When I started this book (the first time) I thought I knew my audience. I really did. I was clearly writing historical fiction. Easy. Just get the facts right and we're all good. So, this week, when I've needed a brain break from writing I've been browsing online looking at covers, trying to get an idea on how much money it would cost to launch this thing and also what the cover should actually look like to fit the genre.
So, as I am googling around I came across a Goodreads list of 2015 YA historical fiction, which was great because - recent and in my genre. Imagine my shock and dismay to see a disclaimer at the top that basically eliminated my book from their list.
No time travel, except in certain circumstances. There was no explanation of what circumstances it would be allowable, so I went ahead and looked through the covers, getting some ideas. But, they said that time travel fell into the realm of science fiction.
The crazy thing was that when I googled YA science fiction I got lots of covers with spaceships. That won't work for me.
I googled YA time travel, and thank my stars, found a list of books that fit that genre. It seems super specific, but it did give me a better idea of why my book might be classified historical fiction, possibly. Or not. These books also have drastically different covers than the YA historical fiction books. That could have been bad...
So, to the point... why does any of this matter?
I want to sell this book. I want it to get good reviews. I want people to read it and want to buy the next book in the series. And the book after that.
And that won't happen if I get the audience all wrong. Not just from the perspective of keywords and genres on Amazon, but also from the perspective of my writing. There are certain expectations placed on a story based on how it is categorized. Your audience buys your book expecting you to deliver a certain experience. There is a lot of leeway there if you're telling a great story, but if you don't hit most of the right notes you risk getting blah reviews because they thought they were buying something else entirely.
Someone who wants pure historical fiction could (might) be super-irritated to find out that my book spends a lot of time dealing with my MC adjusting to life in 1776. While I will probably hit all of the notes of historical fiction in my work, that one element could be enough to throw them out the suspension of disbelief that is key to an engrossing novel. If it irked them enough they might leave a negative review. Enough of those and even someone interested in my genre might skip the book resulting in lost sales.
Don't get me wrong, I'm no Mary Sue. I understand that there are going to be negative reviews. I read them on the books that I adore as a reminder that every book isn't for everyone, but, as a writer, I want to minimize the reasons that someone might leave a negative review on my book.
As far as the actual writing, this revelation has only changed my plot a smidge. I looked at the typical tropes of both the overall umbrella of YA and the more specific time travel and historical fiction. I held my book (plot outline) to the light of these tropes and figured out which ones I have to include and which ones won't work. It brought some clarity, for sure.
The TL;DR here is that even if you're in the very early stages of your book - plotting or just starting to write - do a little detective work and make sure you know your audience. It is way easier to examine your book in the early stages to make sure it fits where you think it should than to rework a whole book because you missed certain key pieces your genre audience expects. Do some googling and look at what your audience is saying. They'll tell you what they want if you're willing to listen!