Reader Demographics via Emotional Beats

If I were selling jewelry at a gaming con or ren faire, the easiest way to figure out my target audience is to note who’s attracted to the displays, and who of that segment has enough money to buy the merchandise. (There’s a secondary market of “attracted to the display, but can’t afford; clearly I need to find a piece that it’s their price range yet still profitable to sell!” But that’s a digression, not quite so applicable to ebooks.) For silver and semiprecious stones, that’s the $20-$80 price range for a good-sized gaming con, with a few pieces/sets up to $250 that may or may not move, but attract the customers to the booth.

The demographic is primarily women and gay men, though if a man walks by with a lady who glances at our booth, he’s the best kind of fair game. “Sir! I have a necklace for your lady that would go perfectly with… your credit card!” Generally, for silver and garnet, you’re looking at the college age, though any older gothy types are even better – they have more money, know what they like, and won’t hesitate to purchase it. We’re especially looking for the people who have similar tastes in jewelry on them. “Shiny things! We have sparkly, shiny things!”

(Okay, maybe that’s more “when I used to” than “if.”) Anyway, it’s pretty easy to suss out your demographic – if they’re not interested, they saunter off. If they are, they stick around for the pitch, or browse and buy. Selling ebooks blind through a vendor makes it a lot harder to figure out who your target market is, especially when you didn’t have one in mind when you started.

Who likes science fiction? Who likes entertaining stories? Who’s willing to put in time and money to getting good stories? Don’t limit yourself artificially here. If you check the demographics of Star Wars fans on Tumblr, you’re going to find demographics… that reflect Tumblr. If you check the demographics of science fiction fans at WorldCon, you’re going to skew old, literary, and heavily social justice compared to DragonCon… neither of which are the same as a ComicCon, and even that won’t reflect the general population that liked The Martian enough to go see it in the movie theater. Most statistics of reader populations are small and self-selecting, reflecting the pool from which they’re drawn. They tend to miss the vast majority of the buying public.

The Martian’s opening-week audience, who went to go see it based on trailers alone, was 54% male, 59% of whom were over 35 years old. Week 2 was 52% male, 72% over 25 years old. The preordered tickets for Star Wars: The Force Awakens were “primarily” male, between 18 and 49, with an average age of 34. Given the Martian’s domestic gross from film run was $228 Million, even if you assumed $20/ticket (it’s $9.50 locally), that’s still a heck of a lot of eyeballs. Neilsen Bookscan, which we know misses a lot of sales, was reporting 62,000 sales per week of The Martian (print format, ebook not included) after the film was released.

Granted, you don’t have a film directed by Ridley Scott backing your book. Nonetheless, you can see there’s a heck of an audience out there the publishers don’t tend to reach. Dream big!

So, you’re now nodding, and saying “Okay, so you’ve proven that men in the 18-49 range like science fiction if it promises to have a good story. And lots of women; 52-54 percent is barely a majority. How do I get any clearer than that?”

Well, now you get to do some research on your particular book. Go to your biggest market (probably Amazon), and start pulling up the first books in your also-boughts for one of your books. (Skip the other ones by you. That just proves that the readers like you, and buy more after one try.) Now, you’re going to break out for each of these some basic dissection.

1. Is your protagonist Male or female? How old are they?
2. Is there romance or romantic subplot in the book? What rough percentage of the book is dedicated to the romance?
2a. Are there explicit sex scenes? (female audience!)
3. On the action to introspection scale, what rough percentage of the book is action, and what percentage internal monologue and introspection?
3a. Is the protagonist whiny? (female audience!)
4. Is there a sidekick? Are they humorous? (kids and male audience!)
5. Is your antagonist nature itself, some faceless group entity / race / corporation, or a villain?
5b. If your antagonist is a villain, What is their age, sex, and occupation?
5c. Is it the cartoon standard of rich old white man or corporate man for evil corporation?
6. Is your scifi hard, cyberpunk, military, space opera, or steampunk? Is your fantasy urban fantasy?
6b. Does your urban fantasy have sexy monsters or ugly monsters that get killed?

