How to Profile Your Target Audience, Part 2: Hedgehog Hunting

A lot of people seemed to respond to my initial post on how to profile your target audience, so today we’re going to continue in that vein.

Missing: One Hedgehog.

The stumbling block seemed to largely be figuring out what’s special about your story, or what I call your Hedgehog.

I remember working with an author who, when I asked “what’s special about your story? What makes it unique?” then answered:

“It’s a category romance. How unique does it need to be?”

Make no mistake: she loved category romance, and it wasn’t an intentional insult. In fact, if anything, it was a recognition of the sort of mental trap writing genre fiction can do for promotion.

You think “hell, I write Regency Romance/cozy mystery/vampire urban fiction.  I love my stories, but there are a billion of them out there.  I’m just going to put it out there, hope readers realize that they love my voice, and tell their friends.”

It’s more than your voice.

Yes, your voice is going to set you apart. But it can’t be the only thing.

Let’s look at the current everybody’s-writing-one genre: vampire fiction.

You’ve got your Twilight, your True Blood, your J.R. Ward Black Dagger Brotherhood.  Hot and sparkling and the whole damned gamut.  All of them deal with the same thing: vampires.  But you’ll notice each of them have their own signature.

Twilight is young adult, to start.  Then again, so is P.C. Cast’s House of Night series.  Different settings: different mythologies.  Definitely a different feel and different treatment.

Charlaine Harris has written a series of vampire mysteries, basically.  J.R. Ward has written an urban fantasy romance series with plenty o’ steam and a wild mix of aristocracy and ghetto fabulousness.  (If you read her, give me a “true dat!”)

My point is:  there is always something different. It’s never just “voice.”

Start with your genre/sub-genre.

What story are you writing?  If you were only allowed to shelve it in one section of a bookstore, where do you think it would most likely sell?

This will at least give you an idea of what you’re differentiating from, and where your Right Reader most often hangs out.  Granted, your Right Reader probably wanders around a bookstore or browses through online store categories, but there’s one place that’s going to be a comfort read.  You want your book to live there.

Also, you want to be able to use the shorthand of genre to describe what you’ve written, then add your twist.  “I’ve written an Urban Fantasy about demons (the genre/subgenre), where a spunky secretary discovers she’s just signed on to help her boss kill thirteen people to get back his soul (the hook/differentiator.)”

Don’t worry — we’ll talk about hooks, twists and differentiators in a second.

What book or series is it most similar to?

Unless you’re Chuck Palahniuk, do not tell me “it’s different than everything.” (If you are Chuck Palahniuk… well, then. Do whatever the hell you want, obviously. <g>)

If you’re writing genre fiction, you’ve got certain conventions that you have to maintain simply to provide the reader with a satisfactory experience.  When I read a romance, I want a happy ending, damn it.  When I read a mystery, I want a corpse, not a misunderstanding.

I don’t care how brilliant a writer someone is, if she sets me up and then plays me, that book’s hitting the wall, then the donation box.

Once you know who you’re similar to as far as voice and subject matter, you’ve again got a frame of reference.

One of these things is not like the others…

I’d say, read a lot of things in your genre/subgenre.  Especially look at the bestsellers… they’re there for a reason, and odds are good your Right Reader has read them.

What are the conventions and stereotypes of the genre?

Vampires — blood sucking, sexy sophisticates,  sleep-all-day-party-all-night.  Dracula.

Fantasy — sword & sorcery, wizards, powerful person somehow in disguise, band of companions, quest.

Cozy mystery — small towns, amateur sleuth, gossipy communities, kitschy gimmick

Now look at what you’re doing.  You’re going to want similarities — again, don’t want to completely spin out of genre orbit — but you’re looking for what makes you different.

Let’s take my original one:  category romance.  You’re writing not only for a fairly standard genre, but you’re writing for a very narrow niche where there are strict interpretations.  You may not even think you need to come up with an angle — the books sell themselves.

They might — but they don’t sell you.  And the most important reason for finding your Right Reader, and emphasizing your differences?

To get them to notice your writing.  And, you know, want more of it.

