long run.