People find it easiest to identify with someone like them. Kids can identify with a protagonist up to about 27 years old, as long as they don’t become parents, but respond best to someone their age or slightly older. (A 14-year-old has been 10. She doesn’t want to be 10 again, but she may want to be 16, or 18.)

In general, statistical strokes:

Kids and Teens respond strongly to wonder, adventure, and humor. Teen girls to romance, teen boys to horror.

Women from Age 20-40 respond strongly to romance, humor, horror, mystery, and drama. (As they approach 40 and the hormone levels drop, mystery and drama statistically become stronger draws, and romance less.)

Men from 20-50 respond strongly to adventure, primarily, followed by wonder, drama, and mystery.

Military, active and vet, like military science fiction, and action/adventure, especially if it doesn’t have navel gazing or anti-military messages. They also tend to like hard(er) scifi, where the challenges against environment and entropy are clear.

Kids, even the ones still in college, respond strongly to coming-of-age, exploration of strange worlds and cultures, fitting in, etc. Parents are often absent or dead in stories, sometimes the restrictions that must be overcome.

Over time, the response shifts strongly and naturally to caring for loved ones, providing for a family, raising children, and makng a relationship stable and lasting. Now the fears are threats to children / family, to relationships / marriages, to jobs.

So look at your story, and the other stories your audience likes. Peter’s Laredo Trilogy books often lack romantic subplot, and by the other books his audience buys, that’s pretty normal for the target audience. This means they’re going to skew military and skew male, looking for adventure, wonder (cool new worlds! Starship battles!), drama (the ship is at stake! So is the empire!), and mystery.

Sabrina Chase’s The Scent of Metal, on the other hand, has adventure, wonder, and romance as its primary emotional beats. And it has kissing (sparks fly!) So her audience demographics is likely to skew much more heavily female than Peter’s books, though the military aspects will draw military of both sexes.

Dave Freer’s Changeling’s Island is a wide-audience-draw marketed as YA. The protagonist is a teen boy of unmentioned age, but there’s a girl sidekick that can provide somebody for preteen and early teen girls to empathize with. The parents are absent, but there’s the boy’s grandmother, and the girl’s parents, to provide adult points of view, with their own challenges and struggles when it comes to taking care of family, of neighbors, fitting in as an adult newcomer, remaining independent as your body fails you and the place you know changes (that’s a post-50 draw for men, post-40 draw for women). The kids’ POVs are heavy on wonder, adventure, mystery, and humor. The parental storylines have horror and drama interleaved in.

If you want more in-depth on this, check out Dave Farland’s Million Dollar Outlines. He has some pretty nifty demographics breakdown that can be applied to marketing, not just outlining.

One final note: all this analysis can be done in outlining, or post-writing, but it’s not prescriptive for how to write any single book, much less your book. Write the book that thrills you, that inspires you, that you love. If you write to a marketing formula, it’s at best formulaic, where if you write to emotion, it’ll have an emotional depth to attract and hold readers.

Wrapping this up now, as I’m crashing for the night. What beats and demographics do you find from one of your stories and its also-boughts?

45 Comments

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45 responses to “Reader Demographics via Emotional Beats

  1. This is an excellent column, one I’d always wanted to read in some ways because it feels right and also like the kind of thing that publishers might say behind the scenes that they would never say out in public. Not because they would believe the information to be proprietary but because of a worry that readers might feel manipulated by being catered to so specifically.

    Also it made me put into words just what demographic I want to reach with the novel I’m currently working on. Basically, I want to write books that are loved by teenage boys (and older) because they are exactly the kinds of books of which their mothers would not approve.

    When I was a kid I had a friend whose mother would read over all of his books before he could and then if she thought it was ‘appropriate’ would deign to allow him to read it. However, those books that she felt were appropriate were generally pretty anemic and didn’t have much of anything that he actually wanted to read; inappropriate humor, gratuitous nudity, derring-do, a hero who was actually a hero who did heroic things (and I know that was the kind of stuff he liked because that’s what he liked in movies). It was sludge and you could tell it was sludge because his mother thought it was good for him.

    Reading as steamed broccoli. Over steamed broccoli. That’s gone stone cold. Limp. With no butter. Or salt. Or joy.

    Surprisingly he didn’t turn into a reader.

