Do You Know Who Your Audience Is? No, Really: Do You?

I heard this from a writer in a class I am teaching: “I have been struggling with the “who is my audience piece.”

They hadn’t realized that before they figure out WHAT they want to say, they need to understand who their ideal audience really is.

I would like to say that this is the MOST common feedback I hear from writers, but often, it isn’t. I would like to think that writers are obsessing about who their audience is.  But instead, the most common request I here is always:

          “How do I grow my audience?”

But how can you grow your audience when you don’t know who they are?

When I ask them the next logical question: “tell me about the people who make up your ideal audience,” I often get some long pauses, some hemming and hawing, and half-hearted attempts at answers:

  • “Women over 40.”
  • “Anyone who loves a good story.”
  • “My story is universal.”

Now, I LOVE LOVE LOVE working with writers. So I will try to put this as delicately as possible:

          No, your story is not universal.

Thinking it is doesn’t only devalue the complexity and range of human experience on this planet, but doesn’t serve you well to understand how to find more readers for your work. Maybe your book will be a breakout success, demolishing previously conceived lines of topic, genre and audience.

But…

Before you take a bet on that lottery ticket – that your book needs to find the success of Harry Potter, or no success at all – focus on establishing a small and engaged audience of people who truly love your work.

Today I want to talk about why it is important to understand who your audience is, and how critical this information can be if you actually want to GROW your audience.

Many writers don’t share their work before publication, and if they do, it is often only with other writers. They just don’t feel they have the time to consider their audience, they are barely keeping up with writing, the publishing process, and the rest of their life. So they lump anything having to do with their audience under the term “marketing,” and justify that you don’t do marketing until just before the book comes out. This allows them to keep a safe distance from their audience – and from determining who these people may actually be.

In reality, they are just hoping – perhaps even praying – that once their book comes out, their intended readers will do the hard work for them. That the audience will self-select, raise their hands, and go out of their way to find this book. The author envisions publication as a process of LEARNING who their audience is as a passive act. But finding readers is important if you actually want to get read.

Why do many writers think their book appeals to a wide audience? Because they simply haven’t done the work to realize who it WOULD appeal to, and who it WOULDN’T appeal to.

When posed with this scenario – the author who insists their book has a vague and broad audience – I sometimes ask writers who haven’t defined their audience this question:

   “Let’s just say I will give you $50,000 if, in the next hour, you can find 5 people who would love your book.”

(Sometimes I change it to something like “find 5 people who would spend $3 to buy your book.” Or I change the amount of money in the bet, depending on how hypothetically generous I am feeling.)

Now, with $50,000 on the line for a mere hour’s worth of work, your mind begins racing. You get super specific. You think of the core themes or topics in your book; you think of competitive books who have an already established audience. Then you consider the exact physical places you can go to reach these readers; the ways these people are already organized – already self-selected and filtered based on previous behavior and interests; you think about who has access to these people; you consider where these people are online and off; you focus on actual names of people you can call at this very moment.

Fifty-thousand dollars in one hour does that to you.

Suddenly, identifying who your audience is and where you can find them seems relevant and even a priority. There is an urgency to it. Suddenly, it matters.

If You Can’t Build A Small Audience, How Can You Build A Large Audience?

Even if you truly do feel your book has a very broad potential audience, focus on building a core audience first. Yes, your sci-fi western romance thriller may take off like Harry Potter. But how can you ensure a small but engaged audience for that book first?

This process takes these vague and scary terms such as “audience” or “marketing” or dare I say “tribe” and gives them names and faces. And personalities, and quirks, and most importantly: CONTEXT.

This process teaches you not just about your audience, but about your writing and its perception and effect.

          Art, music, and writing have two lives: INTENTION and EFFECT.

You plan for the intention based on the story you want to tell or the way you write about a topic. That is what comes from the soul of the writer, musician or artist.

But then you release it to the world, and the writing can take on a life of its own. My favorite singer, Glen Hansard, once described the lifecycle of his hit song “Falling Slowly,” like this: (and I am paraphrasing because he said it at a live show):

It’s like you are in the backyard with your friends kicking a soccer ball, and then    in one instance, you kick this ball further than you ever have. It goes over the fence, over the neighbor’s yard, beyond the town limits, clear over the horizon out of sight. And part of you is staring in amazement at what has happened, how far that ball has gone. And part of you says to yourself: ‘I just want my f*cking ball back.'”

