PUBLISHED OCTOBER 2015
by Kimberly Grabas, Founder, YourWriterPlatform.com
One of the biggest mistakes first-time publishers make is believing that the larger a book’s potential market is, the greater the chances that the book will get noticed and purchased. In fact, the opposite is generally true. The larger the market, the more competition you are likely to face and the bigger the drain on your already limited resources.
Trying to appeal to the masses instead of understanding the needs, wants, and desires of a select few—the right few—is the recipe for failure. Finding and narrowing your niche will help you reach—and appeal to—more of the people who will ultimately buy your book.
The keys to success are identifying and researching what your true target audience craves, recognizing the unique and meaningful aspects of what you have to offer, and aligning the two to benefit your ideal reader in an exceptional way.
Here are some initial points to consider:
- Don’t assume that you already know your audience, or that the people in it are just like you. It’s possible, but not always true. So do the work to determine what your readers actually want.
- Remember that you’re not the only one who needs to have a firm grasp on a target audience. Booksellers and media people also want you to know who your audience is, what your allure is for that particular group, and how you plan to connect with people in it.
- Even though it’s important to niche-down, it is equally important not to narrow your target market to a point where it becomes unprofitable. A bit of research will help you define your sweet spot.
It’s difficult to tempt people with what you have to offer unless you know (a) exactly what it is that you’re offering and (b) why they should care. But when you know your book intimately, you can tease out its potential benefits, advantages, points of difference, uniqueness, and angles as well as the best hook for it. In short, you’ll be able to articulate what makes the book so compelling or entertaining that a buyer would choose it rather than (or as well as) a comparable title.
Creating Your To-Reach List
Given what your book has to offer, who would be most interested and why? Who will benefit the most? The goal is to segment a broad market into smaller, distinct groups of individuals who are like-minded or share specific characteristics, behaviors, and needs.
A checklist of questions will help at the outset. As you’ll see, they fall into four categories. And I’m going to give you some ways to get answers.
- Where do your potential readers live (now and previously)? Country? Region? What language(s) do people speak there?
- What is the climate like? The seasons?
- What’s the age range of your readers?
- What’s their gender and race or ethnicity?
- What’s their education level?
- What jobs do they hold?
- Are they married?
- Do they have kids?
- What are their religions or religious affiliations?
- Which generation do they belong to? Baby boomer? Gen X? Gen Y?
- What’s their nationality?
- What type of lifestyle do your readers maintain?
- What social and economic classes do they belong to?
- Do they live in an urban or a rural environment?
- How is their health?
- What’s their background or upbringing?
- What are their goals, beliefs, interests, habits, values, and attitudes?
- Will a purchase affect how they feel about themselves, or how they wish to be perceived?
- What occasions are important to your reader?
- Are they already fans of your genre and/or topic?
- What might motivate them to buy?
- Where are they in terms of readiness to buy? (Have they just stumbled across your website; were they referred to your work by a friend; or have they already purchased one or more of your books?)
- What are their buying patterns (buy on impulse, or look for value)?
- Where and how do they read (mobile, e-book, print book)?
Getting Actionable Data
Your answers to all these questions should not be just guesses. You need to glean information from as many sources as you can get your hands on.
When there is an existing fan base, it can be useful to poll its members or ask them to complete a survey that will help you understand how best to serve them. Ask questions in e-mails and in comments on your blog and other blogs. Join forums and clubs that discuss your book’s topic or genre to find out more about your audience.
Also find comparable books and investigate the books’ and authors’ websites. Who is commenting? What types of content are they sharing and what platforms are they using to share it?
Next, check out the various social platforms where the authors of these books are active. Look at the profiles of the followers—many are very likely in your target audience as well.
Here are a few more ideas:
- Google the reader demographics for magazines, publications, and newsletters that pertain to your book’s topic or a subtopic in the book.
- See whether people in relevant social circles and networks might share some insights on a potential audience for your work. And see whether local librarians and bookstore managers might do the same.
- Google your country’s census bureau for additional statistics.
Now that you’ve got more information than you can shake a stick at, it’s time to apply what you’ve learned.