So you look at what’s standard, what’s expected.  Let’s say you’re writing for a “hot” series line.  Looking it over, you see lots of Alpha males, high-powered professions perhaps, or conversely heroic ones (firefighter, Navy seal, etc.)  You see sassy women.  Since heat is a key, the scenarios tend towards couples thrown together, or agreeing to brief flings only to discover they’re stuck for whatever reason for an entire novel.

Ideally, you’re going to twist one element. You’re going to take one stereotypical standard, and tweak it so the reader is surprised… and intrigued.

Most important: focus on what you love. Why you wrote the story.

If you’re writing more of a conventional story, don’t despair.  Instead, pour even more love into what you originally wrote the story about.

If you wrote a story because you love the idea of a wounded hero, perhaps a veteran returned from the war who falls in love with his at-home nurse… you go with that.  Yes, it’s a familiar trope.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not powerful, and shouldn’t be emphasized. And that’s definitely what you want your Right Reader to appreciate.  So how better to connect with him or her than to put that out front?

Hopefully, in all these questions, your Hedgehog is going to amble out and say hello.

Trust that there’s something unique in your work.  If you don’t believe it, no one else will.

In the next post in this series…

The final part of the series, next week, will show you some ways to piggyback on greatness when it comes to profiling your target audience.

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!”)


Right Reader, Revisited.

don't be vanillaPreviously, I’ve covered the concept of having a Right Reader.  Recently, on another blog by a lovely indie author who would prefer to remain nameless, she mentioned she was baffled by the idea.  Other commenters on her blog pointed out that they, too were stumped when it came to identifying their target market and right reader.

(I’m serious re: the lovely blogger, btw — she’s a great writer, and a fun blogger, and I’m glad I found her site.  And if she doesn’t mind me linking at some point, I will.)

Because of her post, I realized that I hadn’t communicated the concept clearly enough.  So I thought I’d expand a little.

Your writing comes before your Right Reader.

The Right Reader concept isn’t really about your writing.  It’s about your promotion.

You’re not looking for some ideal Right Reader, and then writing what you think she will want to read.  Absolutely not.

You’re going to look at what you write.  Look at what sets you apart, makes your stories different and special.  If you’re business-inclined, they call this your USP, or Unique Selling Proposition.

Personally, I call it your “Hedgehog” or your Thing, mostly because USP sounds like a tech issue.

Once you recognize what makes your writing special, you can start to visualize what reader is searching for just that.

I am not saying this is easier, mind you.  But this is how it works.  Write first.  Then think about who your reader is, through the lens of your writing.

The Right Reader is not your only audience.

In Japanese slang, there is a word, otaku, that refers to a super-fan: someone who is obsessively interested in a form of entertainment. (In American, it’s similar to geek, which I love but which can have negative connotations.)

Your Right Reader is your otaku.  She puts you on auto-buy.  She reads your blog, and makes comments.  She reviews you positively on Amazon and Goodreads.  When you’ve got a release out, she puts out happy “squeee!!!” posts on her Facebook page.

She doesn’t go so far as to stalk you, but she is thrilled to meet you at conferences, a fact that stuns you.

When you write anything that could be considered “marketing” you’re going to be writing with her in mind.  Why?  Because other people who might enjoy your book are not going to spread the word.  They’re not otaku.

You’re not reducing your readership by identifying your Right Reader.

Let’s say you hate vanilla ice cream. Really can’t stand it. For no good reason.  You love vanilla pudding, love vanilla lattes… it’s weird.  But there it is.

You’ve written a book about a woman who works in a restaurant.  To tie in, you decide to blog about desserts.

You’re considering writing about the fact that you hate vanilla ice cream, because it’s quirky and weird, and very you.

Then you think: well, there are readers out there who love vanilla.  And they might like your book.

Come to think of it, there might be people who aren’t really crazy about desserts in general.  But you’ve had people who were anti-dessert and still read your novel, and they liked it.  So you don’t necessarily want them to feel left out.

And hey, there are some people who never ever go out to eat.  But they liked your writing, and they’d probably relate to your character, you know, in general.

So you procrastinate on blogging. For, like, months.  Or you wind up blogging about something utterly generic, like “wow, I’ve been really busy” with the assumption that 90% of the world is busy.  You’re trying to offend no one, and identify with everyone.