You can’t control what happens to the work once it is released, and it can do amazing things, profoundly affecting the lives of others in positive ways. But it can also change the nature of the relationship the creator has with their work.

Regardless of When Your Book Comes Out, Start Building Your Audience Now

Start building your audience now. You know how you are fearful of being pressured to use slimy sales and marketing tactics to publicize your book around the launch date? Well, the cure for that is to not set yourself up for it.

The best way to build an audience is to do so by establishing trusting relationships with those ideal readers and those in the community that connects them. Trust takes time. Building that network takes time. Understanding the nuances of how to talk with these people in a non-promotional way takes time. Start now.

Finding Your Audience Is About Listening, Not Talking

When people try to find their audience, too many start with talking, not listening. They figure if I just tell the world about my sci-fi western romance thriller, those who are interested in that burgeoning genre will pique up their ears and take action to learn more.

So they Tweet, post status updates, blog posts, print bookmarks, take out ads, and take on that promotional voice.

When instead, they should be listening.

Recently I spoke at Thrillerfest in New York City, and had the pleasure of meeting Joanna Penn in person for the first time after years of online interactions. Now, Joanna has established a sizable audience for herself with her blog TheCreativePenn.com, and she has sold more than 40,000 copies of her first two novels. A lot of people know who she is, and learn a lot from her.

But she made it clear to me by her words and actions, that she wasn’t attending Thrillerfest as “Joanna Penn of TheCreativePenn.com with nearly 30,000 Twitter followers.” She was there to listen. She was there to talk to the fellow thriller readers and writers to LEARN about them, their work, their interests, their goals. To focus on improving her craft and how to manage a successful career as a writer.

It was pretty much the opposite of how I see most people who are building an online brand attend a conference. Usually, folks often see it as a prime opportunity to spread the word about what they offer, grow their audience, and get more customers. But I didn’t see Joanna giving out bookmarks or trying to get people to sign up for her mailing list. I saw her taking notes and taking notes and taking notes. I loved seeing that. (I also had the pleasure of having drinks and dinner with her – so thank you for that Joanna!)

Research Is Often Missing From Most Writers’ Author Platform Process

Too many people assume. They are 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 or 70 years old, they know a thing or two, and they want to validate the value of their experience. I don’t begrudge them that. But too often, I see it close off their minds.

They insist they “know” who their audience is. They insist they “know” how to grow their audience.

But they problem is this… they don’t actually do it. They don’t actually connect with an audience. And when you ask them details, they come up short. They provide excuses – or examples they have read about from other people’s experiences – reasons they shouldn’t need to do this or that.

And really, I’m fine with that except for the fact that I know they aren’t reaching the goals they hope to achieve in their writing career. They aren’t having the effect they want.

The way I have come to describe it is this: the goal is not to get published, the goal is to get read. To have an impact on readers.

How can you start with the research process to identify your audience? Just a few ideas:

  • Determine your comps – books published in the past few years who are similar to yours.
  • Speak to other authors such as yourself, not as promotion, but as research. Learn from their wisdom. If you have to – interview them, promote them.
  • Create personas for your ideal audience.
  • Understand your ideal audience beyond just what they read.
  • Identify the narratives that readers look for everyday. EG: the underdog story, stories of healing, etc.

And of course: talk to readers. Learn about them.

Be Polarizing – Make Choices

Choosing who is in, and who is out is a good thing. Because it forces you to understand the reasons behind decisions and actions.  Be polarizing, but not necessarily controversial. Who you DON’T align with is oftentimes as important as who you DO align with.

What a lot of marketers do is make alignment representative of deeper ideals. That they don’t “Like” your book, that they align to the ideals your book represents. This way it connects to things ALREADY in your audience’s head – things they already value. You see this all the time in politics, some aspects of some religions, and business marketing.

When I work with writers in my Build Your Author Platform course, this is how we spend the first HALF of the course: understanding your audience, and how your purpose/message/story/topic aligns with them.

