02 Oct 2017
This is one question that we’re taught to answer, whether it’s formulating the idea for a book or marketing a book that’s already published: Who is your audience and how do you find readers for your books?
It’s not an easy question to answer. You want answers that work for you, which means you have to have a few books out, and a way to get feedback.
Here are some potential sources:
1. Through your email, website, and social media: Who sends you email about your books? Who reaches out to you on Facebook and Twitter? If you’re keeping track, you’ll slowly build up an image of your reader.
Of course, you can do that if you have an email address readily available in your books and on your website, and that there are social media links out there for readers to find. You do, don’t you?
2. Personal contact in bookstores and direct sales: We do three to four shows a year at Peschel Press. We’ll be at the York Book Expo in York, Pa. for the third year, and the Winter Arts Show on Nov. 4 at Hershey High School for the fourth or fifth year.
We see a lot of people at those events, and it’s gotten to the point where we’ll recognize them, because they’ve come back year after year! That’s always a big thrill.
Moreover, we get direct feedback about our books. Frankly, it was at these events that we realized just how niche our books our (we’re working on broadening our line). But we have found people interested in our books, and we pay close attention to what they say.
3. Newsletter surveys: Just like the marketing surveys you’ve filled out. If you have a big list, this could give you a lot of data points. Just limit the number of questions, and consider giving away a few signed copies of your books or an Amazon gift card or two as an incentive.
Where To Find Your Readers
Let’s go hunting. Close your eyes, clear your mind, take a deep breath, and consider the big world. Think not like a reader, but like a book buyer. People do not necessarily buy books to read. They buy them as souvenirs. They buy them because it looks pretty on their shelf. They buy them as gifts.
Remember: The number of book buyers is larger than the number of book readers.
(For those of you who only have an ebook version, my question to you is: Why? Why deliberately hobble yourself, considering that it costs only a little extra to make up a trade paperback. You already have the art; you’ve already written the book description. Download a Createspace interior template to Word, flow in the text, copy the format for the front and back matter from a best-selling book, and you’re nearly done! Even if all you do is send presentation copies to your friends and family, it’s still a neat bit of validation to see your work on a bookshelf. But if you’re firm in refusing to go into print, you’ll need to adjust your marketing tactics. Still think like a reader, and figure out how to display your books where they hang out online.)
Next, figure out what subjects your book covers. For non-fiction, it’s easy. My “Writers Gone Wild” appeals to fans of the great novelists, pop culture fans, wannabe writers and writing students, and English Lit majors. For fiction, look at where your book is set and what subjects dominate. Science-fiction appeals, of course, to science-fiction fans. A novel about a mystery-solving maid in Victorian England appeals to mystery fans and people with an interest in the era. A romance set in the New York publishing world? People interested in the book industry, New York City, and romances.
Let’s start by looking at the big picture: The total potential audience for your book. The Venn diagram of a book’s readers can be broken down first into those who use the internet and those who do not. That’s simple, right? It could be drawn as two circles touching, like this:
Focus first on the online circle. The basic unit of the internet is the website. So imagine the kinds of websites visited by your potential readers. It can be broken down this way:
1. People who search for information about subjects that intersect with your book. In other words, Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo, which sell ads tailored to searches. Also, if you write about NASA, people searching for information about NASA could find your book. This is also where your blog posts, optimized for search engines, can be useful. If you post a lot of information NASA fans might come across in their searches, they may be diverted into spending time on your site, then buying your book.
2. People who visit websites on subjects that intersect with your book. These are sites that you could connect with, both personally (by being on and representing yourself as an author), by getting someone there to review your books, or by advertising on.
NOTE: Don’t be a jerk. It shouldn’t have to be said, but if you visit, don’t assume you can self-promote. If they’re not interested in reviewing your book, don’t get into a snit over it. Interacting with a website means being aware of their house rules, playing nice, don’t be over-bearing, and apologize if you make a misstep. People may not remember a nice author, but they will remember an inconsiderate one.
3. People who don’t visit websites or search for information on your subjects. You won’t be able to reach these people, so I mention this only because you should understand that there’s a proportion of your audience online that you won’t be able to directly reach. They might hear of your book by word of mouth, or otherwise purely by accident.
Next, the Venn diagram can have two more circles. Both of them will overlap with the online/offline circles. One of them will probably be much larger than the other.
The smaller of the two circles consist of people who participate publicly in subjects that intersect with your book. The larger circle are of people who do not. Let’s look at the first circle.
4. These are people who are members of a group who meet, say, at the library. Or they attend conventions, or festivals, or art shows. If they love cats, they attend cat shows. If they love horses, they attend horse shows, riding competitions, meetings of their organizations.
These people can be reached by direct sales, or arranging a signing with the organizers. If they publish newsletters or magazines, you could pitch them an article, or buy an ad.
5. As for the larger circle, they may not participate publicly, but they still might be reached through organizations. Otherwise, they’re like the online people in #3. You can hope that word of mouth might reach them, or you can reach them indirectly through craft shows or book festivals.
Again, reaching out to people in these circles is no guarantee of sales. The only way you can find out is to set up a campaign, prepare your advertising materials or arrange to appear before them, make your best pitch, and record the results. If it works, great! You have a tool you can use again and again. If it doesn’t, shrug it off and move on. That’s the type of long-term thinking you’ll need to give your business its best chance of success.