One of the most important things, when writing a book, is to know your audience. When asking yourself who you’re writing for, it’s never a good idea to say ‘everyone.’ Sure, some books have a much wider and more mainstream audience than others, but at the very least you’re likely aiming for, say, adults as opposed to children. Most of the time you’re making far narrower choices than that.
Recently I was chatting with someone about the series of books that Nora Roberts writes under the pen name of J.D. Robb: the ‘in death’ series set in the 2050s and 2060s starring homicide detective Eve Dallas. One of the things that I noted in particular about those books is that Roberts is a virtuoso when it comes to playing to her audience. There are aspects of her books that I might label as flaws in a general sense when looking at books, that I’m absolutely certain were conscious choices—and correct choices—due to the audience Roberts is aiming for.
This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to know your audience.
The series is a combination of noir-ish over-the-top detective fiction with a character-driven romance-oriented emotional appeal. It’s aimed at readers who want the thrill of mystery but also enjoy the heart-tugging that comes with lots of good character interaction. Judging by the sales figures and popularity of the series, Roberts was dead-on in anticipating the appeal of this intersection of genres.
One example of something that would normally bother me in a series is the unlikely coincidence of so many of Eve’s cases having a personal tie to her or someone close to her. However, this is one of those cases where I think Roberts made exactly the right decision for her audience. That personal connection is part of what gives the series its emotional appeal.
Another example is the often-melodramatic, over-the-top style. However, again, I think it was absolutely the right choice for this series. It plays up the thrilling detective caper feel and is a significant part of making the books sheer fun to read.
If Roberts didn’t know her audience so well, she might not have made those choices. And then the series might not have worked out so well. Sure, she’s shutting out those people who won’t be able to get over the fact that Eve’s cases have too many ties to her friends, or that some of the prose is a bit wild. But if Roberts tried to please everyone, the odds are that her books would be so bland that they wouldn’t please anyone very much at all. And this is why her name is so instantly recognizable.
Speaking of which, part of the reason this came to mind is that last week I read & reviewed Rapture in Death and Ceremony in Death. And only somewhat apropos of that, yesterday’s review was of an Emile Henry Pie Dish while today’s dealt with LuAnn McLane’s A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action.