Finding your audience is about building trusting relationships ONE PERSON at a time. We seem to know this in the real-world – the in-person world, the offline world – but we forget it online. We just want that little number counter to go up: more followers, more likes, more fans, more friends.

How did you make friends in grade school? In high school? In college? One person at a time. From trusted connection to trusted connection. You were truly a part of a network. Because this is the way humans interact. You don’t just walk into a room of 200 people and yell “you are all my friends now!” and then try to find another room of 200 people to yell at.

How have you found your audience? Did it happen naturally over time, or did you go through a research process? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments below.

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About Dan Blank

Dan Blank is the founder of WeGrowMedia, where he helps writers share their stories and connect with readers. He has helped hundreds of authors via online courses, events, consulting, and workshops, and worked with amazing publishing houses and organizations who support writers such as Random House, Workman Publishing, Abrams Books, Writers House, The Kenyon Review, Writer’s Digest, Library Journal, and many others.

Comments

  1. says

    “The way I have come to describe it is this: the goal is not to get published, the goal is to get read. To have an impact on readers.”

    One of the reasons I’ve actually become appreciative of the length of time the process has taken for me is that I’ve grown an appreciation for this along the way. For a long time, getting published was my be-all, end-all.

    The time has also helped me hone in on audience. I always knew my audience would be a niche one (historical fantasy). But thanks to having more than my fair share of beta readers (a blessing–thanks, readers!), I was able to start gleaning who my ideal reader is. Sorry to say I would’ve never guessed who they are before I started sharing my work with non-writers, but I’m grateful to know it moving forward.

    Love this, too: “Finding your audience is about building trusting relationships ONE PERSON at a time. We seem to know this in the real-world – the in-person world, the offline world – but we forget it online.” I never understood huge social media numbers without connection. Thank you for putting it all in the proper perspective, Dan! Great job!

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    • says

      Thank you Vaughn. I think with numbers, and even with commercial success, many writers (and really anyone of any profession) becomes blinded to what really matters.

      No one sits on their deathbed thinking “I’m so happy I made by my royalty” or “Thank goodness I reached 22,000 followers on Twitter.”

      It’s the relationships that create meaning. And that is the heart of the LIFE of books. The effect of writing and reading.

      Thanks.
      -Dan

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  2. says

    I cannot begin to say how much I love this post! It neded to be said, and you did so in a compelling and well-reasoned way–thank you!

    At the end you touched on platform, and I completely agree that knowing one’s audience is critical to success with Social Media, especially if one blogs.

    Off to tweet!

    Angela Ackerman

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    • says

      Thank you Angela! Yes, this is all the FOUNDATIONAL stuff that informs so much else about how we interact, how we develop our careers, and how we get to the nitty gritty stuff around marketing or social media.

      The basics matter.
      Thanks!
      -Dan

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  3. says

    I love the practical points in your bullets, Dan. If only I had time for another class.

    “You don’t just walk into a room of 200 people and yell “you are all my friends now!” and then try to find another room of 200 people to yell at.”

    Sometimes I wonder how much trouble we’d save ourselves if we didn’t know there were 200 people to begin with. Social media’s very design invites us to focus on the wrong thing. I think we all come to realize that it’s like working to obtain a specific weight; it matters greatly whether we’ve starved ourselves, got there involuntarily through chemotherapy, or done it via healthful means. Numbers have some relevance, but without context, they’re kind of pointless and invite behaviors which we might otherwise eschew.

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    • says

      Jan,
      Wow – great point and interesting examples. Yes, we are encouraged to focus on the goals not the process, when again and again and again it is proven that the journey is the destination. But then, that makes for a crappy headline! “Get more followers in 20 minutes!” Now THERE is a click-worthy headline!

      :)
      Thanks.
      -Dan

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  4. says

    This is wonderful! :) And I agree with it completely. I especially love the point that finding your audience is about listening, rather than talking. I’ve posted about the Right Reader concept (Justine Musk used the term before me, but it’s something I definitely believe in) and I also think that if you try to please everyone, you please no one.

    I’m definitely going to share this post. Thank you!

