Targeting Your Audience


by Karen Payton Holt

I used to write in a heavily descriptive and imaginative way, but quickly learned that if I want my books to appeal to a broader readership, then less is more.

*holding up hands* Don’t shoot me, I’m not suggesting ornately descriptive prose, dripping in similes and metaphors cannot be good, just that in writing that way, you might be limiting your appeal — I can hear teeth grinding now.

It is an unpopular opinion amongst us imaginative folk, but sadly there is evidence to suggest today’s reader has a much shorter attention span.

In the last decade research suggests attention span in the general populace has dropped from twelve minutes to five minutes. ( Even newspapers are finding that lengthy introductions to ‘news stories’ lose their readers interest. In the ‘fast food’ world of Internet soundbites, the by word is ‘cut to the chase’. (

Novels are coming under similar pressure. Mass appeal lies in prose which HAS the layers of plot, entertainment, tension, emotional content, and all the rest, but is distilled down to a form that is easier to access.

I’m not saying lean is better, I’m just saying it’s a dog eat dog world out there, and you need to think about ‘WHO’ your target market is when waxing lyrical with ‘purple prose’. If you are writing for a niche market, then stick to your guns, but if your prose has vocabulary which most readers have to ‘Google’, then you’re not so likely to be ‘widely read’. Only you can decide if that matters.

The ‘classics’ are often sited as arguments to support elaborate writing, after all, they are still read, even now. The flip side of that coin is this, ask yourself the question, if The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne was written in today’s hectic, high media saturation environment, would the novel have been as successful?

If you are writing for yourself, with the ‘it would be nice if it sells’ shrug, then none of this matters. However, the fact that the times are changing is worthy of serious consideration. A 2012 survey revealed that 55 percent of YA novels are bought by over 18′s and 28 percent of these are between 30 and 44 years of age. (*link below).

What is the YA novel appeal? I venture a guess that they are ‘easy’ to dip in and out of, and to read in the go.

I’m not suggesting we abandon complex plots and shy away from unveiling the harsh realities of life, but that we bridge the gap… don’t try to outsmart your reader.

Which would you rather read. ‘I ran through the precipitation’ OR ‘I ran through the rain’?

Author Notes

2 Comments for “Targeting Your Audience”


Great food for thought, Karen! I won’t admit to having a short attention span, but I’ve been drawn to books that are shorter an easier to glide through.

Part of the problem is that there’s too many distractions these days. I can’t find/make time to sit for a solid hour or two or three to just read. I’m in the middle of ‘A Farewell to Arms,’ which is conveniently written in 4-5 page chapters. I find myself reading one chapter then putting the book down and moving on to another activity.

As a writer, your info is good to know. I’ll have to review my current material before sending it out.

Lisa Doesburg


Thanks for this, Karen. I find myself thinking my stories aren’t descriptive enough to the point of boredom. There’s two authors I can think of that are on both ends of the spectrum. Stephen King, whose long winded descriptions sometimes has me to the point of yawning, and Danielle Steele who writes in a very simple, easy to read style. My grandmother always described Danielle Steele as boring and simple, prefers books like Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier whose opening paragraph is a beautiful example of descriptive writing:
Compared to Danielle Steele, it’s brilliant.
In my opinion, if I have to struggle stumble over words I’ve never heard of or the author goes into a description of a tree that is more than a paragraph, I quickly lose interest. Great article, Karen!

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