Pleasing everyone = pleasing no one.

The idea behind promotion is to generate awareness of something you’ve created.  But more importantly, it’s meant to attract the attention of those people most likely to want it.

Why? Because they will appreciate it.  They will buy it.  And being honest, yes, you do want to sell copies, and promotion helps with that.

You’ve done something of value, and you deserve compensation… and that’s a whole separate blog post, so I’ll hold off on that until next time.

If you try to attract every single person who might enjoy your book, you’re casting your net too wide.  You’re not going to attract anyone.

It’s like yelling “hey, you!” at the train station:  people will glance at you for a minute, especially if you’re really loud, but once they realize they don’t know you, they figure you couldn’t possibly be calling to them and they keep on moving.

Be controversial simply by taking a stand.

I like promotion and marketing.  I do not believe in evil, self-serving, and most of all tacky and stupid promotion… but I also don’t believe that if you write it, they will come.

Whether you do the footwork, or someone does it for you, good books don’t simply pop out into the ether and spread into the popular consciousness like the plague.

I believe that you are trying to sell your damned books.  Yes, I believe in the art.  I love storytelling. If I were independently wealthy — like Oprah dollars, y’all — I would still write to exorcise the voices in my head.

But I am in this as a business, and I handle my business.

Some people may find this appalling.  They may feel that I am a vulgar, used-car-salesman styled snakeoil purveyor, pushing crappy product.  They may dislike me because I occasionally curse, I seem to hate vanilla ice cream, and apparently I mock  Jessica Fletcher.

They may think that I’m crass, uber-commercial, and probably a loser.

You know what?

Not my Right Reader.  So, consequently, not keeping me up nights.

Doesn’t mean I hate them: I don’t.  Why would I?  Haters can  call me a Volkswagon all day long.  Doesn’t mean I have to sleep in the garage tonight.  To coin a phrase:   their opinion of me is none of my damned business.

If I wrote to please them, or at least not offend them, I would be ignoring my strengths and doing my Right Readers and myself a grave disservice.

Now, my Right Reader is another story.

If I’m upsetting her, or not getting through, then I care a great deal.  All my newsletters, all my blog posts, all my tweets and status updates, are written with her subconsciously in mind.

Like Jiminy Cricket, she keeps me on the path to what I really believe in, and encourages me to stay true to my voice.

I’ll be writing more on why I “profile” my Right Reader the way I do, and how to help you determine yours.  I may even take a few volunteers and give a profile, if anyone’s interested.

But the biggest takeaway, I think, is that your Right Reader is a reflection of the best of your writing. Why the hell wouldn’t you identify that?

Please re-tweet this, and spread the word — I’d love to hear the rebuttal, or if there are any other things that aren’t clear.

And thank you, Right Readers out there.  Seriously.  You know who you are — and I wouldn’t be here without you.

The Foundation of Non-Evil Book Promotion.

Non-Evil Book Promotion

Can you have a kick ass book promotion plan without being evil?

The tagline here is “sell a lot, without selling out” because I think that you want to be authentic, and… well, non-evil.  (“Sell a lot without being evil” just doesn’t have the same ring.  Also, I think Google’s mission statement already uses it.)

“If you write it, they will come.”

In one of the comments in my last post, DeeAnna Galbraith mentioned that “if it’s a good book, it will find a solid audience.”

I love the hope in this mentality, and I think that the book must come first, period.  If you don’t focus on improving your craft, there’s no point in promoting, because you either won’t have enough to promote (too busy promoting, not enough writing) or the stuff you write won’t stand up to scrutiny.

Unlike some non-fiction authors, we aren’t able to cruise on our reputations as experts, dining out on speaking tours and partnerships, seminars and licensing. We’re novelists, fiction writers and our books are our livelihoods.

Does cream rise to the top?

Alas, I don’t believe “good books find an audience”  is necessarily true.  I’ve had many friends who have written wonderful books. However, for lack of consistent or effective publishing efforts (on their part or the part of their publishers) they were unable to connect with readers.

Consequently, they didn’t “make their numbers.”

