While hopeful writers may convince themselves everyone needs to read their book, the truth is that no book is for every reader. How to determine your target readers is a crucial step toward attaining a degree of success. Visions of tantalizing bookstore displays have probably churned around in that fanciful author noggin of yours, but only books published by large- to medium-size publishers make it into a lot of bookstores (and for a rather limited time unless the title sells). If published by a small press, there’s no guarantee of healthy bookstore distribution. If you’re self-publishing and schlepping your POD books around, think twice. Your time is better spent finding readers online since the majority of bookstores won’t stock such titles, and when they do, it will be only a few.
This year, I will be covering blogging tips for authors, target readers, local marketing, and marketing audiobooks. Feel free to explore Word Bank’s archive of marketing posts. In particular, you might find Newsletter Basics for Authors of interest.
How to Determine Your Target Readers
Ideally, research done on target readers is carried out before writing begins. This is especially important when it comes to writing a nonfiction book proposal. Advance research can be priceless when it comes time to shift direction. Ultimately, this can result in attracting a larger audience. In addition to a primary target audience, a book will likely end up having other segments of readers based on how diverse its appeal is. Perhaps one of your characters struggles with mental illness or addiction. Voila! Say hello to additional market segments!
Gather Audience Information
Try to make informed answers to as many questions as possible regarding audience segments most likely to read your book. This starts with demographics such as age, gender, religion, income level as well as what this potential may do for a living and whether or not they are retired or a stay-at-home parent. Also consider the highest level of education likely completed along with marital status and if any children remain at home. Location of residence comes into play as well. What region does this likely reader live in and is it urban, suburban, or rural?
Utilize psychographics such as favorite books, authors, and genres. Ask how many books this reader likely reads a month and if the purpose of such reading is for entertainment or education. Also ask what sorts of movies and TV shows this reader may like as well as how they spend their free time. What hobbies do they pursue, and where do they go on vacation? What is their health like? As for buying habits, are they deal hunters or impulse shoppers? Is this reader likely loyal to various authors? Do they rely on recommendations for reading material or might they be random reading adventurers?
Extend this realm of questions to a potential reader’s online behavior as well. What social media sites are they most likely to spend their time on? What sorts of blogs and articles do are they most likely to read on a regular basis? Where are they most likely to discover and shop for books? What online communities or groups do they visit and make contributions to?
Determine Comparable Titles
“My book is utterly unique. I can’t even begin to think what title to compare it to.” Think again, my friend. And think hard. Regardless of your path to publication, knowledge of comp titles is crucial. It goes without saying, reading widely in one’s genre is never a bad idea. Yet, reality dictates only so much time for reading, not to mention a number of authors prefer not to read in same genre as their current draft. Research can save the day! Once you have some idea of the type of readers most likely to read your book, start compiling a list of titles that are similar to yours in crucial ways. Such a list not only comes in handy when querying agents, it also allows you to position yourself for marketing purposes for all the marketing you’ll have to do on your own.
Create a Reader Persona
Once you’ve amassed a wide array of ideal reader demographics, psychographics, online behavior, and list of comparable book titles, it’s time to craft a reader persona for your ideal reader. You will likely want to craft at least a few reader personas given that the primary genre of your book may cross over to audience of another genre. For example, young adult romances will appeal to a segment of adult readers, and memoir readers are often drawn to self-help or wellness books. This guide on crafting marketing personas will prove helpful. Whether you use bullet points or write these personas up is up to you. What matters is taking the time to come up with a composite sketch that will enable you to make informed decisions about who and where to market your book.
Compile Keywords and Search Terms
Once you’ve compiled the treasure trove of reader information above, it’s time to get down and dirty with some metadata. For better or worse, all of the content in a book becomes metadata. This data about the data in your book needs to be your best friend. The content tags you choose for Amazon and other online book retailers should be queries readers use to find books like yours using searches like “strong female lead,” “government conspiracies,” or “dating after divorce.” Also, utilize resources like Google Trends and Google AdWords to see how search topics related to your book are faring. Knowing what searches readers are doing will help especially when it comes to writing guest blog posts.
