To understand your target audience, one must first know what style they like to write in. I got hooked on the Goosebumps books as a kid. I liked the unbelievable stories and how relatable the characters were. I came to expect cliffhangers and suspenseful plot lines. My relationship with my target audience was just beginning.
Thus, at a young age, I knew that the horror genre was for me. Goosebumps supernatural horror novels with obnoxious titles like “The Horror at Camp Jellyjam” encouraged me to start writing my own in elementary school. My short story, “Tenth Planet,” won me a young author’s contest in fifth grade, and I got to represent my school at a conference at Illinois State University. I wrote about a group of scientists that discovered another planet in the solar system. However, after the team made the heroic journey there, they found out that a group of aliens was studying them. The aliens forced the scientists into their lab, strapped them to exam tables, and recorded their movements. My classmates were thrilled that I met their expectations to add the horrific twist in the end, and so were the contest judges.
If I learned to write to lovers of the horror genre and meet their expectations from a young age, I learned to defy their expectations as I aged. It is challenging to be a talented writer without being a heavy reader. I graduated from the likes of R.L. Stine to Stephen King later on, and he gave me an elevated sense of the horror novel. Yes, King hits the checkboxes of incorporating suspense, cliffhangers, the supernatural and delivers the ‘scare factor,’ but he also spends large portions of his books developing character, setting, and non-horror themes. For example, It is just as much a story about coming of age as a horrific shape-shifter. Carrie hits on the theme of the cruelty of teenage adolescence just as much as it does supernatural horror elements. The ways this established writer defied expectations inspired me to change my writing later on to incorporate the theme of coming of age alongside good versus evil.
King is one of the best at marketing. I attended his author’s talk at North Central College in Naperville, Ill. a few years back. He and his son, Owen, fielded questions about the writing process and their newest book, Sleeping Beauties. At the end of the talk, King gave away free copies of the book and said some were personally signed. The crowd went nuts, and shouts of joy rang through when someone received a signed copy. Here is a man who knows his audience, and he continues to defy expectations. I only hope to keep growing in my craft, just as he had in his.