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  5. Sevigne says

    Vaughn, I love your goal: to be read. (By the way. That was Rowling’s goal as well. Yes, to be published. But only because being published would provide an opportunity for her book to be read.)

    Dan, I really like what you say about listening and building trust. I believe that trust begins with oneself and one’s work. When writers really believe in their work, I’ve noticed they don’t feel the need, as you example, to enter a room of 200 people and yell “you’re all my friends” and then move on to the next 200 people. They find readers who resonate with their work because the work itself has an energy field. A field of interest that naturally begins to attract like-minded people into its orbit. Inner confidence, at least when it comes to the work and one’s ability to write it, is the foundation for everything you propose that must necessarily follow in order to get the work into the world.

    One last thing. Rowling didn’t set out to write a successful novel. She has said on many occasions that what happened with her work so overshot the mark, neither she nor anyone else has any idea why or how it happened. In large part it happened of course through word of mouth (Donald Maass says this is the very best marketing one can have). But why that word of mouth happened…that’s the mystery.

    Perhaps it’s because, after the seventies, and until Rowling came along, there was no big fantasy series that didn’t either derive from Tolkien or go against his world. Rowling created a world that could expand indefinitely and at the same time had no resemblance whatsoever to the worlds in Tolkien’s books.

    Perhaps it’s because Rowling’s world gave readers permission to suspend disbelief to a degree that had not happened since Tolkien and Middle Earth. Or perhaps it’s because she used the ingredient of non-ironic humor in her work that most fantasies don’t employ to the degree she did.

    What I’m saying is that alongside the proposals you outline here briefly to attract and build an audience, there is an X factor that no one can predict beforehand. No matter how much audience building one puts into place before producing the work. Therefore, first and foremost, love what you write. So that no matter what happens afterwards you can stand behind your work, come rain or sun.

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    • says

      GREAT points here. YES, there is an X-factor. I suppose what I am interested in is how do you plan for everything EXCEPT the X-factor. That, I’m not talking about becoming the next Harry Potter, but for “merely” having one’s book be read by like-minded folks (as you say) and have an impact. Not change the entire universe impact, just a few people’s lives impact.

      Confidence. Now THERE is a topic we can talk about. And how hard hard hard hard it is for people to find it. Now, I know, in daylight hours, with our professional clothes on and our caffeinated brains, we are all confident in who we are and our creative work.

      But…

      Confidence is hard, and I don’t think we talk often enough about that. I did a post awhile back on depression – another topics that is not discussed as often as it should be:

      http://wegrowmedia.com/loneliness-depression-and-developing-your-writing-career/

      Anyhow – THANK YOU for these great thoughts!
      -Dan

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      • Sevigne says

        Yes, these days, writers have to take on a lot more than only the act of writing.

        I would say, or rather ask, do you think there’s a moment that it’s too soon to think about building an audience. For example, I feel, if I begin to think about doing this while I’m still in the middle of figuring out my story–in other words, the narrative hasn’t even begun let alone been completed–my subconscious is going to take a very long holiday!

        A big part of genuine self-confidence I’ve discovered is knowing oneself and no longer being afraid of self-doubt. And knowing, for example, when the timing is right to focus on the business of writing rather than the art of it.

        My mother was exceptional in that she was both incredibly talented in her field of work and she was a great business woman. She switched easily from one to the other, but she never mixed them together. Interestingly, her talent always informed her business acumen; not the other way around.

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  6. says

    Who you DON’T align with is oftentimes as important as who you DO align with.

    So true.

    Knowing my audience as a novelist has long been one of my weaknesses. Thanks for the sensible tips and insights, Dan!

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  7. says

    This is a phenomenal post. You’ve managed to explain clearly something that is usually only talked about in vague terms.

    One thing that still trips me up is after you’ve identified what you think is your ideal audience, how to do you connect with them? Say I think geeks suffering from social isolation is my core audience. I could go to conventions and make friends, but aside from conventions I am coming up blank. Also, my next book might not have geek conventions I can attend.

    In addition to that, what about the next book? Say I decide my ideal audience is people looking to get over the loss of a loved one, because of the theme of death in my novel. But the next book I write focuses on something different. Hopefully I keep my first readers, but what about the new themes?