Devise a Plan of Attack
With all of this valuable data in your possession, it’s time to devise a plan of attack. Going through the motions of how to determine your target readers counts for little unless you can implement a plan for helping readers discover your books. Marketing may or may not be your cup of tea, but it can’t be avoided. If in-person events aren’t your thing, focus on online efforts. It simply won’t do to wait until you’re in the mood to get some marketing done or have a spare minute. You must make the time and do so in a strategic way. This will entail daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals that are re-visited as needed. When one approach isn’t working, try another one. And try, and try, and then try again. Got it?
Doesn’t all of this sound so simple? I always hate people who say you can only spend twenty minutes a day on marketing and call it good as well as be a success! Granted, some effort is better than no effort at all. The truth is that though it may fairly straightforward to go through the steps above, doing so takes a hole lot of effort and a hell of a lot of time. If you truly want to find a lot of readers for your book, you’ll find a way to make this happen.
What has your experience been like? What would you add to this list of how to determine your target readers?
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2018. Post may contain affiliate links. Image credit: Keyboard with Sphere.
This is a very educational post for me. I’d probably say that majority of writers don’t take this much time to find their target readers. I know I didn’t get close to this kind of research and marketing. Thanks for this post. I’ll pass it along.
Denise, it’s probably safe to say too that nonfiction writers tend to put more thought into reader personas, etc. than fiction writers, but I think more and more fiction writers will buckle down and do their homework.
I learned a lot as well! I’ll be more detailed in the future.
Alex, awesome! Adding more detail to marketing efforts is a natural progression.
I’ve got a good idea of who my target audience is, but I have yet to take the time to find them online and interact with them. *sigh*
Loni, time never sees to be on our side 🙁
What a comprehensive article about target reader research, Jeri. A few years ago, I started a spreadsheet of reviewers on Amazon/Goodreads who wrote about books I was reviewing. If I liked their insights, I thought maybe they would be future reviewers for me–some day.
RoseMary, that’s a great approach. It’s like my newsletter where I post contest and award info readers will find handy, but in the end, it’s also an excuse for me to research the publications I’d like to submit pieces to.
Thanks for a serious and comprehensive look at an essential aspect of marketing a book!
Candy, as I think about how to start shaping my memoir, I have all kinds of idea when it comes to determining target readers. It all gets a biz more fuzzy when I think about the fiction I aspire to write. Lately I’ve been looking at potential crossover between the two. I think I need to write some short stories that deal with the themes that have shaped my life before I try to tackle a full-fledged memoir.
I imagine a lot of writers are like my husband. They just want to be creative and not think of this marketing stuff. But you make a great point as to why this is important, and also the depth of the questions you need to ask. You have to put your business hat on, even if you’re a creative type.
Erica, the switching of hats required between being a creative and being a business person can be quite precarious at times, but better balances does come with practice in any case!
This is a really thorough and extensive guide. I would suspect that accumulating all of this data would be quite a challenge for most self published authors.
Ken, self-published authors wouldn’t have access to big datasets, but there is plenty of data that can make use of for marketing purposes. I hear too often that so-and-so’s book will appeal to general audiences. That always makes me cringe.
I have never thought about target readers Jeri. My words flow naturally and when they become too much to handle, I compile them into a poetry book. Creativity doesn’t think of business! Thanks for these valuable reminders, I read them with great interest though I am a pathetic marketeer!
Balroop, creativity doesn’t think of business, but being good at business can certainly help spread one’s creative efforts.
Something every writer must learn to do! Thanks
Julie, indeed! Marketing isn’t most people’s idea of fun and joy, but it is necessary. Why put effort into a book and then take the time to market effectively? Doing so can seem so daunting, but as with anything, a process gets easier with time.
Excellent info here Jeri. I will share this link in my next writer’s links 🙂
I love the idea of creating a reader persona. I think that’s helpful for bloggers as well!
Meredith, personas are huge in marketing. It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve really starting learning a lot about their creation, but it’s definitely worth the effort whatever the industry of the desired audience.
Gosh, Jeri, another post to keep handy at all times! BJ = before Jeri, I thought of my audience in a vague sort of women like me way. Then I started to dive deeper in who I want to reach and how to include them in my head while writing. Big difference.
RoseMary, that’s great to hear that your sense of audience is continually evolving. Way to go!