Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Knowing Your Readership

I've recently meet a wonderful author...Camille Matthews. After chatting with her for sometime and learning more about her books and how she came into writing them, I asked if should would be willing to share her thoughts on knowing your readership. 

Then reason I asked Camille to share her thoughts on this is because I have noticed a lot of authors don't always know who their readership is. One important key to a book's successes is knowing who your reader is. This goes beyond knowing who you are writing for: children, teens, women, men, etc. You need to really understand the genre and niche. Who makes up this readership and why your book is perfect for them.
Understanding My Young Readership with Camille Matthews

Though I am new to writing books for children, I have a broad knowledge of child development due to my work as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist for many years. This body of knowledge definitely informed my creation of the Quincy the Horse Books, which have a recommended age from 5-9 years of age. 

Two ideas I find most important in understanding child development are that human potential unfolds in stages of development as we grow and children benefit from nurturing relationships based on secure bonds with consistent care-taking figures. Children have the opportunity to develop certain personal strengths in the childhood years and having supportive relationships not only provides a context for growth, it can also result in the formation of secure attachments, which are a basis for all their relationships. Loss and change contribute to growth, but children need support not to become overwhelmed.

Many theorists have offered ideas about stages of human development.  I have always liked the work of psychoanalyst, Erik H. Erikson whose stages of human development are stated directly and without technical terminology. http://www.learningplaceonline.com/stages/organize/Erikson.htm

Erikson was optimistic about growth and was an early believer that humans have an ongoing ability to grow throughout life. He identifies central issues for young children including the need to experience trust, to become autonomous and to develop a feeling of competence and self-esteem. His concern is children experience overwhelming feelings of mistrust, shame, guilt or inferiority. Since primary relationships are the way children tend to experience the world, consistent nurturing becomes an important factor in the child’s growth, hopefully providing a somewhat stable foundation and home base as the child ventures further and further out into the world around him/her.

My first book, Quincy Finds A New Home, begins when Quincy has experienced a loss. The family who owned him has left the farm where he lives, and a neighbor man who meets his basic needs is caring for him. Then he gets a new owner and is taken to a new home. His new home is a busy barn where there are activities that he does not know how to join. People are friendly and welcoming, but he feels sad and different. Finally, he responds to the overture of his stable mate, an old horse named Beau, who has been trying to get to know him. In doing this, he experiences trust and reassurance when he finds out that his new owner will love him for who he is. This is a task of the toddler and preschool years.

In Quincy Moves to the Desert, Quincy and Beau go on a trip across the country. Quincy has doubts about a big change, but Beau makes it an adventure by telling him how amazing the desert will be and teaching him about the states they travel through and all the things horses do in different places. Before he knows it, Quincy is learning about new things and letting his imagination take over! He begins to explore a whole range of possibilities; this is the task of the school experience that begins around 5 years of age.

It is my belief books are one of the ways children (and adults) experience the world and are a profound opportunity for growth. It is my hope the Quincy the Horse Books provide young readers with ways to expand their horizons in various areas including psychological growth, relational development and geographical awareness. 

Some children’s books draw on an exploration of the trauma and danger that are sadly omnipresent in the modern world. I try to place Quincy solidly in the security of supportive and loving relationships and draw on an exploration of his emotions and his amazement at the new things he is learning to engage his readers. 

Camille Matthews, MSW, LCSW is a clinical social worker and writer who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, complex PTSD and attachment disorders. In 2002, she received her certification in the new field of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) from the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association and established the Pathfinder Program in Farmington, NM where she treated adolescents, children and women victims of domestic violence using EAP.

She teamed with illustrator, Michelle Black to create the Quincy the Horse Books for children ages 5-10. Matthews was born and raised in the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky where her father was a law school professor. She was an only child and her favorite thing to do was visit her grandparents and cousins. She is a lifelong equestrian, avid reader and student of politics who blogs and is an op ed contributor.  She relocated to the Reading, PA area from Northwestern New Mexico in 2010.

You can find out more about Camille Matthews’ World of Ink Author/Book Tour schedule at http://storiesforchildrenpublishing.com/CamilleMatthews.aspx. There will be giveaways, reviews, interviews, guest posts and more. Make sure to stop by and interact with Matthews and the hosts at the different stops by leaving comments and/or questions.


Heidiwriter said...

It is difficult to determine your readership before your books are published, as many publishers/agents want you to do. Sometimes all you can do is guess.

widdershins said...

In general, readers are loyal to their genre. Determine your genre, and any sub-genres or cross-over genres, and that's where your core readership is.

When I was setting up my blog I did an exercise to determine my readership, both for my blog and my book.

I drew a series of concenteric circles, like an archery target with a bulls-eye at the center.

I write lesbian SF/Fantasy, so, in the center I wrote down my core readers, 'lesbians who read SF/F'.

In the next circle I wrote; 'lesbians - who read', (That last was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but with all these exercises, one has to retain one's sense of fun) because most of us will give most genres a try if it's connected to us in some way.

The next circle was 'women who read SF/F'. The next circle was, 'anyone who reads SF/F', and the last circle was, 'anyone who gets off on reading anything vaguely resembling girl/girl action, let alone something as definitively LESBIAN as my book!' (Let's be honest, if they want to spend their money on my book, I'll take it)

The circles represent the amount of my energy I devote to each category, starting at the center and working my way outwards.

The great thing about this system is the 'trickle-through' effect. Time and energy I spend on each circle (except the last one - that's going to be powered by events beyond me!)will inevitably have some level of effect on the others; word-of-mouth, the interwebz, etc.

Karen Cioffi said...

Virginia, Interesting and well researched article. While, I think you do need to know your target market, your publisher may change it.

Walking Through Walls was originally targeted as a children's chapter book, but after revisions the publisher targeted as MG/YA.

Widder, It's nice to see you here! Interesting method of determining your target market.

Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

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