    I feel like I am missing a really obvious point, but my brain is fried from lack of sleep. My 5 month old thinks getting up at 3 in the morning is fun.

    I am sure there’s no easy answers to my questions, but I was wondering if you had some pointers.

    Thanks again for the amazing post. I am checking out your website now.

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    • says

      Elizabeth,
      These are great questions, but with loooooooooong answers. Stuff I try to cover in various blog posts, and courses I teach.

      When I begin working with an author, I actually start by addressing the question you pose: looking at the LONG TERM goals of the writer. So we understand not just the book in front of them, and their immediate goals, but the ENTIRE scope of their goals as a writer and where there work may lead them. So the platform is developed at the foundational level with this in mind.

      So to answer your question, I would really want to learn so much more about your goals, and then craft a strategy around that. Sorry I can’t offer more immediate advice!
      -Dan

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  8. says

    Thank you for this. I needed the “polarizing” and “make choices about who is in and out” message. I realized in my first novel that there were going to be some people who did not like it because it is polarizing, and then I tried to tone it down in my next novel, but it made the writing weaker, not more universal. Thank you for this!

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  9. says

    Interesting. One thing I’ve realized recently is that the audience for my upcoming book (suspense, underdog every woman takes on big corporate bad guys) may be more different from the audience for my first book (coming of age, self discovery story aimed at young women), than I would have first thought.

    I just hope the people who liked my first novel won’t be turned off because I went in a different direction with the second.

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    • says

      Mari,
      This is a similar concern that Melinda had, earlier in the comment thread, and a REALLY smart topic to be considering. I think it is a lot to make too many assumptions about readers just randomly following anything you do. YES, some will. But that is where platform can come in to help, CONNECTING different stories by deeper themes or explaining the vision of the author. It can be a really useful tool.

      Thanks.
      -Dan

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  10. says

    I think a lot of people get confused when it comes to knowing your audience and writing to one.

    You never, ever want to write TO an audience because then your book lacks it’s originality, it’s flavor, it’s life. You have to write what you want to write. You have to pour yourself out on the pages, or else your readers will see right through you and see you as a “wannabe.”

    That said, I do agree with you. You have to know who your intended audience is. You can’t say “everyone will like it,” or “I think it falls into like, five different genres,” because let’s face it: A) You’re wrong. And B) You sound really full of yourself.

    So for example, somebody that likes the Hush, Hush series might like the Fallen series. So the writer of the Fallen series (btw, I am in NO way speaking for Lauren Kate) might say that she intends her audience to be people that liked Hush, Hush.

    That’s all knowing your audience means.

    This was a great post. Thanks for reminding us that we need to keep that in mind. :-)

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    • says

      Vicki,
      Ooooh! This is such a great point:

      The difference between “knowing your audience and writing to one.”

      Love that. Thank you!
      -Dan

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  11. says

    Great post, Dan! I am quite guilty of this very thing. Three complete novels in and a handful of partials and I’ve just really begun to address this question. The interesting thing is, once I started to envision my audience it resolved some of the issues I had about certain aspects of my stories.

    Oh, and thanks for the quote from Glen Hansard. Love “Falling Slowly.” It seems watching “Once” again is in my immediate future.

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    • says

      Roxanne,
      Thanks. This IS a process. It takes time, something you are always learning more about and honing.

      As for Glen Hansard, I am a HUGE fan. Check out his latest solo album if you haven’t yet. Plus he has a new song for some Disney movie soundtrack called “This Gift.” Okay, I will stop being the gushing fan that I am! :)
      -Dan

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    • says

      Roxanne, because of you and Dan, my wife and I watched ONCE again last night. Hadn’t seen it in a few years, and forgot how much I love that movie. Thanks to you both!

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      • says

        ONCE is one of my favorite flicks as well (love Glen!). I hope you have the opportunity to see the musical on Broadway too; it is phenomenal. We saw it just before its gazillion Tony award noms (and wins), so we have the irrational belief that we helped to discover it. Seriously, though, if you love music you owe it to yourself to see it live one day. It will make you feel.

