How you ever just sat down and thought about your potential audience for that book you are about to write or have just written? Well, I can say this crossed my mind about halfway through my first novel because it would determine what was going to happen within the story. Some people like certain things and certain people like somethings and not others—or is it the other way around? Honestly, I always just thought that people who liked an excellent tale would like my book, but it turns out that that generality isn’t good enough. I needed to be more specific. Narrow down my target audience and concentrate on writing for them and what they enjoy. How do you do that? Below is a couple of articles I found helpful in pointing me in the right direction when it comes to audience and who they are. Here, as well, is a short video to get you started down the path to getting to know your audience.
Do you know who you’re writing for? Like, truly, actually who your readers are — and why they are (or should be) reading your stuff?
It’s easy to fall into the habit of writing what you love or writing to impress your peers or your editor. That might make for good writing… but it won’t necessarily attract readers. To do that, you have to write for, well, readers.
Someone has probably told you at some point in your writing journey to think about your “target audience.” So you went through the exercise: stated their gender, age, location, occupation, income bracket and relationship to your subject. You imagined them in a bookstore, picking up your book, loving it and demanding a sequel. You wrote pages about why they’d love your work more than your competition’s. You were ready to write a book they’d love and convince a publisher exactly why they’d love it.
But have you met these people? How do you know they’ll love your book? How do you know they… exist?
A major conundrum that trips up many green writers — I’m including my younger self — is defining your target audience before you have any actual readers.
You decide what you want to write: a food blog, cozy mysteries, self-help ebooks. Then you do the target audience exercise to define a hypothetical person who will love them. You even give them a hypothetical name and pull a stock photo to give them a hypothetical face. But you can’t sell books to hypothetical readers.
So you’re stuck with the task of figuring out who your audience is before you actually build it — because, to build your audience, you need to know who you’re targeting. How’s that for an annoying Catch-22?
Here’s what I do to wriggle out from between this rock and a hard place: As you define your target audience, try to name five people who fit the bill.
Who do you know who is a mid-40s woman who lives in the suburbs, works in middle-management for about the median income and enjoys mass-market romance novels? Once you have some names in mind, dig deeper.
When is the last time you saw them reading a romance novel? Do you know why they picked it up? How do you imagine them reacting to that racy scene you wrote in chapter 13? If you described your book to them, would they understand it? Would they want to read it?
Wisely, novelist Kim Wright suggests going beyond the general checklist of demographics and describing your target audience anecdotally. Think about your history with the reader, how — specifically — your story or ideas will resonate in their life, what they’re looking for that you uniquely offer as a writer.
Don’t forget: You have to answer these questions for real people. That’s what makes this simple trick effective.
First, if you can’t name real people you know (or know of), you have to face the possibility that your hypothetical target audience doesn’t exist. That’s tough, but better to figure it out before you start writing and pitching than after years of work and reams of rejections.
Second, when you force yourself to imagine real people reading your work and ask specific questions about how they’ll react, you can’t just zhuzh up your answers to align with what you’re committed to writing. If your 43-year-old co-worker Amy reads sweet romance on her lunch break but balks at the mention of explicit sexuality, you’ll find it tough to convince yourself she’ll keep reading after chapter 13. If you’re writing for Amy, keep it clean. If you’re set on getting steamy, can you name a more fitting reader? If not… see above.
Finally, naming real people gives you the option to run your idea by your actual target audience, even if you haven’t built a base of readers for yourself yet. Jot down how you’d imagine Amy reacting to your story, sure. But then, if you’re comfortable, run the idea by her to test your intuition. If you didn’t predict her reaction well, try some market research, and revise your story idea accordingly.
So? Do you know who you’re writing for?
When you’re trying to sell your first novel, one of the questions that agents and editors will almost inevitably ask is “Who do you see as your target reader?”
Writers frequently punt with a vague answer, something along the lines of “Anyone who enjoys a good story” or “This theme is universal.” They’re probably trying to imply that their book has equal appeal for men and women, young and old, cuts that it across all racial and national lines and thus has the potential to be a best seller. Hmmm…yeah.
The reality is, agents and publishers are rarely impressed by such claims. If they ask a specific question, they expect a specific answer. Give them generalities and you may as well be wearing a t-shirt that reads “I haven’t thought about this AT ALL.”
Some authors write every sentence with a specific person in mind, almost as if the book is a letter, but if you don’t work like that you’ll have to think a little harder to describe your target reader. Probably the best way to zone in on the idea is to think back to what motivated you to write the book in the first place.
Let’s say you have an 11-year-old niece and you’ve watched with alarm over the past year as she and her friends have become increasingly obsessed with their appearance, their clothes, and a disturbingly premature sort of sexuality. Perhaps, not completely by coincidence, your next YA book features a plucky, tomboyish heroine and is in part a message to your niece that there’s more to life than being popular and cool. So when your agent says “Who’s your target reader?” you can say not just “10-12 year old girls” but respond with the story of your niece and her friends.
