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  • Writer's pictureTERRY ANN MARSH

From Premise to Published: WHO is reading your work? WHO are you writing for?

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

It may seem like an obvious question, hardly worth asking, but knowing your target audience is very important if you hope to be published. For example, you wouldn’t submit your picture book to a travel magazine. Okay, so that one is obvious, but bookstores and library shelves are filled with hundreds of genres, differentiating age groups and skill levels, and sometimes, extremely nuanced interests.

There are different expectations for each category and knowing what those are from the beginning could save you time and energy. I wrote a middle-grade novel for the Christian market. I wrote 12 chapters with a nice beginning, middle, and end – about 15,000 words. I was quite proud of myself. It represented what I believed to be a decent body of work. I sent it to a publisher who responded, “For this age group, it should be at least 35,000 words.”

Yikes! What??

Eventually, I rewrote it. It needs more editing, but I like the story (A Song for Sydney) and still hope to see it published. At least now when I send it out, it will be the right length for the right age group. However, keep in mind, rules are made to be broken and I know the literary world is filled with books that broke all the rules – just saying.

When you send out a cover letter with your manuscript, part of that letter will include where you think your book belongs on the shelves. Knowing what other current books are similar to yours will help you describe it to a potential publisher. I had a hard time with this. Since I am trying to write something completely unique to me, I didn’t like the idea of clumping my story in with someone else’s. Eventually, I came to realize that a publisher needs a "handle" to grab on to your story with so, they can decide if your book is the right fit for them AND if they are the right fit for your book.

Here is a little piece of the cover letter I wrote for what I hope is my next published book, The Bookmaker & The Tens. Note that I have already mentioned in the letter the word count, 700, and the age group, 3-8 years old.

Similar to Zero the Hero (Joan Holub, Tom Lichtenhold, Henry Holt & Co., 2012), the Tens feel unappreciated and search out the Bookmaker for his unique skills. And like Kate Narita’s book, 100 Bugs – A Counting Book, (Farrar, Straus, and Garoux, 2018), young readers have the opportunity to count and multiply their way to 100 in the book within a book.

In just a few sentences, I gave a fairly accurate picture of what type of book I am submitting and, should the publisher be interested, they could grab onto that handle and start a conversation with me.

If you are unsure of how the publishing world categorizes books, do a quick online search. There are thousands of books written on how to write a book. There are magazines, newsletters, and blogs galore.

Figure out WHO you are writing for, do some research, and point your lovely words in the right direction.

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