When you write a novel, who do you see as your perfect audience?
Most writers balk at this question. You’ll see that when someone (like an agent) asks: “who do you see your book appealing to?” Most writers will hem and haw, and say “I think everyone would enjoy this book, if they gave it a chance!” They don’t want to say “I think that this book would appeal to women in their twenties and thirties who live in cities.” (And honestly, most agents aren’t looking for a full demographic flesh-out, they’re just trying to figure out where the editor should categorize it.)
So why do writers balk?
Because they think that if they target too narrow an audience, there’s no way they are going to make the sales necessary to sustain themselves as an author… especially as a full time writer. They’re thinking “I need lots of sales” so they don’t want to pin themselves down.
The funny thing is, the less focused you are about who your audience is, the more diluted your actual writing becomes.
When we start out, honestly, most of us have a perfect audience of one: ourselves. I think that’s not a bad thing, especially when you start. But as you grow as an author, especially as a published author, you need to have a sense of who your core audience is, what they like, what they don’t like. Why they like it.
Why do you need to know this?
Because these are what I call your Right Readers. These are going to be your raving fans. They’re going to follow you on twitter. They’re going to auto-buy your ass, and if you disappoint them, they’re going to be super pissed.
That’s not to say you’re going to need to write slavishly, always in fear of pissing off your Right Readers. But it is something you need to think about if you’re going to look at this as a business. You want to keep your Right Readers happy. Technically, everyone else can go to hell.
Which Brings Up The Bitches
I love the site Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. They’re the romance website par excellance: they’re intelligent, they’re funny, they pull no punches. They quite often give books D- and F reviews, with hilarious, eviscerating write ups.
These D- and F books don’t fail, strangely enough. Or at least, not always. Why?
Because Smart Bitches ARE NOT THEIR RIGHT READERS. Their right readers don’t care about a bad review. Their right readers don’t care whether or not a suspense plot is perfect, for example — they read it because they love the witty banter between the hero and heroine, or the lyrical description of the prairie, or whatever it is that rings their chimes. And those authors know that.
When agents and editors recommend that you stick to one genre, it’s with your Right Reader in mind. Building an audience is tough. When you genre-jump, only the truly faithful, the ones who adore your voice and the through-line of your career, are going to stick. I can speak with some experience on this one. (And to you loyal guys… mwah. You are the reason I still have some semblance of sanity.)
So, how do you figure out your Right Reader?
By figuring out your Hedgehog. When you know what you do best, what you love, and what the market wants, you’re going to find out what readers want from you. More importantly, you’re going to know who they are and how to target your marketing to them. That’s key: know your market so you can give them what they want. Which means they’ll keep buying you. Which means you’ll have a career.
Find your Right Reader. Figure out who else she reads, where she hangs out, how she decides what to buy. Then you’ll know how to find her — and how to help her find you. And once you’re together? Magic.
A CHARACTER SKETCH FOR YOUR RIGHT READER:
What gender is your right reader? It will usually, predominantly, be one or the other.
About what age? Think about your own age – that will usually influence your references. Also, think about the age of your protagonist. If you’re writing YA, think a bit younger than your protagonist.
What genres does your reader enjoy? Who are some of her favorite authors?
What does your reader do for fun? What does she enjoy?
What is her life like? Is she using reading to relax? Does she have a stressful job? A family? Is she looking for a quick, breezy read, or something that transports her and is totally engrossing?
Is she social?
How does she spend time online? Does she read blogs? Does she post on Facebook? Is she tech savvy?
What magazines does she read?
What TV does she watch? What movies?
What music does she enjoy?
What are her hobbies? Does she enjoy crafts? Cooking? Going out to restaurants? Watching movies in a theater, or at home? Playing an instrument? Hanging out with friends? Exercising?
Your right reader is not your only reader.
You will have lots of readers that don’t fit this profile. However, the reader that fits this profile is the one most likely to connect with your books. She is also the most likely to:
- Post reviews.
- Send you fan mail.
- Tell friends about your books and encourage them to try your books.
- Get on your newsletter list to make sure she knows when your new releases come out.
Your right reader is going to be your life blood. You want to nurture your relationship with your right reader by keeping her in mind at all times as you go through your “branding” process.