Or maybe you’re writing nonfiction and through the years you’ve become painfully aware that you and your weekend warrior athlete buddies are getting hurt more easily and staying hurt longer. This observation has resulted in “The Aging Jock,” an exercise and fitness book designed to help boomer athletes keep hitting the bike trails or ball court hard without sustaining so many injuries. So when the “Who’s your reader?” question comes up, you not only can say “50 year old men,” you can respond with the story of the sunny Sunday when a routine tackle took your buddy Dave out of the game for months.
This question is an enormous opportunity. When an editor or agent asks it, they aren’t just looking for a demographic – they’re looking for your motivation. Ideally you answer not just the surface question “Who’s the target reader?” but also the implied question behind it, which is “And why are you the right writer to tell this story?” The smartest responses are anecdotal, showing that you have a particular passion for your subject matter, that you didn’t just dream up this book at random but that it resonates within in you. See this question as an opportunity to show both the businesslike and passionate sides of yourself – i.e., why this is a marketable book and why you alone of all the souls on earth were born to write it.
So the right answer to “Who’s your target reader?” is something along the lines of “9-13 year old girls. It really bothers me how they’re pressured to grow up too fast. Last Christmas I was talking to my niece and it hit me that her childhood is so different from mine, that….” Editors and agents may or may not relate to the story about your niece, but it’s a far better shot than responding with a big fake smile and a big fake answer like “Everyone!”
Let them get to know you. Explain where your ideas come from and how they develop over time. It will not only make you more likely to be published – they’re looking for writers, not robots – but it’s good practice for what lies ahead.
Our recent newsletter survey revealed that finding your book’s target audience is a big problem for many of you.
It is absolutely crucial that you know who is most likely to buy your book. It doesn’t matter how well-written it is if the people who should buy it don’t know about it. And for them to know about it, you have to know who they are and how to get in front of them.
Finding your target audience is often more challenging for fiction writers than it is for nonfiction writers because so many novelists write for the joy of it instead of writing for a specific market. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong from a creative perspective, but from a business view, if you want people to read what you write, you need to write with your audience in mind.
Here’s how fiction and nonfiction writers alike can zero in on who will buy their book.
What’s your book’s personality?
Marketing professionals often assign personalities to their brands because that helps them better understand and reach the consumer who will be attracted to that brand. The person who will buy a product that seems playful, for example, might not be the same person who is attracted to a brand with a more scholarly personality.
It works this way with books, too. Your first task, then, is to determine your book’s personality. Is it male or female? Humorous or serious? Edgy or conservative? Mysterious or straightforward? Sexy or not sexy? Shy or friendly?
Well, you get the point. If your book was a person, who would it be?
Create a persona for your audience
With your book’s personality in mind, figure out who would be attracted to it by asking yourself more questions. I really like those presented in my friend Jan Bear’s e-book, TARGET MARKETING FOR AUTHORS: How to Find and Captivate Your Book’s Target Audience. In her book, Bear uses these topics to guide us through the process:
• Demographics: What is your target audience’s gender, age, race or ethnicity, family structure, household income, employment, and education level?
• Geography: What is that person’s location, language spoken, dialect, and climate?
• Life cycle: What about lifestyle and life stage?
• Culture: What is your reader’s urban/rural/suburban/small town, work habits, religious observance, holidays and festivals, activities, recreation, entertainment, and volunteerism situation?
• Motivation: What are your target audience’s beliefs and desires?
Take the answers to those questions and use them to create an imaginary person – a persona – that represents your target audience. For nonfiction, certain specifics, such as profession or health issues, might be more important than gender or income level. Regardless, when you know whether the person who will like your book is married or divorced, in her 20s or his 40s, blue collar or white collar, Catholic or Jewish, and so on, it will be easier for you to find that person in both the real and virtual worlds.
The good news is that with so many people spending time online, it’s easier to connect with your book’s target audience – or audiences, in some cases – than it was pre-internet. This is especially important for e-books. It’s important to understand, though, that your audience might not be online. You won’t know that unless you take the time to create that persona for your book’s audience.
For more information on how to determine your book’s target audience, I highly recommend Bear’s book, TARGET MARKETING FOR AUTHORS: How to Find and Captivate Your Book’s Target Audience. It’s thorough, but not long, because it’s so focused on its topic.
One of the most difficult questions for an author is figuring out ‘who are your target audience?’
If you’ve tried to pitch an agent or publisher, you will have been asked about ‘comps’ or comparison authors which is just one part of it. Today, thriller author Colby Marshall outlines how you can find your target audience.
When we writers set out to promote a book, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing our book is “for everyone,” particularly since we can separate its components and find something in our book everyone could enjoy. But to be promote successfully, we have to forget the notion that we’ve written a book everyone will love and instead, maximize our promotion toward those most likely to become our audience.
Here are a few tips to help you with identifying your target audience and with putting that knowledge to work:
1. Isolate what types and/or groups of people the content of the book would interest.
Example: If your book is about an archaeologist who uses Stone Henge to travel into the future, your book would probably interest history buffs as well as fans of speculative fiction/sci-fi. If that hero happens to be a former Marine, your book might also interest military personnel and/or the families.
