Why knowing your audience matters before you start writing your book - and how to find it
Writing a book isn’t just about the writing. Not if you’re writing because you want to be read.
If you want people to read your words, you need to know your intended audience before making a start. Otherwise, you’ll be less able to target your writing appropriately, whether fiction or non-fiction.
But in the initial excitement of a book idea landing in your brain and the rapid pulse of creativity it produces, it can actually be all too easy not to do this vital research. You can just get carried away and forget who you’re writing for. The keyboard (or the pen) takes over and you splurge out what’s in your head, delighted simply by the opportunity to share your knowledge, or the story that’s in your imagination. And why wouldn’t you be?
However, as well as the plot, the characters and the timeline, or the arguments and discussion points, it’s imperative to keep your target audience in mind throughout the act of writing.
Who is your ideal reader?
In some ways, getting to know your ideal reader is perhaps easier for children’s books than for adults’. I say this as someone who writes for children, not adults (well, mostly – blog posts and occasional murdery podcast episodes aside). I know that keeping the age group I’m writing for in mind is key so that the book will be plot, theme, vocabulary, sentence and book-length appropriate. I edit a lot of children’s books too so feel comfortable with the genre and its audience requirements.
Defining your ideal adult reader when you’re starting out may not seem quite so straightforward. However, you could begin by just looking at yourself and examining your own reading habits.
If you want to write fiction, for example, it’s quite likely you’ll want to write what you like to read. That well-known piece of writing advice about steeping yourself in the genre you want to write is not only spot on, it also offers a wonderful opportunity to read bucket-loads of the sort of books you love. And who doesn’t want to spend time doing that?
So, here are some questions to ask yourself to help you identify and pin down your target reader:
- What is my favourite genre of book?
- What TV do I like?
- What films do I enjoy?
- What magazines and news sources do I choose to read?
- What types of article interest me?
- What interests me in general? Do I like art galleries? Museums? Football matches? Going to the theatre? Am I passionate about wildlife and the environment?
- Where do I like to go on a day out?
- Where do I choose to live (if you’re able to choose) – in town or somewhere more rural?
- Is there somewhere I’ve travelled to where I would love to live?
- How old am I? Not that you want to be restrictive in terms of the age range of your readership (unless of course you’re writing for children). You’re just trying to identify your reader – the person most likely to want to read the book you want to write.
Once you’ve answered these questions – assuming you do want to write what you want to read – it’s quite likely you’ll have a rough description of your ideal reader: your target audience.
Obviously not all your readers have to be exactly like you, and they won’t be. People with interests similar to yours may be at a completely different stage of life and living with a completely different set of circumstances. But if you’ve not taken the time before to consider your prospective readership properly, then this is as good a place to start as any.
Another way to track down your target audience is to look out for books readers are buying and enjoying that are like yours: the same genre, the same sort of subject matter, a similar style. Then find out who’s talking about these books and who’s giving them good reviews. Research who’s blogging about them – social media is full of book bloggers.
When you discover the people who enjoy books in a similar vein to the one you want to write, those are likely to be the people who will enjoy the book you want to write too.
Finding your target readership and taking aim
Once you know the type of reader you’re aiming your book towards, now is the time to find them. And this is where social media can come into its own.
- Who is on Twitter tweeting about the books in your genre?
- Who’s retweeting author and publisher tweets about them?
- Who’s Instagramming about them? Booklovers on Instagram are so creative about raving over the books they love. Their photographs are delicious, featuring enticing covers and perfectly placed lattes. Even quirky, independent bookshops seem to have become their own artform.
- Which Facebook groups are vibrant with readers sharing and discussing books? Find the groups that will be interested in the book you want to write, and join up. Participate too. Making connections is a sure way to start to build your audience.
It might seem time-consuming when all you really want to do is write, but research like this can be the difference between being able to sell your finished book or not; between being able to generate excitement about your forthcoming publication or not – because either no one knows it’s there or you haven’t marketed to the appropriate audience.
Once you know where to find your ideal reader, you can put yourself in the right spaces to get to know the right people. Then, when you’ve connected with those people, you can start to let them know how much they’re going to love your book.
Knowing your target audience, connecting with your target audience, letting them know what you have to offer – that’s how you create a buzz. And when you’re self-publishing, marketing and selling your own book, that buzz is crucial.
For anyone who’s self-employed, it’s not just about doing the work in the business. It’s also about strategic marketing of the business to potential clients and customers.
Being a self-publishing author is no different. You need to know your market before you write your book to ensure you’re producing content they’re going to lap up. Then you need to target appropriately. There’s no point taking aim at an audience of historical-romance lovers, for instance, with a book about a twenty-fifth-century, blood-thirsty serial killer. Chances are, they won’t be that interested. That’s not to say people only stick to one genre in their reading, but many do have a clear favourite.
Writing the right book for the right audience and spending time in the right places to find those readers – that’s a self-publishing strategy anyone can implement and every independent author can benefit from.