by Patricia Fry
You know that no book is “for everyone,” and every book must have at least one target market. But how do you define it?
Very simply, it’s that group of people who are most likely to purchase a particular book. These are the individuals the book’s information is for, or the ones its story aims to entertain. They might be the parents, grandparents, and educators of small children who live in fatherless homes. They might be men and women who want to know more about skin cancer treatments. They might be people who love historical fiction set in the pioneer days, parents who have lost a child, young adults, folks who like war memoirs, or hopeful authors who want to know how to successfully produce and promote a book.
Most books also have a secondary audience—people who will read the book for reasons that are not central to it. For example, some might pick up a novel featuring a pilot because someone they know is a pilot; folks who aren’t into cooking or cookbooks may buy one because they’ve invited a date or their new in-laws over for dinner. Also, a book may have a peripheral audience—people who don’t fit the target demographic, but who will purchase a book on a whim or as a gift, for example.
So you can have one or more target audiences and one or more secondary audiences along with peripheral audiences. If you give this concept a lot of thought and do the necessary research to determine these audiences early in the publication process, you may decide that you don’t actually have a large enough audience to pursue a particular book project.
That would be depressing. But wait. All may not be lost.
Sure, the audience for your book on how to dig fishing worms, tips for keeping cats out of aquariums, repairs you can make with fingernail clippers, or the history of the modern-day calendar may not be big enough. But if you conduct new research, you may be able to find out what slant and focus might attract a larger audience. In other words, adapt and revise if need be.
Consider making the fishing book about the best bait to use in certain fishing spots throughout the Northwest, for example. Expand the cats-and-aquariums book to make it a collection of stories about quirky things that cats do or how to keep things sane in a multipet home. Instead of focusing strictly on fingernail clippers, create a book on how to get by in an emergency using just the items at hand. And the modern-day calendar book brings to mind all sorts of possibilities. History buffs would probably put out a few bucks for a look at changes in calendars over time. Give this book more depth and breadth, and it may appeal to a decent-sized target audience.
Now how do you determine your target market? Let me count the ways.
Try These Six Steps
1. Study similar books. Even before starting to write, authors should locate books similar to the ones they’re hatching and try to identify the audiences for those books via online searches and browsing in the relevant sections of brick-and-mortar bookstores. Questions to consider include: What books will be sitting next to mine on the shelf? What books will be compared to it and competing with it at Amazon.com?
Next steps: With nonfiction, look at back-cover copy. It should be obvious who the intended readers are, because this copy will speak directly to them—identifying their needs, talking about their issues, and addressing their concerns. The title and subtitle of a nonfiction book can also provide clues about the audience for it. Is it parents of children with autism, educators dealing with violence in schools, women with low self-esteem, fear-ridden people, victims of abuse, or teens who want to know more about getting into college?
With fiction, the genre category is a clue about audiences. Is it teen horror, chick-lit mystery, Asian historical fiction, or narrative science fiction, for example? Research on how many books in a genre were published last year and how they did will help forecast demand for a new book in the category.
2. Become more familiar with the competition. If you’re not sure who the audience is for a similar book, visit the author’s Web site. Peek in on the blog. Look at the comments in the forum. Check out the FAQ. Read several issues of the newsletter. See what other books this author recommends, and then figure out who the audience is for them.
3. Visit relevant Web sites. Once you locate sites related to your book’s genre or theme, see what you can learn about their visitors. They might compose your audience. Are they avid readers of true crime, curious about world events and politics, hungry for information on renovating a turn-of-the-century home, or in need of guidance of some sort? Are they men, women, children, singles, grandparents, grief-stricken widowers, young moms, or readers of romance or suspense? Once you’ve identified them, attempt to discover how many people fit this demographic and where you can reach large numbers of them.
4. Hang out at bookstores. Hover near the section where your book would be stocked and observe the people who are interested in this genre or topic. Talk to some of them. Find out what they hope to gain by reading the books in this section. What are they seeking? What is missing in the books they have been reading? Maybe you can provide this in your book.
5. Start a blog and/or newsletter. Focus information, stories, data, and resources on the topic/genre of your book to attract your target audience. Get to know that audience. How? Encourage feedback and participation. Visit the Web sites of those who comment at your blog site or write letters to the editor. Start a dialog. Quiz people. Get them involved. Add them to your mailing list. Use them to locate additional members of your target audience.
6. Develop a Web site around the theme or genre of your book. Then monitor your visitors. Become involved in dialog with some of them. Listen to them. If the book isn’t finished, what you learn from them will help you focus it appropriately. If it is, what you learn will help you to plan your marketing strategy.
Use these ideas and tools to assess target audiences, and your chances of success will increase accordingly.
Patricia Fry, the author of 28 books, including The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book, is also the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network). For more information, visit matilijapress.com/rightway.html and spawn.org.