For those in traditional publishing especially, if you don’t sell a certain number of copies (usually sell-through, or a percentage of number printed and distributed vs. number actually sold) then you’re suddenly on a slippery slope.  Bookstores will return you, and when your next title comes up, they will check your name, and see what your last sell-through was.  Low sell through = fewer or no copies of future books.  Publishers also look at this, and when your next contract comes up, they may decide to pass.

What about e-publishing?

Admittedly, with the boom of e-publishing, you no longer have to fight for limited shelf-space.  But with the deluge of offerings, it’s harder and harder for good books to be noticed.  If you aren’t doing something for promotion, then your masterpiece may languish in Amazon limbo, selling two copies a quarter.

So we’re back to push-push-sell-sell?

Yes, you need to promote.You should have a plan to promote.  Yes, you can decide you want to be a huge, screaming, set-the-world-ablaze success.

No, you don’t need to be evil to carry this out.

The whole point of White Hat promo is to think of your reader first.  Consequently, all of your promotional efforts, and the foundation of your whole book promotion plan, is going to focus on your Right Reader.

You need a comprehensive plan to effectively promote your book.  To do that, you’re going to need the following foundation:

1.  Look at your work.  What genre are you in?  What makes you unique?  (In business jargon, they call this your USP, or Unique Selling Point.)

This can be hard to pin down, especially if you’re writing a very popular genre.  Let’s say you’re writing a cozy mystery.  What’s the hook?  Some examples: “crafty” (knitting, scrapbooks, decoupage); foodie (cupcakes, chefs, recipes);  or role (debutante, maid, traveling clown.  Okay, I made that last one up.)

The idea is to drill down in your niche.  It’s not enough to say you write cozy mysteries, or romantic comedy, or horror.  You write cozy mysteries about a pet psychic.  You write romantic comedy like modern day Kate Hepburn/Spencer Tracy movies.  You write gritty, violent horror stories that take place in the Mojave Desert. Why?  because you want to make it as easy as possible for a Right Reader to be intrigued — and a Wrong Reader to go away.

2.  Draw a sketch of your Right Reader.  Remember: this is someone who is desperately searching for what you’re writing, rather than someone who would enjoy it if they gave it a chance.  The clearer you can visualize this reader, the easier it’s going to be to make decisions about how to design your website, and what to write for your newsletter, blog, posts, and tweets.  In every communication, you want to pretend you’re communicating with your Right Reader alone.  One size does not fit all.  Communication that tries to cater to Every Reader tends to be a bland pap that attracts no one.

3.  Go native.  Once you’ve identified your Right Reader, find out where she hangs out.  Go to a book club.  Lurk in some forums.  Read book blogs.  Remember:  this is a recon mission! Right now, you care enough about your Right Reader to be interested in who she is, what she wants, and what has disappointed her in the past.  Read what she’s suggesting.  If you find stuff you love that’s applicable, share it.  Become known as “that person who knows great books/has funny insights/is kind” rather than “that author who makes every comment a way to talk about her book coming out.”

4.  Be consistent.  This means visually, in your copywriting, and in any communication you do. Again, you’re making it easier for your Right Reader to be attracted and find out more.  If you write violent, gritty, modern horror that takes place in the Mojave, then maybe instead of the usual Gothic fonts, graveyards,  and blood splatter on a black background, go for shades of gray and really creepy desert imagery.  If you’re writing Hepburn/Tracy styled rom com, maybe have pictures of a man and a woman, with smirks of challenge, facing each other from either side of your header.  Make the motif match the USP.

Also, have your website match your social media, your newsletter, your business cards, your newsletter.  Be visually consistent.  Also, use the same “voice” across the board.  Don’t write your newsletter as if it’s coming from a company, your bio as if your publicist wrote it, your tweets as if you’re talking to your high school pals, and your blog as if you’re Sybil, complete with multiple personalities.  Consistency is key.

What do you think?  Does this still feel “evil” to you, or does it make sense?  If you wanted to write a non-evil book promotion plan, what else would you want to know?

If this resonates, please re-tweet.  Likewise, please comment or contact me if you have any questions. I love hearing the feedback, and I want to post stuff that helps! 🙂