I had an interesting conversation with an author last week who told me that she wanted her audience to know that whatever she writes - whether it's a children's book, a cookbook, a suspense/thriller or a romance - would have the quality of her name behind it, enough to cause them to purchase it.
Let's take Reader 1. This reader is single, in his 20's, sportive and adventuresome. He likes the author's suspense/thriller because it's action-packed, contains international intrigue, features exotic locations and takes him out of his apartment and office cubicle. He doesn't have children, he only cooks if it takes a single pan and less than twenty minutes (preferably under ten), and he's into sex, not romance.
Reader 2 is a young newlywed. She still believes in love at first sight, at finding her eternal soul mate (which she thinks she has in her new husband), and she wants to experience that beautiful, giddy, head-in-the-clouds feeling she gets from reading pure romance. Maybe her new husband travels in his job or puts in long hours or works a job and attends school... And she wants a reminder that romance is not only possible, it's an everyday occurrence. She doesn't have children, she's learning to cook, and she might read a suspense/thriller IF it contains a healthy dose of... romance.
Reader 3 is a mother, a cook, a chauffeur, a maid, a nurse, a seamstress, a spouse... all before leaving home. With a full-time job in addition to her busy family, she doesn't have time to read. She will, however, purchase her children books. She won't use a cookbook at this point in her life because food has to be quick, simple and easy - or they go through the drive-thru. Down the road when Little Johnny and Baby Jane are well into their teen years, have their own cars and stay with their friends all hours, she might have time to go back to the love of reading. Then she'll gravitate toward suspense or romance, and possibly both.
I could go on and on with various readers' preferences. The point is: all readers are not created equal. Each of them has distinct likes and dislikes. If you write suspense and suddenly switch to heavy romance, you stand to lose some of your audience - unless you turn to romantic suspense with a heavy dose of the thrill your readers are accustomed to from you.
But to expect your fans to buy whatever you produce isn't realistic. They don't buy your books because they love you. Okay, maybe some of them do but certainly they can't number into the tens of thousands. And that's what it takes to be a success in this business - selling tens of thousands of books.
Your readers buy your books because you offer them what they're looking for. Maybe it's romance. Maybe it's suspense. Maybe it's something for Little Johnny. Maybe it's how to make that perfect cherry pie. But how many readers do you know what want all of those?
Next week: learning who your readers are.