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Why Everyone Isn’t Going to Read Your Book

Who will read your book?

When I start working with a new client, either on the marketing or the editing side, I always ask some version of this question.

All too often, the answer I get is some variation of “Everyone will like my book! It will appeal to women and men, from their teens all the way to senior citizens! People who don’t even read books will want to read this one!”

Sorry, wrong answer.

Nothing appeals to Everyone. Even Harry Potter and the Bible have their serious fans and their detractors.

In my experience, if an author hasn’t thought deeply about their readers, and they don’t have a basic understanding of who those readers are and what they like, it’s a sign that they haven’t yet really thought deeply about what happens when their book comes out, either. They haven’t shifted gears from “writer” to “ready-to-publish author.”

Part of your Author job is to promote yourself and your book, and you can’t market to Everyone. You probably don’t have the budget to rent billboards all over the country or mail an ad with your book cover to every single person, or the time to knock on every single door. (Even if you did, that would be kind of creepy.)

Target audience: men on trains

Target audience: men on trains

And while standing on top of a roof and yelling, “Hey, I wrote a book!” might look like you’re doing something to get your book to Everyone, in reality it doesn’t reach anyone.

Think that’s a ridiculous example? Authors do the equivalent every day. Does it really make sense to pay for a website, but then sit back and hope that the right people just happen to find it? Or to pay a publicist thousands of dollars to send generic press releases to media outlets that never cover your type of book? Even the “free” marketing outlets come with a cost. Are you going to take the time to engage on Twitter, or to create clever memes for your Facebook page, without thinking about whether the people who read your books are really there? Only 23% of Americans are active on Twitter (albeit an influential and vocal 23%). And Facebook is establishing itself as a hangout for more moms and fewer teens (a trend that’s been in the making for a few years). If you don’t know who you’re talking to, you won’t know the best places to find them.

Defining your core audience doesn’t limit your publishing and marketing opportunities—it informs them. It helps you prioritize where to spend your time and resources and influences everything from your cover design to where your book is shelved in bookstores.

So think about the first 100 strangers (not your dad, not your neighbor, etc.) who will buy your book. What stands out about them? What sets them apart? Where do they shop? Every project is different, but you may start to think about your audience by:

  • Preferred book genres (e.g. readers who enjoy legal thrillers)
  • Preferred authors (e.g. readers who liked Wild)
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Social or religious views
  • Geography (do they mostly live in a certain region?)
  • Other non-reading hobbies (e.g., fans of a certain TV show, horseback riders, gardeners, gamers)
  • Shopping habits (are they Amazon Prime fans or are they dedicated indie shoppers, or do they rarely set out to buy a book?)
  • Online habits (preferred social media channels, computer fluency, etc.)
  • Education
  • Family status (e.g., single women, parents of young children, divorced men)
  • Felt need (are they looking for the answer to a specific question?)

These are examples of ways to look at an audience, but not every category will apply to every author’s audience. If you write science fiction, for example, your readers probably won’t have a noticeable regional category, but you can definitely identify some non-reading habits. On the other hand, if you are writing a memoir about growing up in the Alaskan wilderness, you’ll find a concentration of interested readers in Alaskan bookstores.

If you’re having trouble focusing on the reader by demographic, try this: Picture your book on a bookstore shelf. What section is it in? Who’s naturally browsing there? Those are the people who are looking for the kind of book you write. That’s your audience.

And if you’re lucky, maybe once you’re attracted them, they’ll tell Everyone to give you a chance, too.

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