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  12. says

    Dan, thanks for a terrific post. This topic is the one I am trying to grasp and I hear you… Listening is my key learning from today. Connections for the sake of connections is boring, numbers are nothing. One friend at a time, now that is something that appeals to me and feels doable. You’ve given me a realistic goal. Thank you.

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  13. says

    Really great post, Dan! Wish more writers would invest in understanding their audience and serving it, than shouting at random crowds. ;)

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  14. says

    Great insight, Dan

    I’ve been working hard on this, and I still aren’t satisfied with what I have

    The truth is, for now, I’m making assumptions and ideals. I’m creating what I think my reader is

    The job I have in the coming few years is to make those assumptions into concretes YES’s

    Easier said than done, but if I can do this the long term will look rosy :) I hope….

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

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  15. says

    Don,

    This is the best explanation of modern marketing for books (or marketing anything, really) that I’ve seen. I met with my editor recently, and she was asking me what I was doing for Social Media, and when I told her I had a solid target market following on Twitter, she pooh poohed it, and moved on the the NEXT social media tool I should be on.

    That didn’t feel right to me. My target readers for my book is easy, and small, as you said. It’s a niche. That felt right to me; after all, if they read and loved my book, they’ll recommend it to friends, right? Better to be solid and small than watered-down everywhere, I’d think.

    Thanks for validating that I’m not crazy. Signed up for your newsletter a while back, and am enjoying it!

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    • says

      Thank you so much Laura! And it’s VERY interesting to hear about your situation and that experience. You know, so many people are ill at ease with the potential ways “publishing” is evolving. But here you are, building REAL connections with REAL people around writing. THAT will never go out of style!
      -Dan

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  16. says

    Dan, I am finding this process much harder than actually writing the book. I belive the problem is that the kind of writer I want to be and the kind of writer I am actually are two different creatures. I want to write fantasy that will put me in a league with Tolkien and Lewis. I want to go to high school and college reunions and have everyone oooo! and ahhh! over my amazing intellect and talent. Guess what? That ain’t happenin’. My writing is far more pedestrian than those lofty goals. I am also struggling with the fact that romance is important in my stories, but romance is looked down upon in elite literary circles. So I am struggling because the audience I thought I wanted is not the audience to whom I will have the greatest appeal. Any advice?

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    • says

      Beth,
      WOW – so much in here. Okay, let’s dig in. I just finished rewatching one of my favorite movies: ALMOST FAMOUS. It is mostly based on the real-life experience of the director, who when he was in his teens, went on tour with huge rock bands in the 1970s.

      What you find in the movie is that these bands are forgetting about the MUSIC. They start judging success and self-worth based on t-shirt designs, what cover they get, celebrity, and the “band dynamic” that they orchestrated. Everything, but the music and the fans.

      So for you, it is about crafting amazing stories, and ensuring they connect with readers.

      Is validation and celebrity nice? Sure. But that comes over time.

      You can’t worry that aspects of romance aren’t popular in “elite literary circles.” You can’t please “those” people anyway, whoever they are.

      Hope this helps in some tiny way.
      Thanks!
      -Dan

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  17. Elizabeth McKessy says

    Hi Dan,

    “Writing Unboxed” has unique insight on ways to gain publicity effectively for your book, and I’ve been trying to do so as a new author. Target intended audiences: check. But I cannot “listen” to people that I cannot meet.

    I have a unique situation. I am 15 years old, and I just recently published a novel I wrote. I’ve advertised online, but I cannot reach my intended audience (and I have a very specific audience) through only the web.

    Because of my age, I cannot go to conventions or workshops or speak as a guest. I need to get the information out there, and I know that I need to “listen” and “connect” with people one-on-one. But how can I do that if I don’t have people to connect with? How can I spread my work by listening, when I don’t have anyone to listen to? And even if I wanted to try to speak, or scream the information for that matter, I don’t have the means possible.

    I know the business, and I’ve done my research. Many of the things that would help me, however, have a minimum age requirement. I need help on how to market my novel to my intended audience.

    Any advice would be helpful.

    Thanks!
    Elizabeth

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    • says

      Elizabeth,
      First of all – CONGRATULATIONS on doing so much at such a young age! You are already doing what many adults only dream of.