    I tried to give him some of my books (when you’re in a small town and have read out most of the kids section in the library before you’re ten and graduate to adult books by default your choices get kind of adult. With sexual situations and violence and inappropriate humor. You know; The good stuff) but he would dutifully hand them over to his mother and she would not allow him to read them. Her kid. Her choice. I guess.

    It’s a bit tricky but I hope that by doing a comic strip first I can bypass the in house censor and get the book to the readers but if not then I still believe the 18 and up can form a substantial enough audience to make the books viable. And if they don’t?

    Ah, well, then I got to write the kinds of books that I’d have loved as a kid and wished existed and that’s cool too.

    • Reality Observer

      I don’t know about that “publishers not daring to say that they’re catering to their audience.” Baen is upfront about that, so is Tor (just for two examples).

      In any case – the smart marketer does make very clear the people that they cater to! If you hate Mexican food, do you go to a place called El Torito? If Jewish, do you find yourself hankering for a visit to The Pork Butt?

    • Not so much the publishers – their customers are the bookstore buyers. (Except Baen, who knows its customers are its readers.) This comes out of television and movies, where they pay a lot of attention to marketing to the audience.

      It sounds like your friend’s mother was making the classic mistake (no, not getting into a land war in Asia, or going against the dread pirate Roberts when death is on the line) – she’s mistaking what resonates with her for what is good.

      If you go back and re-read those books, you’ll probably find they’re perfectly fine mysteries and drama… but drama does not resonate with preteen and teenage males. Wonder, horror, humor, and most importantly, adventure do. (And yes, gratuitous nudity.) It sounds like you know your target market, and you’re going to have a blast writing for them.

      One warning: keep in mind that while a few teenagers and most college kids have credit cards and can buy what they love, marketing for children suffers the schitzophrenic split of needing to attract the kids… but also getting the adults with the wallets to okay and pay. Study the marketing for Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants, to see how they’ve pulled off the “It’s good like broccoli” signaling for parents, while still being awesome.

      • B. Durbin

        Actually, kids’ books are even worse than that. I’ve heard it described as “aimed at librarians who have to guess what the parents will allow for the kids to read.” Which is why so much of the modern stuff follows Sturgeon’s Law. (There is good stuff there, but just about everything with a badge saying what level reader it’s good for is overcooked oatmeal.)

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      I’m lucky my parents didn’t notice all the Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard books with nekkid chicks painted by Frazetta and Whelan I was reading back when I was younger. Could have made things awkward.

      • Laura M

        My parents bought me books with scantily clad women on the covers. I gave them the allowance money I’d saved, so they had to.

      • Sara the Red

        The Tarzan books I read as a kid belonged to my mother. πŸ˜€

      • Laurie

        My grandmother was an Edgar Rice Burroughs fan (we have original hardcovers in the family). She also gave my my first Heinleins. ‘Course, that was before the Frazetta covers, but she wasn’t a prude.

  2. Laura M

    Thank you for this, Dorothy. It says a lot, and tells me that my demographics are all over the map.

    The big mistake I made with Manx Prize was not having the nerve to tag it as hard SF when I published it. I figured the romantic subplot took away hard SF points or something equally silly. But the people who really like it and reach out about that one are space people, including the former CEO of a certain satellite company on the Isle of Man, a PhD in astrophysics at a big U.S. aerospace company, and a satellite magazine editor (yeah, I’m proud of that). But it only sells a handful a month, and its also-bots are not hard SF. I clearly did not get it on the right track. When I write its sequel in a couple of years, which will require a lot of research since it’ll be lunar, I will do advertising and hopefully get it turned around. In the meantime, given the day job, I’m working on more space opera (which also requires research, but more about mining, of course, and not as much.)

    • The best time to fix your keywords to change categories is now, but just make sure you do it at least one week before you launch the sequel.

      I also recommend changing the focus of your blurb; the early mention of internal journey (father’s anguish) and ending tag of romance (appealing lawyer) draw the focus away from wonder (near future space!) and adventure (hard engineering solutions!).

      This is an off-the-cuff example, done on one cuppa – don’t use this as a final product, but as a guide.

      Charlotte Fisher lives under crowded skies, and those skies are falling.

