Who is interested in reading your book?

Who is my audience? As an aspiring or newly published author you might be asking yourself this, wondering how you can connect with those interested in reading your novel.  Regardless of whether you self-publish or publish traditionally, I believe this is the most important question that an author has in mind when selling a book. I know lots of authors write because they just want to tell the story they had envisioned. However, do you find that after you have written your story, you may be having a problem selling your book?

Assuming you just got the itch and after writing your story were looking to sell your book, how do you identify your audience? From what I know and have heard, writers rely on those closest to them - typically family members, friends and writers groups. That is great support, but is it enough? I’d actually suggest that family and friends are ‘supportive’ and should not be considered as an appropriate audience unless you are writing specifically for them. Writers groups are great at critiquing your books but at the end of the process do you find that a few may buy your book and others are interested in selling you their books?  I’ve had a writer describe this to me succinctly as “a cannibalistic writers-marketing-to-writers situation.” Although you could be selling books worldwide, your audience and understanding of them is limited because you start your book off with a group that does not encompass a spectrum of ages and gender. Have you limited your initial audience such that you are having a problem with discoverability?

Let me say upfront that this blog is not for writers seeking to share their story with only a small circle of friends and family. If your aim is to write for a personal group or your consumption, please don’t change a thing. This blog is for writers seeking to share ideas on how to make their stories stand out and to share their creativity with an erratic world; a world, which is looking for a quick sound bite and is saturated with books, among other forms of entertainment.

Most writers I’ve spoken to have a general idea of who they are writing for.  For those interested in traditional publishing, publishers will want to know who your audience is and their demographics through the book proposal you send to them. In other words, can the book sell and to who? For some self-published authors, I’ve heard that question come up again during the marketing stage. A bit late? Maybe. More importantly, what would prompt any author to seek to understand their audience better during the marketing stage? I’d guess that their books are not selling as expected. If this describes you as a writer, then it sounds like you have not made your work stand out for the public. Your book is buried under an avalanche of other books on Amazon or even in bookstores. At least 3 ‘successful’ authors (success defined as ability to sell books consistently) I’ve met or listened to are good at marketing. This means that they have found ways to make themselves and their book stand out from the crowd.
How? Some have been smart to cultivate beta readers, which mean they are shaping their work based on a good sampling of what their intended audience will be. This is part of the process of understanding your audience, who in turn impact your career as a writer. In fact, is your idea of your audience even accurate? You might think your book appeals to women just to find out from a good beta reader group that men are more drawn to it. 

Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project
Successful writers, and by this I mean those who have sold well, retest their assumptions on their audience. I’m not saying they always take feedback from their beta readers, or else what is the use of an author’s voice? Once, they have understood their potential audience they find a way to build a fan base by sharing an excerpt, or in common cases now, give the books away for free on Amazon. I’m not suggesting you do this. I’m pointing out that these authors realize that most books are sold by “word of mouth” and are creating viral campaigns through the biggest such medium – the internet.

All this assumes that you’ve done your job as a writer and your book is well written, edited, and you’ve got a great cover. It's important you have a great cover because people do judge a book by its cover.

I’ve spoken to enough authors to know that some are worried about plagiarism if they post an excerpt of their work on the internet. For me it’s simple, you are likely not to get discovered if no one in the public knows about your work. Put yourself in your potential reader’s shoes. As a reader, how do you choose a book you want to read either online or in a bookstore? Typically you have a genre you tend to read; you look at the book cover, read through the synopsis at the back, and maybe skim the first two chapters. These are some of the ingredients to getting a book sale. This is the same with posting on the internet. Give your audience enough to hook your readers and end with a sale, but not enough to have your ideas plagiarized and copyrights infringed upon.  

There is also the expectation that once authors get traditional publishing contracts, the publisher will provide a lot of marketing help. It would be wise to let go of the expectation that a traditional publishing contract would come along with a wide promotional package. Authors I’ve spoken to have stated that you may get some help but you will still need to do a lot of promotion on your own unless you are a celebrity that the public wants to know more about. From what I’ve heard, promotional budgets are usually reserved for already established authors.

Your book's success is up to you. There are a number of social media outlets and also bookowl to help you gain discoverability, market your prepublication story and build traffic. “Define your story.” Whether it be literary or career-wise, you have the opportunity to create your own story. In the foreword for the book, “Opportunities in publishing careers,” I came across this sentence: “The public reaction- or lack thereof- to books is often surprising and provides us all with continual challenges.” Does it have to be that way?

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