“Who is your target readership?”
It sounds like a question straight out of a marketing pamphlet. But it’s a question every author would benefit from asking as early on as possible in their writing process. The answer will not only affect how you plan to sell your book, but also how you write it.
In the case of nonfiction, the question of target readership is already well-known. A book’s target audience determines its content and also the language in which it conveys its ideas. Is your book popularizing some form of knowledge for the general public, or is it meant to be a reference for professionals in your field? Depending on who you’re addressing, you’ll want to choose your content and even your language and style accordingly. In order to ensure a consistent voice throughout your manuscript, it’s important for a nonfiction writer to start by asking themselves: Who am I speaking to?
The question is potentially just as valuable for fiction writers, though. Every book has an audience, regardless of genre. To figure out who your book’s audience is, just ask yourself the following questions:
- Whose opinion matters most to me?
- Who do I imagine reading my book when it’s done?
- To whom will I dedicate my book when it’s published?
- Whose voice do I imagine giving me feedback when I’m re-reading myself?
- Likewise, what criteria do I use to revise my manuscript? Who do I know best embodies these elements of taste and style? (It could be you)
Every story is written with someone in mind. But since such typical marketing questions as “who’s your readership” are often ignored and even scoffed at by fiction writers, they lose the opportunity to become aware of this person, or idea of a person, that guides the writing of their manuscript. So long as the intended audience is unconsciously informing their writing, they remain at its mercy.
You may be telling yourself that this doesn’t apply to you, because you’re not writing for anyone else, but only for yourself. This is a valid and noble intention, but it doesn’t exempt you from the question. After all, you too have a target reader: you. And you, like any reader, have particular tastes, interests and expectations which inform the way you write their story.
Aim for consistency
Knowing your readership, even if that readership is you, is valuable insofar as it ensures consistency. Many authors, fiction and nonfiction alike, who do not do the exercise of determining their target reader often find themselves with a manuscript that shifts as it progresses. Perhaps initially you were just writing for yourself, but as your story progressed a desire to reach a wider audience emerged and influenced the way you were writing. The best way to avoid this is to be clear about who you’re writing to from the outset.
Knowing your readership also pays off when comes the time to publish and sell your book. Nonfiction works typically target a specific community seeking knowledge on a subject. Fiction, for its part, may seem more elusive in this regard. Don’t we write stories in the hopes that everyone will read them? Actually, we don’t. We always write, consciously or unconsciously, with a specific set of people in mind: the people we know, those close to us whose opinion matters most. Never has a book been dedicated “to the general public”. Books are dedicated to those closest to us, because they’re the ones who inspire us to write. And these people, the people we know, are those to whom we will give or sell our book once it’s published. They constitute our platform.
Build a robust marketing platform
Some platforms are larger than others. Celebrities hold the largest platforms, and because of their large platforms they’re able to write pretty much anything knowing that it will sell. But for the average indie author, with a platform composed of a hundred or so people they know, it’s important to target your language. Because this platform for whom you write has a set of values, interests, tastes and expectations which they hold more or less in common. And so as an author seeks to expand their platform to reach a wider audience, knowledge of these readers and the qualities that they have in common should be at the heart of any promotional effort:
- What TV shows do they watch?
- Who are their cultural heroes?
- Where do they get their news?
- What venues do they go to?
- What social media platforms do they favour?
Book promotion isn’t about casting as wide a net as possible. It’s about knowing exactly where to cast a line.
And here we come to the most important reason why an author needs to know who they’re writing for. When a manuscript is finished and an author begins to think about publishing, they’ll suddenly find themselves confronted with the question: -who is this book for? Who do I sell it to? And naturally, the answer for most authors is “as many people as possible”. But here arises a problem. Because their manuscript wasn’t written for as many people as possible. It was written for a select few, the people they know, those they hold dear, themselves.
Don’t confuse your readership with the general public
Imagine you spent months building a fishing rod, only to take it out to sea and try trawling with it. The image is absurd, but it describes exactly what happens when an author takes a manuscript that was written with specific people in mind and tries to pitch it to a generic audience of strangers. The biggest danger facing an author who has finished their manuscript and is considering publishing it, is to conflate the general public with their target readership. Authors who confuse their readership with the general public typically experience tremendous frustration when they start to promote their book. But that’s because they’re trawling with a fishing rod.
Ask any experienced self-published author, and they’ll tell you that the key to marketing your book is to start with the people for whom your book was written. The people you know, the people closest to you. Building a following for your book is a bit like raising a mountain with a teaspoon. It takes time and determination. But once it’s done, you’ll have a solid base upon which to stand, a base no passing wind can topple.