      She’s head of a team chasing the first successful controlled deorbit of space junk, and the Manx prize that goes with it. To win, they must out-think and out-engineer their cheating competitor, collusive regulators, and their own corporation’s fear of liability.

      The sky’s not the limit; it’s the challenge.

      • Laura M

        And that is just awesome. I will be using bits of it. Lots of bits of it. Thank you!

        • I see what you did there!

          One suggestion: put the first sentence in a separate paragraph. It not only creates an attention-getter that way, it breaks up the large-paragraph into more readable second paragraph.

  3. Interesting. The Alsobot for A Cat Among Dragons is all over the place – hard sci-fi, light mil-sci-fi urban fantasy tied, followed by high fantasy. The Colplatschki books have more of a hard sci-fi, space adventure following. The Alexi stories are back to urban fantasy tied with hard sci fi. BUT what stands out are the authors as much as the genres – the Mad Genii, Jeff Dunterman, Cyn Bagley. That suggests that I need to consider a way to market to a different audience (no offense implied, but readers of MCG and AtH are a small bit of a big reading pond.)

    • Two points:

      1. Different series will attract different readers. When you cross subgenres, the fans may not follow – when you cross genres, you’ll usually lose a lot of your old fanbase, and gain a new fanbase who won’t read your other genres.

      Even Lois Bujold found this problem: the SF fans who read her Vorkosigan series are not the Fantasy fans for the world of the 5 gods, who are not her romance fans for the passage books. (Passage works just fine as fantasy, but it has all the hallmarks of romance, and that made a lot of the SF readers uninterested in picking it up.)

      Therefore, approach each of your different-subgenre series with a different plan, because you know you can reach the adventure-urban-fantasy fans with your Alexi tales, (Wonder, horror, humor, adventure), but it’s going to be a very hard sell to your hard-SF & alt history fanbase out of the Colplatschki chronicles.

      2. Yep, you have just discovered the well-loved fish in a small pond problem… your also-boughts are demonstrating the limit of your reach. Filter out the ones that you know are MGC /ATH crowd related, and see what data you can discover about the book’s audience. It’ll be wonky, of course, but it’ll be better than guessing without data.

      As a side note, before reaching for a wider audience on Alexi, you’ll need to update the cover art & typography to match the urban fantasy adventure genre; you may also time that to a release of an anthology / omnibus.

      • Yes on the cover updates, although trying to find Baba Yaga in leather pants* to go with the cat and smartphone may be a challenge πŸ˜‰ My summer goals include updating the blog template, updating covers (as in buying decent covers) and an Alexi omnibus. I’ve got a few ideas for marketing the Colplatschki and new alt-hist series in a German culture magazine, but we’ll have to see how that goes.

        * Author is not responsible for mental image or damage therefrom.

        • I was going to post an image purging poem about what sort of leather leggings Baba Yaga would wear, but it quickly got more disturbing. It involved the type of leather, brain tanning, and whether the trespassers were still alive,

          But it would have been the sort of thing Baba Yaga would wear.

      • B. Durbin

        I like all of Bujold. Of course, she’s the first writer whose sex scenes didn’t make me giggle or just come off as coldly mechanical. (Have you ever read a sex scene and thought “Insert Tab A into Slot B”? Yeah, that’s pretty much what they devolve into.)

        • Sara the Red

          I don’t know where I first heard that description of sex scenes (though it was in the context of “There’s only so many ways you can write insert Tab A into Slot B”), but I’ve never forgotten it and it makes me laugh every time.

          Which is why, in 95% instances, I prefer the fade-to-black form of sex scene…

          • I always skip sex scenes when they are not ‘fade-to-black’. Can’t really say why, other than they are generally boring and vaguely uncomfortable.

            The story isn’t going anywhere, there’s no witty repartee, no jokes, etc. Just a description.

      • Sara the Red

        I must be a weird outlier, then–I love ALL (or almost all) of Bujold’s books. (I never liked Ethan of Athos, primarily because of the absence of Miles). Sharing Knife took a couple of tries to get into, but once I did I enjoyed it.

        Of course, I’m a weird outlier for genres, anyway. I read just about everything…

    • Laura M

      True. We’re probably not 60,000 strong.

