I've noticed that quite a few fiction-related questions are asked here without a clear indication of the writer's ambitions for the work in question. For example, are they trying to produce:

  • Something aimed at the broadest possible audience?

  • Something consciously aimed at a specific (but still large) audience?

  • Something targeted to a small group of people with specific tastes?

  • Something that's highly individualistic and aimed at like minded people in the hopes that they're "out there somewhere"?

  • Something that's just for them (or their children, or their spouse) and might not even be read by others?

It seems to me that the poster's answers to these questions can make a big difference to the kind of answers that will be useful to them.

For example, answers pointing out that a technique is not well liked in general are unhelpful at best (and actively harmful at worst) if the poster is writing in a niche genre where this technique is well liked. The inverse is obviously also true, if the answerer doesn't flag up that they're responding with a particular niche in mind.

Besides just trying to bear this in mind when asking and answering questions, is there anything we can do to make sure that answers are pitched in a way that's appropriate to the poster's specific ambitions?

4 Answers 4


I think this is valuable advice, and we can certainly link to this meta post when applicable. Keeping one's audience in mind is always a good idea.


I think it would be good if people were required to consider these questions.

Many aspiring authors are completely engrossed with their own imagination and write without any awareness of their audience. While even professional marketers have a hard time identifying what factors make a bestseller, there is little question about the minimum requirements for making a book saleable. So independent of the fact that these questions will enable askers to ask better questions and receive more helpful answers, it will generally put them in a better frame of mind for writing.

Contrary to Mark Baker I don't believe that we are all ignorant amateurs.

When I answer a question, I consider my own experience and what other, professionally successful writers have said and written about their experience. While people are different and no answer will be right for everyone, from what I have learned there are some basic truths that have worked for a majority of writers, and I try to answer from that background.

  • My point isn't just about keeping the audience in mind, though. Someone writing experimental fiction probably isn't interested in popularity, and answers that tell them "hardly anyone will want to read it unless you do bladebla instead of blabbleblabble" will be no use to them. Likewise, someone aiming to write popular fiction probably doesn't want to be told "your story's going to be unoriginal if you do thing x that everyone else does". In other words, I'm saying we need to know who the audience for our answers is. Knowing the audience (if any) the asker has in mind is only part of that. Feb 17, 2017 at 14:46
  • @TheTermiteSociety I picked one aspect out of several, instead of touching upon them all, to keep my answer concise and comprehensive. I trust that the users of this site have the intelligence to extrapolate the principle of my answer to your other examples.
    – user5645
    Feb 17, 2017 at 15:05
  • @TheTermiteSociety it is a puzzle to me how anyone can have a question about how to write experimental fiction. It's their experiment, after all. Now you raise it though, I rather suspect that most of the people asking these types of questions actually have not given two second's thought to who their intended audience is, because if they had I think their answer should be obvious to them.
    – user16226
    Feb 17, 2017 at 18:21
  • @MarkBaker well, just because it's experiment, doesn't mean every aspect of it is, and just because it's not written with an audience in mind doesn't people won't want advice in order to improve it (I don't expect everyone on the cooking stack exchange is a chef). I'm not saying anyone will be posting questions from that point of view, just that we should be careful what we assume. Either that, or make clear to people what we are assuming, so that they can correct us where appropriate. Feb 17, 2017 at 23:45

From what I have generally seen, most of the people who post are aspiring writers and aren't writing a book to read their kids for a night time story. With that being said though, it would be nice to know the target audience. Even within the same niche, you may have children, young adult, or adult books all written with different word choices or scenes. The same scene may be done 10 different ways depending on the audience even.

Would it be possible to add this as part of the tag? Say if their targeted audience is for children then we have a children story tag for them to use. If possible to modify site text, we can add "please pick target audience as one of your tags". That way it will help the site too organize the audiences. If I only wanted to help children books, I can go to the tag grouping. If we have them write it in as part of their question, we wouldn't have that form of organization.


While I agree that this is the way many of the questions posted here ought to be pitched, the problem is that it would highlight the fact that almost no one here is qualified to answer such questions. If you want to know what makes a marketable book, the person to ask is a literary agent and AFAIK we don't have a single one of those on the site.

What we actually get is a bunch of people (like me) answering in terms of literary theory, and bunch of people quoting from works they think are similar, and a bunch of people spinning ideas of the top of their heads with no regard to marketability. Making questions more specific as to the writer's goals does not help if people are not qualified to answer in the same terms.

If people are trying to make art, we can answer in terms of art theory (and let the person asking the question decide if we are qualified to do so). But if people are trying to write marketable fiction, I don't think there are too many people here who are qualified to help them on marketability issues.

I wish we did have more people like that here. I'm not sure how we get them. Agents will go anywhere that potentially publishable writers hang out, and if we could get even one agent here, more such writers would come here. The problem is, the format of the site does not really allow writers to demonstrate whether they are publishable or not.

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