How To Profile Your Target Audience, Part 1

How to Profile Your Target Audience.Jim Butcher is the kick-ass, brilliant author of the Urban Fantasy mystery series The Dresden Files.  He’s got a number of unique qualities in his writing (as well as a plotting acumen that I frankly bow at the altar of) but I’d say his Hedgehog (or unique “thing”) is his world-building, and his “Buffy Noir” voice, as well as the twist of  a supernatural flatfoot roaming the streets of Chicago like it was its own character.

So who might like this?

Offhand?

I’d guess his Right Reader is male, probably between late twenties and early fifties, who likes Star Wars, D&D, Magic: the Gathering.

His Right Reader watches comic book movies like Thor and Green Lantern; he also likes The Adjustment Bureau and Inception.  Watches SyFy channel, probably stuff like CSI or Criminal Minds.  Probably reads a lot of blogs and is very tech-savvy.  Quite possibly plays World of Warcraft and owns several gaming platforms.

Now notice:  I largely don’t fit this profile, and I am a huge Jim Butcher fan.  I am a walking infomercial for the Dresden File series.

So why do I draw the profile this way?

Because these are people who are most likely to connect to it just from hearing about it.  They’ll read the back cover blurb, they’ll see the storyline, they’ll read the first page or two.  They’ll be in that section of the bookstore.  Or they’ll be lurking on the sites that might discuss it.

Also: they are the most likely to be very vocal about their enjoyment.  Furthermore, their network is most likely to be receptive to hearing about it.

I spread the word, too, but my network isn’t primarily paranormal/urban fiction, so the odds of it spreading are half of what his Right Reader would be.

How did I do that?

1. Start with gender.

Romance skews heavily female.  Sci-fi/fantasy written by men still skews male, even if fiction readers in general favor women.  With stuff like legal drama or police procedurals, it’ll depend on some other factors, like what gender your protagonist is.

Odds are good you’re writing for your own gender, and odds are equally good your publisher thinks the same way.  If you’re a woman and they’re asking you to change to initials, odds are good they’re trying to attract male readers, btw… they know women will find you anyway, and men might be more put off by “Jane Writer” than “J.B. Writer.”

2.  Look at age range.

Jim Butcher’s main character is in his thirties… young thirties, at that.  I’d use that as an initial, and then expand the range to about a twenty-five year spread.

I don’t worry too much about age, but it helps to round out your profile.  (I find I picture my Right Reader at about my age, or the age of my character.)

3.  Look at what makes the story special.

Harry Dresden, the protagonist, is a flatfoot Wizard who solves crimes and saves the world with a tongue in cheek elan.  That said, he also uses lots of Star Wars references, plays Dungeons & Dragons-styled games with his friends, and basically lives like a poor college student.  He’s funny as hell. All these details flavor his character and separate it from other Urban Fiction Noir out there.

4.  Look at who would most appreciate what makes the story special.

Star Wars fans, obviously.  People who go to the ComicCon.  D&D enthusiasts.  The short-lived show based on the series was on SyFy, so that was a slam-dunk.

I guessed on the TV shows, but there is a strong mystery element, as well as humor, in the series… and you get involved with the characters’ personal lives, as well.  That’s where Criminal Minds and CSI tie in: the Dresden series isn’t a light, cozy mystery, or a romance where the mystery element is almost secondary.

(For those cozy sort of stories, I imagine you’d see more fans of Castle or Bones.  This isn’t knocking them — it’s just that the forensic “look, a dismembered arm” factor is downplayed in those, and the humor and romance is turned up.)

5.  Picture someone you could imagine hanging out with.

This is crucial. If you don’t actually like your Right Reader, or don’t see anything in common with her… you’ve got the Wrong Reader.

This is an art more than a science. There’s no real penalty if you get it wrong, other than missed sales. (Which, admittedly, is painful enough.)

Most writers I know sort of flounder with their promotion, going for every audience possible, like shooting buckshot and seeing what falls.  Of course, sometimes they’re simply shooting in an empty field, and sometimes they don’t have a lot of money for ammo, but they try their damnedest.

(I need new, non-violent metaphors!)