    • I’d like to think that the alsobot is helping us define a community of Human Wave authors, which will be a fine thing once the reading public comes to understand what Human Wave SFF actually is. (That’s a topic for another day, but I’ve had the same reaction as you while meditating on alsobot results.)

      One reason I suspect the alsobot suggested me is that my latest novel, Ten Gentle Opportunities, is a calculated mashup of classical fantasy, humor, and hard SF, with a dollop of oddball romance. As you said with respect to A Cat Among Dragons, it’s all over the place. I tried to sell it to tradpub for two years, and I think they refused to consider it because they couldn’t decide What It Was. They were category-bound, and asked me to do another hard SF adventure instead. (Well, when I do, they won’t get it.) The big revelation for me in shopping TGO and failing to sell it was that indie publishing means I can tell a story that violates existing categories and goes places the gatekeepers can’t imagine going. That may make promotion trickier; I don’t know yet. The audience I’ve been able to find has given it raves. The challenge now is to find more audience, and this article made me take a second look at that challenge. Fine stuff.

  4. Hmmm … excellent suggestion, to look at the ‘also-boughts’. I’m writing in three different genres now – straight historical/adventure with a splash of romance, YA straight adventure, and contemporary humor, so I am guessing I’ll have some pretty schizo results. But teasing out something useful will at least tell me what is working in each.

    • Remember to categorize your results by your book genre; genre fans (as opposed to author fans) generally won’t buy outside of favourite genre.

      And if your results are wildly different from one book to another for books you think are in the same genre, then you’ll want to try to figure out what signaling you’ve established to attract the one genre over the other, and how to work the second back in.

      On the other hand, if books you think are completely different genres have the same audience, then this tells you ether they’re not as different as you thought, and where your target market is, or that you have a very small readership pool that likes everything you do, and you need to focus on how to appeal to a broader target market to reach beyond your current readers.

  5. sabrinachase

    Thanks for the demographics post! And here I was aiming for the Skynet/Internet Of Things market with my AI character πŸ™‚ If I can just convince the banking computers to like my books, I will have ALL the money!

    My favorite narrow demographic moment–I got an email from someone who had read my Sequoyah trilogy (main character had been a test pilot), gently informing me test piloting had changed since the days of Yeager, and he knew, because he was one of the handful of test pilot *examiners* in the world (!) But he said he enjoyed the story anyway…

    • That sounds like a wonderful gent to ask for a list of more current resources, or to interview for inspiration. πŸ™‚

      Have I adequately satisfied your request for determining your reader demographics, ma’am? πŸ˜›

      • sabrinachase

        Oh, he did tell me the current state of test-pilotage…sadly, the romance and the long white scarves are no more. And I’m not sorry I did have a Yaegeresqe test pilot, because that’s the way it *should* be, like rocketships with fins!

        I like this dial-a-post feature very much, thank you! I do understand the demographics much better. Of course now I have further questions, prompted by this new pile of lovely data. Should you be casting about for future post topics…how to find out where these various demographics hang out? (Shows Official Introvert card for socializing handicap excuse). Where would, say military women hang out and look for books?

  6. TRX

    > People find it easiest to identify with someone like them.

    Why should I want to identify with a character in a story?

    No, seriously. I keep seeing that laid out as a basic requirement for storytelling. It sounds reasonable on the surface, but is it?

    All I need is enough backstory to understand their reasoning and motivations, if any. And if they don’t have any, which is all too common, at least to be able to watch them go through their motions without doing things so incredibly stupid they break my suspension of disbelief. Or the author might go into detail about the character and his motivations. That doesn’t mean I want to “identify” with, say, Hannibal Lecter.

    “Identification” smells a lot like stereotyping, except instead of “barbarian swordsman” or “cowboy”, it’s limited to “generic kid” or “generic teenager.”

    • sabrinachase

      “Identification” might be better expressed as “having something in common.” I might have nothing in common with, say, an assassin, but an assassin who loves cats and is addicted to dark chocolate? I can follow along *there*. Or even a common thread of humanity. Being annoyed with the neighbor who won’t return borrowed tools is an eternal trope from caveman days to far future galactic civilizations when the neighbor might have tentacles. πŸ˜€

    • I sort of agree with this statement. While this article was good, thinking that people must have someone that they can ‘identify’ with I believe is misleading.
      For example, I like the Honor Harrington stories. Does that mean I identify with a tall heavy-worlder woman? No, of course not. I just enjoy the character.