2. Identify other books that are comparable to your book and look at the profiles of those books’ main buyers/readers.
While the Twilight saga might be plagued by jokes about Bella’s undying love (no pun intended) for a too-perfect vampire shinier than a package of Lisa Frank stickers, the series is the perfect example of a target market. The target audience isn’t always who the book was written for, but rather, who it ends up appealing to. Twilight draws in tween and teenage girls with its premise involving a normal, everyday girl falling into a romance with an young, attractive male (the bread and butter of many young girls’ dreams), but it’s appeal stretched to the cross-section of middle-age female readers who love romance and enjoyed Anne Rice in her heyday.
3. Pinpoint what is special about your book.
We all think highly of our own intricacies, but at the end of the day, when you tell someone what your book is about, what are the few magic words that boil it down to the main story? In other words, what is your hook? If you tell someone you’re writing a book about a witch who uses her power of communing with animals to rescue a lost dog from an evil dog-napper, then A. Wow, you have an interesting imagination! B. You may or may not have taken in 101 Dalmatians too much as a child and C. With such a premise, chances are, your story is more light-hearted than scary, so your target readers to which the mystery aspect of your story will entice are more cozy-type mystery consumers (i.e., they’re more Murder She Wrote than Silence of the Lambs), especially those that enjoy paranormal stories involving witches, ghosts, and their ilk. Your book might also appeal to animal lovers.
4. Determine some demographics.
Let’s take the example right above of the witch hunting down a hound-heisting criminal. In the previous model, we assumed this mystery was contemporary, but let’s take that same premise and make the main character an eleven-year-old girl who has to stop Cruella DeVille’s doppelganger while also keeping her little sister out of her room and making a good grade on her math test. In this scenario, the book is a Middle Grade novel, so instead of having a target audience of people who like amateur sleuth stories with a paranormal twist, this story is likely to appeal to kids ages 8-12. Since the book’s main character is an eleven-year-old amateur sleuth, it’s safe to say it will most appeal to kids who like mysteries, but it would also probably interest kids who like animals as well as kids intrigued by magical characters. And in this case, the parents of these kids are your targets, too!
5. Feed the previous four tips into each other to gain even more insight and narrow down who your target audience/s is/are.
(You can have multiple target audiences!)
Using our schnauzer-stealing villain to be found and thwarted by the elementary-age witch, we might realize based on our age demographic and the identification of similar titles (books, TV, and movies can help here!) that kids who like mysteries who also like watching Sabrina the Teenage Witch on Netflix would be the perfect type of reader for your book. Might I suggest a Venn diagram? This way, you can see where the different groups of people who are potentially good fits for your book overlap, thus refining your targeted groups and finding your primary target audience. Plus this way, you’ve finally had an excuse to make that Venn diagram you’ve had the urge to make lately.
How to use your target audience:
1. Identify where your target audience hangs out, then be there.
Look at the users of certain social media sites, the readership of publications in which you advertise, blogs on which you guest post, etc. Then, steer yourself in the direction of those with users compatible with your product. If you write epic fantasy, guest posting on two hundred blogs popular with erotica readers won’t be effective unless your novel’s elves are too randy for the final battle and instead, get hot and heavy in the castle stronghold.
2. Concentrate on the buyers.
While readers are great, more readers beget more word of mouth, and anyone who shares your work is a great help to you, not every avenue of promotion is equal. For example, while there are exceptions like the great Joanna Penn who gain a large following for their writing by building a writing-based blog, most often, other writers are not going to be an audience who becomes an avid fan base for your book (Let’s face it…writers are supportive of each other, but we’re busy focusing on our own books, too!). If you have a limited time to promote, head for spots where your target audience is (refer to number 1).
[Note from Joanna: I would second this point! I also wanted to note that I started this blog back in 2008 when I was only writing non-fiction and just wanted to document my self-publishing process. It has morphed into a completely different business and later I started writing fiction, but my site for that is at www.JFPenn.com where I DON’T talk about writing!]
3. Work the connections you’ve found to popular books in the same vein as yours by appealing to those books’ readers.
Got a psychological thriller you think Dean Koontz fans might like? Check out his aesthetics and marketing techniques. I’m not saying to tie up Koontz’ cover designer, throw him in your trunk, and take him home and force him to create your cover, too (This is my cover before! Do you see?! This is my cover changing. Do you see?!). I’m for putting your own stamp on things and staying original. All I’m saying here is that you can emulate certain style choices without Xeroxing Odd Thomas and pasting your head from last year’s Christmas card over Dean’s face on the back of the book. Or if you’re convinced fans of Eragon would like your fantasy adventure story, make a note of where you can find droves of Christopher Paolini’s fans and head to Dragon Con.
4. Hone in on your target audience when you decide on branding such as cover design.
For example, if you write romantic suspense with a target audience of female consumers of books in the vein of Harlequin novels with a suspenseful twist, a cover design featuring romantic leads in an embrace amongst other elements might enhance your appeal. However, if you’re writing a thriller that contains a love story but might also be heavy in action and adventure and so your target audience might also contain men who are fans of Clancy or Ludlum, a heavy romantic element in your branding may hinder more than help.