How Authors Can Find Their Ideal Reading Audience

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by Dan Machold | via Flickr

Today’s guest post, from writing coach and author Angela Ackerman (@angelaackerman), discusses techniques for identifying and connecting with your target reading audience.

Today’s writers have never had a more global reach; ebooks and digital distribution have made it easier for authors to find readers in other countries as well as their own.

Of course, the potential of a global readership only matters if an author knows how to access it, and this is where many marketing plans fall short. Given the endless buffet of books to choose from, it can be hard to get a book the attention it needs.

The Benefits of Fishing with a Smaller Net

It can be tempting for an author to rig a marketing freighter with big nets and start trawling for a readership. But your goal is not to seek out any old catch you can. To get the most out of your marketing efforts, you want to attract a specific type of reader suited to your book. This means you need to know who they are and where they hang out.

To Answer the Who, We Need the What

When it comes to understanding which readers are most likely to enjoy your book, you first need to look at what makes your book special, and this means thinking beyond genre, which is simply a guidepost to a readership. You must answer this question:

What makes my novel stand out from all others like it?

Let’s look at an example. The romance genre is by far the biggest. Yet, a reader of a steamy romance featuring a modern-day female pirate captain may not be as interested in a romance between an dog breeder and animal rescue worker who meet on the show dog circuit.

But you know who would read that romance? People who love dogs. Dogs, show dogs, the world of professional dog breeding—these are the unique elements that will attract a specific type of romance reader to this book. Once you understand the what, you know the who.

Authors tend to suffer book blindness when it comes to our own work. It can be difficult to see what sets your novel apart. If that special quality seems elusive, outsource and ask a few readers what really stood out to them as they read. Or, figure it out on your own. Here are a few ideas on what form this unique element might take:

  • A theme or cause that commands attention: PTSD among war veterans, the tipping point of pollution and waste, terrorism on home soil, homelessness, cyber-bullying
  • An area of interest: boating, falconry, ghost-hunting, ranching life, UFO sightings, tango dancing, life during WWII
  • An intriguing character talent or skill: martial arts, empath abilities, archery, songwriting, eidetic memory, mentalism
  • A specific passion or hobby: nonprofit work, sustainable living, medieval live-action role-play, coin collecting
  • A stand-out element or concept: ciphers and code-breaking involved in a murder mystery, a rash of out-of-body death experiences taking place in a small town, a cult that practices cannibalism

Another clue to this special element is your research for the book. What information did you need? What websites are in your bookmarks? Or, what personal knowledge do you have that made research unnecessary? Often the special element is something you have a personal interest in, which is why you chose to include it into your story.

The Next Question Is Where

Once you know the types of people suited to your book based on a standout element, you need to figure out how to find them and which people are influential with this particular audience (businesses, bloggers, other authors, and organizations, to name a few). Ask yourself:

  • What groups or organizations are involved in this special area?
  • What businesses tie into this element?
  • What blogs exist that tackle this interest or idea?
  • Who is talking about this concept or thing online?
  • What movies or TV shows focus on this element?
  • What products cater to people interested in this special thing?

Armed with a list, head over to Google and search for leads. Think of keywords that will likely pull up big sites. Add +blog or +forum or +club or whatever gathering place or group you think might exist. If you need help with figuring out search terms, try Soovle. It will start with your subject of interest and show you the most popular search terms used at Wikipedia, Bing, Yahoo!, YouTube, and more.

Screenshot of the main Soovle search screen, featuring logos from major search engines and other major sites.

Also, find books like yours, written by authors who you can possibly collaborate with in the future for marketing, and investigate how they connect with their audience and where. Chances are their readers are a good fit for your novel. If you need help finding books like yours, try Yasiv, which provides an image web of books Amazon users typically buy together. If your book is quite new and doesn’t have a lot of connections yet, find one like it and use that title as the reference point. Here’s one of mine so you can see how it works:

A screenshot of a diagram with lines connecting a central book to other books.

When looking for an audience, try also thinking beyond books. If “dragons in modern society” is your standout element, brainstorm what other businesses, artists, and organizations cater to this interest group (dragon lovers). Book promotion is great, but cross-promotion with a sister-industry can open up new audiences. In the case of dragons, there’s dragon fantasy art, dragon-themed merchandise (clothing, collectibles, games, etc.), movies, and TV shows—I even found a link to a dragon museum. And running an advanced search on Twitter shows people, hashtags, and groups that are actively talking about dragons.

Suddenly audience research gets a whole lot easier, doesn’t it?

Now Comes the Hard Part: Connection

Once you find potential audiences and influencers, you have to actively do something to reach them. And to be honest, this is the part where 80 percent of authors drop the ball. The reason is simple: connection takes time.

As we all know from the barrage of “buy my book!” promotions online, the direct sell doesn’t work. It’s white noise; we see so much of it in our Twitter and Facebook feeds, we just skip past it. And yet still authors do this spaghetti promotion day in and out because they’re looking for the shortcut solution to sales. All they’re really doing is wasting time—time that could be put into building a community.

Connection is simple: find like-minded people and start conversations. Ask questions. Comment, add value, entertain, discuss your common interest, share relevant links, and just be present and authentic. Choose the social media platforms, reading sites (like Goodreads), blogs, forums, and other communities where your audience hangs out and make it about them, not you. In other words, don’t treat them like your meal ticket. Get to know them. Show you care. Add to the community. Then, when a natural opportunity arises, share that you are an author, and when it sparks an interest, share your book.

With influencers, give first. Share their posts and links, work at raising their profile (and use their online handles on social media so they know). Leave comments and start conversations that show you are interested in helping them grow. Usually reciprocation happens naturally, and when the time is right, you can approach them about possible cross-promotion opportunities.

It really is that simple—and hard. It takes time, and a person has to be genuine. But ask anyone who is successful at this and she will tell you building a community that cares and invests in one another far outweighs costly ads, spaghetti promotion, or other tactics.

The logo of One Stop for Writers, a bookshelf inset into a Greek temple with columns and a triangular roof.The whole reason we write is to connect with people in a meaningful way, right? So, be yourself, enjoy the people you get to know, and trust the rest will follow.

You can visit Angela’s site, Writers Helping Writers, or check out her new project, One Stop for Writers, a library and brainstorming tool for authors.

If you’re interested in exploring this topic further, you might also enjoy this post: Finally, A Social Media Marketing Strategy That Puts You Right in Front of Your Target Market.

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