OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
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.
How have you worked out who your target market is? Who are your comparison authors? Please do leave a comment below.