Book Marketing, Author Publicity, Branding

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Identifying the Target Audience for Your Book

You have written a book, and now you’re set to launch your marketing plan and schedule a book tour, right?  Well, not so fast.  Have you considered who your target audience is for your book? 

One of the biggest mistakes that authors make is assuming that “everybody” will want to read their book.  No book is for everybody.  If you take one thing away from this particular article, keep that one at the front of your mind:  No book is for everybody. 

Books come in many different genres, and readers have their favorites.  I like to read non-fiction history books, while my wife likes to read romance novels.  If an author of a romance novel was trying to reach me as a member of their target audience, they would fail because I’ll likely never buy a romance novel (unless it’s a gift for my wife, but she only reads romances written by her favorite authors). 

Before I got into the publishing industry, I worked as a radio announcer.  The most successful radio stations I worked at were those that realized that not everyone who listens to the radio listens to their particular station.  People have their favorite types of music.  Someone who likes rock music isn’t going to listen to a country station.  Someone who favors rock of the 50’s and 60’s isn’t going to want to listen to a rock station that plays only 80’s hair metal.  With that in mind, the radio station targeted people of a certain age group. 

We even went so far as to find pictures of people from magazines who represented our “average listener” and taped them on the wall in the radio studio to help us keep in mind who the target audience was for our station.  At one station where I worked, we taped a photo of a soccer mom in her 30’s with a husband and two kids on the studio wall, because our research had shown that was the target audience for the type of music we were playing, and our advertising was aimed at that audience.  We didn’t try to please everybody with our radio station; just our target audience.

That is exactly the type of approach authors need to take before formulating their marketing plan for their book.  You can’t please everybody with your book; just your target audience. 

Yet, many authors decide that their book can’t or won’t be a success unless they are doing a book signing in a big box bookstore whose target audience is…everybody.  The problem is if you have written a historical fiction novel and only one out of 100 people who walk through the front door of the bookstore are interested in historical fiction, you aren’t going to move many books if you are only relying on the store's regular foot traffic. 

How do you determine the target audience for your book?  Let’s illustrate it this way.  We’ll assume you have written a novel about a family torn apart during the Civil War, and two brothers find themselves on opposite sides; one fights for the Union, while the other fights for the Confederacy. 

Initially, you may want to target everybody who buys books.  For our purposes, we’ll use this photo to represent the audience you may be tempted to target from the outset:

But, this may better reflect the number of people who are actually interested in historical fiction:

Going even further, this may be a more accurate portrayal of the number of people from this group who are interested in historical fiction that focuses on the Civil War:

If your marketing efforts are focused entirely on reaching everyone in the first photo, your message is going to fall on deaf ears.   Most of those people are not interested in a historical novel set during the Civil War.   You will be spending a lot of time, effort and energy trying to reach a massive group of people who aren’t receptive to what you are trying to sell them. 

You may interest a few people in the second photo, but again you will be wasting a lot of time trying to target people that are never going to buy a book like yours for as long as they have a nose in the middle of their face. 

If you identify your target audience, those folks in the third photo, and you are only spending your time doing the things that will reach them and let them know about your book from the very beginning, you are actually going to be a lot more successful.  These are the people that are going to attend your book signing events and speaking engagements, and more importantly…buy your book.  Not only that, but they are going to let their like-minded friends know about your book, too (if they really like it and want to recommend it).  In turn, those friends will then let their acquaintances know about the book, and so on and so forth until larger groups of people know about and are buying your book, but they are the RIGHT groups of people…those most interested in a book like yours.  They are your target audience, and your sales and exposure will grow with word of mouth among those in that target group. 

You may be thinking “If I target that huge mob of people in the first photo from the start, surely at least a few of them will be interested in my book.”   That may be true, but what if the people in the third photo are not among those in the first photo?  Any author who has participated in a sparsely-attended book signing event and sold 1 or 2 books can tell you that they would have much rather had everyone in the third photo (their target audience) walk into the event and buy their book than all of the people in the first or second photo walk through the doors of the bookstore and walk past their table without giving their book a second glance.   

Going after “everyone” in the book buying public is a lot like playing the lottery and buying hundreds or thousands of tickets, hoping just one or two of them might be a winner.  By focusing your efforts on the groups of people who would be most interested in the type of book you have written, you will basically be taking that lottery ticket money and putting it in a savings account instead.  While the potential reward of the lottery is much larger, success is elusive and rare.  Putting a few bucks in the bank may not guarantee a huge reward right away, but it will pay off consistently over time. 

Try this exercise for determining the target audience for your book.  First, draw an inverted pyramid on a piece of paper:

The top line represents the largest group of people who might possible be remotely interested in your book.  The second line is the genre for your book.  The third line is the particular subject of your book.  The fourth line represents the groups of people that might be interested in that particular subject, and the last and smallest line of the pyramid represents the exact type of person that might be interested in your particular book. 

Now let’s put the pyramid into practice, using a Christian book as an example:

1st line:  Christians
2nd line:  Bible study book
3rd line:  What the Bible says about grieving
4th line:  People who have experienced loss
5th line:  Someone who has recently experienced the loss of a loved one or is trying to come to terms with their grief. 

Using this inverted pyramid example, we can see that if we only targeted Christians, we’d be shooting for a very broad group of people.  This particular book is focused on the teachings of the Bible as it relates to grieving, and the target audience is people who are trying to cope with their grief.  If you start out your promotional efforts targeting only Christians, and not necessarily those interested in a Bible study book, particularly a person interested in reading books about coping with grief, you’ll miss your target and you’ll expend a lot of energy reaching out to the wrong readers. 

Let’s say the author of this book was only doing book signings at Christian bookstores, just hoping to catch a customer walking through the door looking for a book just like their grieving book.  They may sell a couple of books.  However, if that same author sent notices to local Bible study groups or grieving support groups to let them know about their book signing, more of those people walking through the door of the Christian bookstore may be looking for exactly that type of book.  Remember, you’re trying to reach the pointy end of the pyramid, not the wide end of the pyramid, at least at the beginning. 

The books that become hugely successful are those that start at the small end of the pyramid and work their way up.  That comes as word about the book spreads amongst the small target audience and up through the larger groups of people at the wider ends of the pyramid.

It may seem counter-intuitive to only reach out to smaller groups of people at first, but these are the people that are going to be most passionate about a book like yours.  They are going to be the evangelists for your book, and they are the people who are going to be spreading the word-of mouth that your book needs to be a success.


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