In the next post in this series…

I’ll give you some hints and cheats on fleshing out your Right Reader profile.

If you found this helpful, please re-tweet on Twitter, or “like” on Facebook (you can even use the handy-dandy little boxes, below, where it says “share the knowledge!”)

 

18 Replies to “How To Profile Your Target Audience, Part 1”

  1. Here via a link on the Writer Unboxed FB group. I find your analysis interesting, but I wonder–I don’t fall into that demographic either and found the Dresden Books on my own and loved them. I have recommended them to many of my friends (female) who have all loved them, as well as to my teen boys and hubby.

    I think part of his success is how he isn’t bound by one kind of ‘right reader’.

    1. The Right Reader is not your only reader. Ideally, you’re going to be gaining a bunch of different readers of all sorts. To my knowledge, no reader only has one pure type of demographic, and the bestsellers certainly don’t limit themselves to one homogeneous fan base.

      When you’re creating your website, or writing your blogs, or your newsletter, or pretty much anything that could be considered “marketing,” I suggest using a Right Reader to give you a clear, focused marketing voice. If you ever read a Jim Butcher interview, you can see that his humor and “voice” are quite similar to Harry’s. So are his blog posts. (On a tangent: love his blog posts with writing tips!)

      I have seen too many authors who have a completely different “voice” when it comes to their websites. Some of them are almost corporate, compared to what they write. I’m not saying that erotica authors need to have marketing materials that start with “what are you wearing?” but I do think that they need to keep their audiences in mind. Know the common ground between your most likely, most vocal readership, know where you connect with them, and then keep the tone conversational. People who don’t fit your profile probably will not notice or care.

      If I write about Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog on my author site, and some people hate it but enjoy my books, they’re not going to suddenly stop following me. (I don’t think!) But those in my Right Readership that connect will hopefully feel more of a bond, because we like the same things. And I’m not going to constantly be talking about my books, my books, my books. Yes, selling is important. But connection is even more important.

  2. I’ve been struggling with this issue while writing a memoir about the four-year period between the stroke and death of my husband. We have a jumble of issues and hot points: relationships, healthcare, VA care, nursing homes, and age (he was 33 and I was 30 when it began). I look forward to your second post and trying to figure out who my Right Reader is.

    1. Oh, Stacy. I am so sorry for your loss.

      Off the top, I would say that your audience is women over thirty, because I think people in their twenties especially don’t want to even consider mortality. I’d say women who are married, possibly with kids, possibly with parents who are starting to look like they’ll need care. Not that it’s what you are writing about, but because they’re going to want to read about someone who’s been through what they’re considering. I think that anyone who wants to see a portrait of strength and encouragement will be interested. She probably juggles a lot, and reads for support but doesn’t shy away from deep emotion. I’d say that it’s someone who reads other powerful memoirs, like Alice Sebold’s Lucky or Joyce Carol Oates A Widow’s Story. Probably watches dramas or documentaries. I’d need to see pages to gauge voice more, but that’s just a gut impression. And, of course, I could be wrong, but if I were doing the pitch and marketing for a work like this, that’s what I’d focus on.

      Hugs, and email anytime with any sort of questions.

  3. Looking forward to the next post. So far, in reference to my published novel, the only point I can identify with certainty is #1, possibly #2. I’ll give the other points deeper thought.

  4. This is awesome stuff, Cathy. Thank you. 🙂
    I’m making notes, and I love that you list Castle and Bones under the lighter, cozy mysteries. I don’t watch either of those shows, but it got me thinking about the ones I do prefer. Like The Closer and Rizzoli and Isles, and how they’re closer to my own work than say Law & Order or NCIS. 🙂

    1. I think that a lot of what you like, and watch, and read, influences what you write, and I think a lot of readers would share a lot of similar love. Glad you’re finding it helpful!

  5. When you spell it out like this the ‘Right Reader’ definition seems very specific, yet….kinda ‘loose’ at the same time.
    You’re being Zen again, aren’t you? 🙂
    I’m working on this….and today’s post helps.

  6. Let me first say I think this post is right on the mark. I can see the concepts of the hedgehog, the Right Reader, all of it, perfectly. And I think it’s very useful. I can’t wait for more. I’m in.