      Second, and respectfully, I don’t buy it. I think you can actually position your “weakness” – your age – as a strength.

      I recently profiled a 17 year old who is using his age as a positive differentiator:
      http://wegrowmedia.com/what-a-17-year-old-can-teach-you-about-building-an-author-platform/

      And we all know Tavi’s story:
      http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/09/20/100920fa_fact_widdicombe

      YouTube is FILLED with teens who are engaging large and powerful audiences.

      And most adults have ZERO budget to go to conferences, and can’t take time off of their work or be away from their family responsibilities. So you are in the same boat as most adults.

      Who is your audience? What is your book? Happy to be of assistance.
      -Dan

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      • Elizabeth McKessy says

        Thanks for the information–I’m glad I’m not alone! My target audience is mainly 12-15-year old girls and boys, and so I’m trying to appeal to that audience.

        My book is called “Surreal,” and is published on Amazon under the name Hannah Webb. I wrote it when I was 13 years old, and the story/language appeals mainly to that age group.

        Thanks for your advice. I’ll be sure to do more research on the topic!

        Thank you,
        Elizabeth

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  18. Jen Zeman says

    Thank for for this article Dan. It’s very timely for me. As I get every closer to having a completed and polished manuscript, and the more time I spend on Twitter trying to stay on top of it all, the more disillusioned I become. Before delving into the social media arena, I felt confident of my audience – teenage girls affected by the loss of their mother. But as time rolls on, it seems like the message is “grab ALL THE READERS!”. Or, at least, that’s my interpretation of all the banter out there. After reading this I realize I need to take a step back, distance myself from the noise, and focus on my original intent – to publish a story that will resonant with my target audience.

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    • says

      Jen,
      Thanks for the note. Hmmm, I certainly never like hearing when someone is disillusioned. But I think what you are saying is positive: you are focusing on what matters most, not on the pressure to seek publicity. And this is a good thing.

      Thanks.
      -Dan

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  19. says

    This was perhaps the most direct article we have read on the topic of target audiences. Thank you for bringing your knowledge to the forefront.

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  20. says

    Thanks Dan for a great article. I am actually working on refining my proposal for a number of agents who have requested it and this article is very timely.

    I sent out the pre-edited version of my manuscript to a number of beta readers, most not of my core audience. Feedback so far has been great. I know who my core audience is, the problem I have is reaching them. They hang out everywhere, as one in four people in the U.S. are themselves affected by adoption or know someone who is. I have a separate list for adoptees on my Twitter and Google+ accounts. Is there a way to post tweets to only those in that particular group? How do I find a few able, and willing beta readers from my core audience? This is where I get stuck and need to figure it out soon.

    Any advice would be welcome. Again thanks for the great information.

    Gloria

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    • says

      Hi Gloria,
      It seems you need to establish that trusting relationship with the folks that you have identified as being your core audience, but may not yet know about you. My gut is that there will be LAYERS of your audience here.

      So, let’s assume your book is a work of fiction (let me know if this is incorrect. Perhaps you have written an adoption guidebook)

      That if the book has a primary theme around adoption, that not 100% of people who are adopted, have adopted, or are close to those who are adopted will really want to read this book.

      And what is interesting is that plenty of people who have no direct relationship to adoption, are FASCINATED by the topic for various reasons.

      The beta reader question is a good one. Clearly – some of the people in your ideal audience are already organized in some manner. Organizations, groups, agencies, support networks, etc. Perhaps you can start there.

      Likewise, you can poll places where readers hang out. Consider your comp books, and then identify people who are fans of that book. Reach out to those folks.

      Thanks.
      -Dan

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  21. says

    I’m learning through trial and error and stumbling upon your page has opened my eyes to another piece of the puzzle and one that I’ve been skipping.

    I don’t presume that my work is universal (though who doesn’t hope it will be), but, I haven’t been honing in on that reader audience. I’ve mainly been focused on creating relationships with other writers, thinking I can help promote them as well. This is great and I enjoy it, but in the process I’ve left out the ‘just a reader’ market. I think that’s partially because deep down I assume that since I’m not published yet, I won’t have much to offer them.

