I'm taking a writing course and the biggest challenge I'm facing is figuring out my audience — particularly for something I have written where I didn't have an audience in mind. Some topics or style of writing, of course, are easier than others. I'm posting a paragraph (not for critique, just context). Is it legit to appeal to a general or broader audience? Mind you, this is just a paragraph exercise, possibly it would be easier to figure out the audience if I was expanding the paragraph into a specific piece. I guess I am looking for guidance on what cues I might pick up from a piece of writing to determine who might be interested in reading it.

Edited to add: My thinking was possibly a piece like this could appeal to collectors of objects? Those, maybe, who are interested in old versus new technology? Or is this too specific?

I yearn for the ticktock of my grandma’s cuckoo clock. Mesmerised by its swinging pendulum, I would sit quietly, waiting for mister blue bird to pop out. Picturing it cozily tucked away, twitching its wings, wanting to fly, fly away. The appearance of the cuckoo was always a rare and magical moment. Years later, I learned its marvel was a gift of technology and not forest fairies or gods. Cuckoo clocks, it turns out, are equipped with a mechanism made from cast weights in a pine-cone shape. The original “cu coo” sound was derived from the bellows pushing air through two wooden whistles that mimic the call of the bird. Despite this stab of reality to my fairy tale heart, the cuckoo is a reminder of a time when things were made intricately by hand and time was measured in hours, not tweets.

2 Answers 2


Determining your audience is radically different depending on whether or not your work is fiction or nonfiction.

In fiction, the first division of audience is by age. Is your work for children, teens, or adults? After that, you can go for genre, which is not the same as audience but may be more of what you're thinking. With genre, you don't determine it based on passages from your writing; you choose what to put into passages of writing based on the genre.

Some genres do overlap with audience. For example, if you have a literary book, that won't appeal to all adult readers. Something like sci-fi or mystery will have fans and non-fans, but it isn't so much about audience because it's more about setting and type of story.

In nonfiction, your audience is more like you describe, though it can be narrow or broad. People with an interest in antiques. Or in memoir. If you're writing for a magazine, then audience will be narrow, because most magazines have niche markets. Here, it might be an article for collectors of 19th century household goods. Yet the same article published in a newspaper would have to have broader appeal, beyond those who already know something about the subject.

If your work is fiction then you are way overthinking this. If you are aiming to sell an article to a specialty magazine, then you are on the right track.

  • 1
    Very astute of you to note non-fiction vs fiction and magazine vs book writing. I've never written a book, only published articles/essays. That distinction really clarified it for me and explained why I was struggling so much.
    – L.Jeanne
    Jan 28, 2019 at 8:39

I believe you are being too specific when you're looking at who your audience is. Suggesting your passage would be solely interesting to collectors of objects would be like suggesting that Jules Verne's extensive explanation of marine biology in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea would only be interesting to people who took a particular interest in marine biology. But we know Jules Verne wrote for a much larger audience - for everyone who is excited by the notion of voyage, discovery, adventure. In fact, the modern reader who actually knows a little biology would quickly realise that Jules Verne's "science" is outdated and mostly wrong. (Verne did his research meticulously, it's just that we've discovered a thing or two since his day.) Nonetheless, his stories maintain popularity because we are still excited by adventure and discovery.

You should be thinking who your audience is right along with figuring out your themes: basically, first you'd be figuring out what you're saying, and who you're saying it to. Then you make the details appropriate to the audience. Not the other way round. For example, if you wish to write a story for children, you would avoid gory details. But those same details would be perfectly appropriate in an adult work, where you wish to shock readers out of their calm.

It is not only age, of course, that divides your audience. You need to consider whether your audience is very familiar with what you're writing about, or would need an introduction. This is particularly true of texts meant first and foremost for providing information: a schoolbook or a "popular science" book would be going over basics, where an academic article would expect you to already be familiar with those. But the same consideration also enters fiction writing: if I'm writing about an element that has cultural significance for an audience that shares that culture, I can use shorthand: I can use a gesture without explaining it, for instance. If my audience is other cultures, I'd need to explain.

You are right, too, that different audiences have different interests. A sci-fi reader would be interested in the construction of a spaceship. If I set an erotic novel on the same spaceship, the readers would have little patience for engineering, and would much rather read about the "equipment" of the aliens. This is exactly where what you're telling enters - once you've figured out whether you're writing a sci-fi novel or erotica in space, you provide the kind of details that would be interesting to the audience of your story. If you did it the other way, neither the sci-fi readers nor the erotica readers would enjoy your story very much.

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