    Having said all that, I write historic fantasy, which, as you point out, is a mostly male domain. I’m a guy. I have male and female protagonists, but, as you’ve pointed out, my first book belongs to my male protag. He’s (for most of this book) in his late teens. I’m 50. I have little in common with the fans I’ve met of the newer male fantasy literature stars (Butcher, GRR Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Peter V Brett, etc). None of my guy friends read fantasy. Few have even attempted to read mine. A few have, and failed to connect with it. I have one close guy friend who did connect. He’s gay. Outside of him, every beta reader who has connected with my work is female. This has nothing to do with your concepts or lessons, but it’s a quandry for me.

    I’m still with you, Cathy, and it may just mean I have no choice but to get out my shotgun and birdshot shells; I’m okay with that. Like you said, nothing’s going to be perfect–it’s an art, not a science.

    Keep up the great posts (I don’t mind the violent metaphors, even from a zen-master like you ;-)).

    1. I’d say that letting your guy friends — who do not read fantasy— read it was brave, but you were swimming upstream with it. They were never going to be your R.R., not because they’re guys, but because they don’t read that genre. I have tried getting friends who don’t read romance to read my work. Some are gracious, but I actually had one guy friend read it and say, “that was fun, but you know what would be better? If they both died at the end. Then it’d be, y’know, powerful

      There’s a whole other post I need to write: who to trust your writing with. 😀

      But since I’ve been lucky enough to read YOUR work, I’d say that you definitely prove that this is an art rather than a science. Were I your publicist, I would definitely target a female readership, because your female characters kick ass and take names (and scalps, hello!) I see this in the same vein as Mists of Avalon; it’s more classic fantasy than Sherri Tepper, but there’s definitely a vibe shared. I know you’re a huge Jacqueline Carey fan, and I think there would probably be some readership overlap, but need to read her Kushiel series to be sure.

      I would say you might want to approach some beta readers that are men AND fantasy readers. I think you’ve got more in common with Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series than you’re giving yourself credit for.

      While there are definite differences between writing and conversation geared toward women vs. men, I think that your more important distinction is focusing on fantasy readers, which are a vibrant niche. That said, if you were to describe how you decided to write such amazingly strong women characters, I think that you’d be courting your Right Reader. 😀

      1. I think your last line is the wisest thing I’ve ever heard or thought regarding who my readers might be. Thanks so much for your kind words, your wisdom, and your support.

  7. Cathy – Good point about matching your voice to your web site and blog. What I’ve been struggling with is that there are clearly two sides to me – the serious and the fun. I’ve gone back and forth but the fun side prevails – you can see that on my flip flops blog. And I just made a decision to make that my main voice.

    But some people expect me to be that serious person and I’m not sure if my humor comes across in the blog posts. Because I’m really both – as my new tagline says, “A shaker of humor and a shot of straight.” So I’m trying to balance that.

    I think that the main readers for my first book are strong women and men who love strong women. Not so sure about the second book – haven’t heard from many yet.

    Anyway, taking this all in as I decide which manuscript to work on next, although I have totally 2 different manuscripts on submission so not sure where they will fit with all of this – lol!

    Great job, Cathy!

    1. Thanks, Kathy. 🙂

      I think that you can be both. Maybe by alternating blog posts. But I don’t think you’re writing two completely divergent genres, like, say, erotica and Christian inspirational. (Which I have seen happen. Seriously, I know an author.) If that’s the case, then you absolutely have two different types of readers!

      I have written more “serious” fiction, but the humor always seems to sneak through. On my blog, I deal with this by alternating silly posts like the Embarrassing Purse Story (http://cathyyardley.com/embarrassing-purse-story) and then more “serious” ones, like There is No Try (http://cathyyardley.com/there-no-try.)

  8. I thought this was a lovely, thought-inspiring article. It was fun and easy to read and I found myself trying to work out my own ‘right reader’ right along with you. I’d like to say I love the Dresden Files too, which I found a copy of in the public library one day. It was only one book but I fell in love with the writing and the characters immediately even though I was most definitely not the intended audience at that point.

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