    Reading your post and a few that precede it, I’m starting to realise that being unpublished doesn’t matter as much as I think it does. When I meet people for the first time in real life, I don’t have a book to hand out, yet, I’m able to form new relationships and generate interest just by talking about my work, even without giving the plot away.

    My brand is my personality, it’s what I can give to the audience by just being me. That’s the tip of the iceberg I know, but it’s something that really gives me a lot to think about.

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and insight Dan.

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    • says

      Jackie,
      I LOVE your perspective here! Thanks for sharing this. Yes, be wary of ONLY forming relationships with other writers, although who can fault you on that. Other writers are awesome! :)

      -Dan

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  22. says

    Dan, I put this article aside until my last child left for college (his last year). Somehow with kids home from college it is hard to rub two thoughts together. I’ve been considering my audience and have had friends read my story, getting vastly different results for they come to my story from opposite points of view.

    My memoir is a story of healing from abuse. The story covers incest, rape from my father, my therapy and seeking for healing and love. It covers years of therapy, time in the occult, and then meeting a pastor who helped me to sort out my life and find the strength to forgive and heal.

    Those who are Christian read my story and are encouraged that I found Christ. They are also either intrigued by the details of the incest and the occult groups I belonged to or they feel my story is too graphic. My pastor’s wife wants more details because many have no idea what these groups entail. The ones who feel it is too graphic don’t understand the love I feel for the occult groups that literally saved my life.

    I’ve also shown my story to atheists and non-believers. They are intrigued by the memoir part of my story and feel that anything mentioning Christianity is “eye candy” for Christians. They turn off at the part of Christianity. It made me realize I wasn’t approaching that part of my journey in an effective way.

    Who I really want to reach are those who feel life is hopeless, who have been hurt by their pasts and who feel that healing isn’t possible. I want the people to realize that healing is possible.

    So how would one define the target audience?

    I am going to repost this article because I feel it is really helpful. Thanks for taking the time to spell this out.

    Have a blessed day.

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  23. says

    Heather,
    Thanks for the kind words here. Interesting challenge here, and you have to consider how one focus effects the other. This is a conscious choice, and one that can be polarizing to segments of your audience. Perhaps you embrace this, or perhaps you make careful choices.

    Keep in mind, that you will ALWAYS turn off some segment of your potential audience. So if one person (or a small group of people) provide feedback that “this isn’t for them,” you have a choice. That can further focus on you on who the book IS for, or you can make choices as to how you market the book.

    You are basically saying that ALL audiences have SOME interesting in part of your work. The process you have gone through so far has given you good feedback and perhaps some red flags. So you have to make choices as to what this book is, and what your larger platform represents. I know some people that DO NOT want to be pigeonholed into one genre or market, even though their book touches upon it. So they have to make hard choices.

    Obviously – your story touches upon some very deep, very personal, very intriguing topics and experiences. You can go a lot of directions with it, perhaps more than I can get into in a simple blog comment!
    -Dan

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    • says

      Thanks, that’s kind of what I’m planning. I figure, write it the best I can, and then consider how much to tell. Don’t have to tell it all in one book. I appreciate your comment.

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  24. says

    Wow! What a wealth of information here. Determining your audience is critical and difficult at the same time. I love your insight. I will be referring back to this post for quite some time. Your last paragraph is really a great summary of what it’s all about. Sometimes we worship at the altar of numbers without realizing that what it is all about is the relationship… that is a lasting thing worth putting the time in to create.

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  25. says

    Dan,

    I just now came across this post, and love it, as I do all of your posts, wherever they are.

    I believe I could pass the test on defining my reader — perhaps not with an A+, but I think I could at least pass. But for me, the challenge is (as others have mentioned here) locating where those readers hang out, so I can reach out to them where they are.

    I find myself dwelling in the learning realm, just as you describe Joanna Penn at Thrillerfest. I’m spending my time hanging out in places like Writer Unboxed, We Grow Media, Twitter, and more, in an effort to learn as much as I can from those of you wiser and more experienced than me. But this isn’t where my target readers are! Fellow writers and learners, yes, but my target readers, no.

    Therefore, I mustn’t forget to leave the proverbial palace and university on a regular basis to go out and mingle with my people.

    Thanks for the reminder!

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