A well-defined target audience is characterized in terms of elements from more than one set of the categories outlined above. So for example, if I were considering writing a book about snowboarding tricks and tips, my target audience might look something like this:
13- to 25-year-old, single males from middle- to upper-class families who live in regions that experience winter conditions part of the year. They are athletic, daring, and competitive. They like to push themselves to improve by learning new snowboarding techniques, and they have the free time to practice. Prefer e-book format and lower price point. Generally impulse buyers, but influenced by peer and influencer recommendations. Snowboarding competitions or exhibitions are an important draw. Most active on YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram. Images, video, and music should be incorporated in marketing strategy.
If my research indicated that snowboard repairs were also a significant interest (due to the intensity and wear and tear on the boards from the tricks), I could consider adding a section on repairs in my book, and title it: Snowboard Tips, Tricks, and the Inevitable Repairs.
If research showed that the 12- to 25-year-old male snowboarder market was still too broad and competitive, I could change my focus and target 13- to 25-year-old female snowboarders, or even (I live in Canada) 13- to 25-year-old Canadian female snowboarders.
As you can see, the target market you choose will influence the marketing decisions you make, and you will need to devise various marketing strategies and promotional tactics for segments of your market based on what you learn about your current readers or comparable groups.
You may find that you have more than one target market (perhaps a young adult novel would also appeal to adult readers of romance, for example). Or you may find that you need to deal with buyers for your book who aren’t the book’s readers. Think of children’s books, gift books, and textbooks, for example. Although the process for finding and describing your audience (or audiences) stays much the same for these sorts of titles, your marketing strategy and tactics must take into account that two or more disparate groups are involved.
The key is always knowing exactly who it is that your book will benefit most.
The Alex Example
Once you know exactly who your target audience is and have ensured that your brand is in tune with their interests and desires, the final step is to be where they are.
This gets easier when you create a highly detailed and accurate reader profile or persona that represents your target audience.
Don’t panic. You’re done with the hard work, so your reward is to use the information you’ve gathered to create a profile (as you might for a character in a novel). Grab your notebook and do a character sketch of your ideal reader. Give this individual a name. Connect with this person; understand the person. Then think of, speak to, and write for this person when you create any marketing message. Every e-mail, social media post, design tweak, book trailer, book cover, blog entry, excerpt, and comment must be crafted with your reader profile in mind.
I decided to call my snowboarding book persona Alex. With Alex in mind, here are some questions I can ask and some things I can do to connect with him.
- What blogs does Alex read, what forums does he frequent, and what networking sites does he post to?
- Given what I know about Alex, where would I advertise?
- What language will resonate with him? Can I use his own words to tell him exactly how and why my book will appeal to him?
- Where might Alex look for advice, reviews, and additional information before buying?
- Are there authors and/or businesses that are also targeting Alex and that I might partner with to gain credibility, and perhaps additional access?
- To influence Alex’s influencers, I might ask bloggers who blog about snowboarding or winter sports to review my book, and I might encourage testimonials from readers within my audience and gather endorsements from writers, businesses, or organizations that have a connection with my book’s content.
- By matching Alex and my audience demographics with various media demographics, I might be able to obtain free or inexpensive publicity: local radio spots, for instance, and exposure through competitions, sporting, or charitable events, or even midday news on TV.
Are you seeing how much easier it is to plan your marketing and promotional activities with a person in mind?
Here are a few more ideas you can employ to stay connected with your audience:
- Monitor mentions of your book and brand online (as you probably know, Google Alerts is one good tool for this).
- Stay up to date on news and trends about your book’s topic and/or genre. What are relevant authors, bloggers, and industry influencers talking about? (Some resources: Feedly, AllTop, Google Trends, and NewsMap.)
- When you go where your readers are, contribute and be useful.
- Get ideas from your competitors. What seems to be working for them? What doesn’t? But don’t just copy what they do; imitation will not help you stand out.
Establish your own place with your own purpose. Your own readers are waiting.
Kimberley Grabas is a Canadian writer and the founder of YourWriterPlatform.com, where she provides writers with the resources, tools, and inspiration they need to build their platform, engage their fans, and sell more books. Download her free e-book, The Quick Start Guide to Building Your Writer Platform.