I’m trying to locate Jennifer, so I can share the books I’ve written for her. And while I’m at it, I’m looking for Cheryl and retired Navy Chief and Mrs. John Doe, as well. Who are these people, you ask? My audience. My readers. My market.
I recently took a marketing workshop with Sharon Y. Cobb at the University of North Florida. She not only asked us to figure out who our target audience is, but also to do character profiles on three to five of them. Get to know them. What are they looking for in a good read? What makes them tick? How old are they? What are their interests? What do they look like? What are their names? Considering I’m a Pantser and a Puzzler and don’t even do character profiles on my hero and heroine, I found it a little strange to profile my readers. But once I started, it was a whole new ball game.
In a nutshell I write a series called “Love in the Fleet.” This is a four-book series of love stories that take place in Navy settings. As a Navy veteran, I am familiar with the lingo and much of the technical terms, which makes my books enjoyable for Jennifer. But in order to make them popular with Cheryl, I have to put myself in her shoes too. And then there’s retired Navy Chief and Mrs. John Doe to consider. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me introduce you to my readers:
Jennifer is a twenty-four year old active duty sailor in the United States Navy. I don’t know her rating (job specialty), but I do know that she is stationed aboard ship and she’s perpetually deployed. Jennifer’s typical day begins at Reveille as she climbs down from her rack (bed), takes a two-minute shower, dons her blue camouflage uniform, ties her light brown hair up into a bun on the back of her head, heads out to chow and possibly an eight to twelve-hour work day aboard ship.
After evening chow, she wants nothing more than to check her email in the ship’s library, then climb back into her thirty cubic foot personal space, pull the privacy curtain, and fall into a good book on her Kindle. Jennifer likes to read romance, and usually tucks into historicals or paranormals that utterly take her away. But hey, here’s this Heather Ashby chick who writes about Jennifer’s life on board ship. Let’s see if this author gets it. So Jennifer wants to crawl into this story about a romance on board the ship. (I’ll just stick with the U.S. Navy’s official stand that romances do not occur on board Navy ships. And if you believe that, send me $1,000 and I’ll tell you another good story.) If Jennifer buys this book, it better be plausible. And it better be accurate. And it better be written in the language of a twenty-something woman. Also, all Navy terms must be correct. And it better show a Navy heroine as playing a vital part in defeating the bad guys. It better be good enough to take Jennifer away from it all.
Cheryl, on the other hand, is forty years old and divorced. She works at a job that she enjoys, but sometimes it gets boring. She does errands on the way home from work, picks up her kids at their after-school program, cooks dinner, helps with homework, checks her email, checks her latest hits on Match.com—which suck again tonight—checks her roots to see if they can go another week before touching up her hair, then climbs into bed with a romance novel. Ah, finally time to get away from it all. Not that she doesn’t love her job and her kids, but Cheryl needs time for Cheryl. And what better way than to sink into a book with a dashing hero in a kilt, or a strong silent Naval engineer who does all the right things—and Cheryl bets if he was her husband, he would never drop his clothes on the floor and always do the dishes and take out the trash without being asked. Whether the hero wears a kilt, a Regency suit, or a military uniform; whether he’s a rake or a nice guy, deep down he is a gentleman and he treats his heroine the way Cheryl wants a man to treat her.
Cheryl’s friend recommends a Navy romance novel by Heather Ashby. What? Cheryl doesn’t go for too much violence, so at first she says, “No.” But the friend insists, telling her that the majority of the story is a love story and the Navy is simply the setting. Also the bad guy conflict is only there to drive the hero and heroine apart. Okay, she’ll try it. Cheryl gets sucked in not just over the love story, but she finds herself vicariously young, single, and a sailor in the Navy. Stationed aboard a ship. On deployment. In a hot zone—double entendre intended. She has raised her right hand and sworn to defend the Constitution of the United States against enemies both foreign and domestic. Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead, Cheryl!
What do I, as an author, need to do to make this book enjoyable for Cheryl? While keeping it militarily accurate for Jennifer, I need to soften some of the terms and technology for Cheryl—without dummying it down too much for Jennifer. I do not want to overpower Cheryl with military acronyms. I put myself in Cheryl’s size twelve clothing and size seven and a half shoes and write with her in mind. Will she know that ASAP means “as soon as possible?” Probably. Keep it. Will she understand that LCDR stands for Lieutenant Commander? Maybe not. Spell it out.
My goal for Jennifer is to entertain her, take her away from it all, and place her as the heroine in her own Navy romance novel. I also want to show her that I appreciate her service and her difficult lifestyle at sea. My goal for Cheryl is to entertain her, take her away from it all, and educate her about a lifestyle that is often difficult for the women in the armed forces. I want her to learn something while she’s being taken away. I want her to experience what it’s like to join the Navy and see the world. And I want her to become the heroine in her own romance novel.
I am not going to overburden you with my retired Chief and his wife’s character sketches. Just know they are older than Cheryl and will always have a bond with the Navy. The Chief’s wife will read the books first and understand a lot more than Cheryl, even though she never went to sea herself. The books will strike a chord with her husband’s sea stories and she will enjoy reminiscing—while forgetting all the negatives things about her husband being on cruises for six months at a shot. She will leave the books lying around and the bored retired chief will pick them up and secretly read them. He will be flabbergasted that the books are so spot-on. And he will be shocked that he enjoyed reading a romance novel. This will happen because I write for women and men—especially those on cruise who are looking for something to take them away. How do I ensure my male readers will connect? I put on their uniforms and size twelve combat boots and think like they do. And then I run everything by my husband and other male military advisors who check my books for accuracy—both about the Navy and about guys.
I now picture Jennifer, Cheryl, Chief Doe, and Mrs. Doe while I am plotting, while I am writing, and in my marketing. Now that I know them better, I go looking for them. I want to share the good news that I have written these books for them to enjoy.
I challenge you to meet your audience. Know who they are. What they look like. What their life is like. Where they live. And then frequent the places they frequent. Sell where they shop. Get to know them. By name.
Then damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead.
Heather Ashby is a Navy veteran who taught school and raised a family while accompanying her Navy husband around the United States, Japan, and the Middle East. In gratitude for her Army son’s safe return from Afghanistan and Iraq, she now writes military romance novels, donating half her royalties to causes that support wounded warriors and their families. Her debut novel, Forgive & Forget was voted “Best of 2013” by Suspense Magazine. She lives in Atlantic Beach, Florida with her husband and 3 rescue cats.
Suffering from Peter Pan Syndrome and survivor guilt, Navy helicopter pilot and renowned playboy, Brian “Skylark” Crawford, swears he’ll never marry, uncertain he deserves happiness—besides there are too many hot chicks to choose from. War widow and veterinarian, Daisy Schneider, swears to love only animals after her Marine pilot husband is killed in Afghanistan—but work fails to ease her loneliness or the guilt that she might have saved him. Between one stray, matchmaking cat and a fiery battle with drug runners at sea, the fur flies as Sky and Daisy learn valuable lessons about life, love, and second chances.