      While I know there are stories that people read because they identify with a character in them, there are also stories people read because they enjoy the character(s). I think that often gets over looked. Star Trek TNG is a perfect example of that, they put in Wesley, because someone thought ‘oh, we need something for the kids to identify with’. And of course everyone hated Wesley, -especially- the kids.

      Put in characters for people to enjoy, if people identify with that character, then I think you got lucky. But if you try to put characters in for people to identify with, odds are you are going to fail.

      • Reality Observer

        Hmm. I identify with parts of characters, those being their mental states. No, neither am I a heavy world female (or a transgendered PICA, to take a different series) – but I identify with their viewpoints on most things, or would like to.

        Come to think of it, I think the last character that I “identified” with – in the sense that you seem to mean it – was Morrie from Rocket Ship Galileo.

    • It’s reasonable, basic, and un-PC. It’s also statistically sound, which means, like any statistic, that there are plenty of outliers – but they don’t negate the facts of the center mass.

      Before we used “identify”, the industry used “sympathize.” However, “sympathetic characters” comes with a freightload of connotations that aren’t true – namely, the assumption that a reader should feel pity for the protagonist and/or villain. No, it harked to another, older meaning – that of “relating to, producing, or denoting an effect that arises in response to a similar action elsewhere.”

      In the best books, when the hero is in danger, your pulse picks up, and you start breathing faster (adrenaline). When they’re sad, you cry. When they get hurt, you wince. When they triumph, you want to stand up and cheer. That is a sympathetic reaction, and it is easiest to produce when the protagonist feels and acts like you either you would feel and act – or like you wish you could feel and act in a situation. (For a very different personality, it’s not impossible, just harder.)

      Stereotypes exist because groups of people tend to act in certain ways, and therefore, when dealing with an undifferentiated mass, this helps us sort the mass into groups that we can deal with appropriately. “Generic teenage male” is a whole lot more precise than “one of the 318 million people in the USA.” Now, it’s no guarantee that you’re dealing with a young John Ringo instead of a young Ru Paul, but it’s statistically far more likely that they’re going to want exploding spaceships and heroic quests than a drama about a woman learning to live on her own and enjoy life after a divorce.

      The function of marketing is to find the most audience that didn’t know it’d really enjoy a good or service, and let them know about it. The best way to find that audience is to be able to break the “everyone in the world” down until you find “people who are most likely to enjoy this.” If I’m talking about a chocolate shop in Anchorage, Alaska, it’s pretty pointless to advertise in Atlanta, GA. Yes, that’s a stereotype – that only local people are interested in a local shop. It’s also extremely useful to avoid wasting time an effort on chasing statistical outliers instead of the center mass. It’s also a stereotype that women are more interested in chocolate than men. However, the stereotype exists because advertising in NAPA auto parts is far less likely to net customers than advertising at a Salon, where, again, statistically and stereotypically men tend to go to the former, and women to the latter. (Except during valentine’s runup, when a sign at NAPA “Get her a chocolate bouquet for Valentines Day!” would yield positive returns, because stereotypically and statistically, men buy women chocolate and flowers and cute stuffed animals on Feb. 14)

      Don’t fear stereotypes. They’re incredibly useful tools for group aggregates, as long as you do due diligence that the stereotype is accurate, and you keep in mind that no individual ever conforms completely, or is limited to, a stereotype.

      • Reality Observer

        Reminds me of the hardware store that had “bouquets” of tools around Valentine’s Day…

  7. Two questions: First, I’m a little unclear about the terminology. What do “high” fantasy or “hard” sci-fi mean? Second, do you think it would be helpful to write across different genres?

