hitting your target audience

Several people have remarked or asked why Lindsay, Lucian's twelve-year-old foundling, wasn't on the cover or mentioned in the blurb of Miserere. First of all, Miserere never got a catchy blurb, what you're seeing on the back of the book was the synopsis from my query letter. A teaser blurb and a query letter are two different animals; however in this instance one factor would have remained the same: Lindsay would not have been mentioned.

Both the query and the blurb had to be whittled down to the show the bare essence of the story, and while Lindsay plays a very important supporting role, the story isn't about her. The story is about Lucian and his relationships with his sister Catarina and his lover Rachael.

Likewise on the cover art, the publisher is looking at the target audience. I know from having spoken with the artist that he was told to put the three adults on the cover. This was a wise marketing decision, and I was behind it one hundred percent from the beginning.

When a publisher puts a twelve-year-old on the cover of a novel, it doesn't matter what lies between the pages, people see a twelve-year-old and their minds shift to young adult. If there is a woman's name on the cover AND a twelve-year-old, in most people's thinking, the story absolutely MUST be YA.

Miserere is an adult novel and contains a lot of scenes and issues that tend to turn YA readers off. My favorite review comment comes from a YA reader who called Catarina "yucky." The initial reviews for Miserere bounced around a bit and were quite conflicted with reviewers unable to get a fix on the story. I couldn't understand why people kept thinking that Miserere was YA until I realized that most readers were adding my name plus twelve-year-old in the story and just automatically coming to the YA conclusion. Reader expectations were obviously getting in the way of the story.

Men don't have this problem, by the way. John Saul wrote about children in a large number of his novels but no one ever called him anything other than a horror author. My publisher can't be blamed because they went over backwards to make sure that Lindsay wasn't pictured or mentioned on the cover.

Recently, Julie Crisp at Tor Books in the UK posted these enlightening statistics in her article Sexism in Genre Publishing: A Publisher's Perspective. According to her statistics, in the YA category, 68% of the submissions are by women. That means that a lot of women read and submit YA stories. I see a great deal of women talking online about YA and defending YA as being progressive because it deals with a lot of issues important to young adults.

Is this a bad thing?

No.

I have no problem with YA or with the fact that a majority of women write and submit YA literature to publishers. I occasionally read YA just to keep up with the various genres; there are some excellent stories out there, but it's not my genre of choice. All of these statistics and facts tell me that readers tend to associate women with writing YA simply because of the sheer number of women who associate themselves as either readers or writers of that genre.

Again, not a bad thing, but it does make it exceptionally difficult for debut authors who are attempting to break that mold. My own work is best described as urban fantasy/horror and was billed as such from the beginning. Even so, many people who read YA picked up Miserere and got a harsh, rude awakening that left them feeling yucky. They were most likely victims of their own expectations and misperceptions through no fault of their own. I'm guessing that was because there was a woman's name on the cover, a twelve-year-old in chapter two, hence in the reader's mind, the story must be YA.

Except that it is not.

There are quite a few women who write horror and urban fantasy with an edge--far too many to list here competently. Some have children in their novels as secondary characters, some don't. I know that according to Ms. Crisp's data only 17% of the Tor submissions in horror came from women, but still ... women write excellent horror stories.

Here is another thing that I've observed from reading reviews and online discussions about Miserere, something that intrigues me to no end: most women comment on Lindsay in very glowing terms. Very few women discuss Rachael, an extremely capable, emotionally strong woman. Rachael saves Lucian, not just with her strength but also with her compassion. Without her, he'd never make home. I find the lack of discussion about Rachael very interesting and wonder why. Women say that they want competent female protagonists who don't need to be saved by their male counterparts, yet I've heard very little about Rachael.

I'm not sure what to make of any of that. What I have learned is the importance of marketing and hitting a target audience. I've also learned that sometimes that audience gets missed in spite of everyone's best efforts.

I've revamped the web site a little this weekend with that target audience in mind. I loved my old header, which was created for me by a dear lady who has a great deal of talent in that area. However, I needed something that better reflected my stories, which are dark and for adults. Of the two short stories that will be published in upcoming anthologies, one is borderline horror, the other is a dark fantasy.

I hope you enjoy them both with that in mind. Meanwhile, on the web site, all that has changed is the colors and the headers. Everything else is right where you'd expect to find it.

And me.

I'm here too. I hope to see you around.