    • I’m not Dorothy, but High Fantasy as I used the term means European-flavored Medieval setting (usually) with obvious magic, supernatural elements, quests, and/or other things usually associated with Lord of the Rings and similar books and series. Hard sci-fi is heavy on technology and applied science, sometimes to the point that technology is the main driver of the plot, and lighter on the social sciences. _The Martian_ is hard-sci-fi. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders books are softer sci-fi, where the tech is far in the background and telepathy and an alien setting are the main scientific elements. (But that’s a topic that generates endless arguments and “Yes, but what about’s” pretty much anywhere I’ve seen it brought up πŸ™‚ )

    • Warning: links to tvtropes included. While very useful, I am not responsible for the hours you can lose wandering through the website.

      High fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy that often involves Tolkein-recognizable elements: noble dwarves, elves, savage orcs, heroes, quests, etc. Epic fantasy is a subgenre growing out of high fantasy, most notable for the sheer size of the novels (sometimes called doorstoppers or goatgaggers.)
      http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HighFantasy

      What used to be called “low fantasy” has mostly been overtaken by the subset called “urban fantasy”, which involves a modern-day feel with magic; the rest is usually just called “fantasy” now. (Or in some cases, “grimdark.” http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LowFantasy

      As for “hard” scifi – that is a subgenre in which the science is internally consistent, detailed, and plausible. Andy Weir’s The Martian is a great example of hard scifi – the very fact that someone can grumble “but the perchlorates in the martian soil will stunt plant growth!” and it gets debated means that you’re expecting the science to be real, true, realistic, and plausible at every point.

      The other end of the spectrum is “space opera” – which was a pejorative applied to not-hard scifi with plenty of handwavium, that the authors have proceeded to own and make their own, until it’s hard to remember it was ever an insult.
      http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MohsScaleOfScienceFictionHardness

      As to writing across different genres, there are two answers. The first is answering the artist: You should always learn and grow. Growing involves trying out new genres, new skills, and learning from every story. Also, as a new writer, you may need to try out several genres, writing like several masters, in order to find your voice, (Artists often spend several years trying to paint like Monet, or paint like Picasso, or switch to sculpting, before they find their own style. Writers aren’t much different, though they tend to switch genres instead of mediums.)

      The second is answering the small businessperson: The easiest thing to market is a series of novels in a popular genre. The hardest thing to market is a bunch of short stories and novellas across all genres. It will take much longer to find your customer base and fans if you’re constantly dropping one genre’s fans and picking up another. So, don’t expect to have much sales growth for the first few years if you do that. On the other hand, every work of intellectual property is an investment in your future, and it’s not about the immediate sales, it’s about your 25-45 year career as a writer. The better you get at it, the better your sales will be down the road. So grow as an artist, even at the cost of short term pain.

      • Awesome. Thanks so much. I love this blog. Everyone here is so helpful.

      • The Other Sean

        Beware the massive (but enjoyable) time sink that is TV Tropes. You can find yourself realizing its past your bedtime, or that you’ve missed a meal, or something, and that hours of your life have disappeared. A high tolerance (if not outright enjoyment of) snark is recommended.

    • TRX

      Perhaps my reading selections have been poor, but a large number of “cross genre” fiction I’ve read merely demonstrated that the author had not mastered either genre, much less both.

      Some of it is, of course, marketing, which a traditionally published author has little control over. If you’re crossing hardboiled PI and fairy romance, a title and blurb that don’t make that absolutely clear is probably going to result more often in a disgusted reader than a happy one.

  8. B. Durbin

    ‘2a. Are there explicit sex scenes? (female audience!)’

    NB: Some female audience. Obviously, in romance there is a huge push for explicit sex scenes, to the point where it’s difficult-to-impossible to find a romance labeled romance that doesn’t have them. The non-explicit romance has actually migrated to other genres. So “paranormal romance” will have explicit sex in it, but “urban fantasy” will often have nearly similar romantic elements, but the sexβ€”if anyβ€”is limited in scope and description.

    I have a friend who writes paranormal romance. I prefer urban fantasy, and the trope beats are entirely different. (Seriously, I can’t review her books, because my expectations are set at an angle to her genre.)

    • Heh. I made the observation years ago that sex and time travel have something in common: They dominate whatever stories they’re in. A story containing explicit sex will be about explicit sex, and a story containing time travel will be about time travel. Those two themes (and there may be more in their category) are too powerful *not* to dominate a story line.