Have you thought about writing a book? Most people have, and the ones with the most persistence actually produce a manuscript. But when I talk to most first-time authors, there is a step that almost all of them skip when writing their manuscript: identifying whom they are writing for.
When I coach authors on building a marketing plan for their books, the first question I ask is: who is your target reader? Sometimes they answer “Everyone,” but most of the time they say that they’ve never thought about it. They don’t know whether their target reader prefers ebooks or paperbacks, is male or female, or is influenced by reviews or friends. Many first-time authors haven’t even identified their book’s primary genres.
The straight-talk I give these authors is this: “Everybody doesn’t want to read your book.”
Heck, “everybody” doesn’t want to read the Koran or the Bible.
Here is an example of a tightly defined target reader:
“My target reader is a left-handed high-school tennis player who wants to improve their game on grass. My target reader typically takes advice from their private or high-school tennis coach on resources that will help improve their tennis game. At higher levels of competition, they may also receive advice from a sports psychologist. Sometimes, they are influenced by endorsements from professional players.”
That definition is a far cry from “everybody,” and it’s possible that many people who don’t precisely fit this definition may also purchase the book. But this definition is the starting place for your marketing planning. It benefits you by narrowing the definition of the target reader so that your marketing budget (in time and dollars) has a better chance of influencing your target readers to consider your book.
Another important aspect of defining your target market is to understand where your target reader looks for new books. Ideally, you already know the precise names of the shelves where your target reader browses for new books. At first, most authors I work with suggest tagging their book as “Fiction” or “NonFiction,” but this isn’t specific enough. Nobody shops in the fiction or nonfiction aisle of the bookstore, because those aisles don’t exist.
Here’s a specific bookshelf that does exist:
Books > Sports & Outdoors > Racket Sports > Tennis > Instruction
Yes, that is a single shelf in the Amazon bookstore, with 300 books on it.
And here’s another specific shelf, with 745 books on it:
eBooks > Fiction > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > First Contact > Romance
Researching and selecting your genre-shelves and understanding how many books are on each shelf will help you produce a compelling creative brief that can drive successful marketing efforts. It is easier to identify, connect with, and sell your book to your target reader when you know who they are and which bookshelves they like to browse. An added benefit of this identification effort is that every dollar and hour you invest in marketing your book will go farther and produce better results. The good news is that profiling your target reader is a research-driven thought exercise. It shouldn’t cost you any money.
As a start, I ask authors to complete this “marketing” paragraph:
The people who will be entertained [and/or] educated by my insert_genre_here> book are _______________________. They look for new book recommendations in these three places online: ____________________________, _______________________, ______________________. The people who will like my book the most also like books by _________________________, and ________________________, and _________________________. What makes my book unique amongst all of the other books in my genre is ________________________________. The reason people will buy my book is _________________________.
Here’s a completed example:
“The people who will be entertained by my Science Fiction, First Contact, Romance story believe in UFOs, and are predominantly single, younger than the average science fiction reader, usually male, and also interested in robots and the AI Singularity. These target readers are heavy users of email and texting, aren’t using Facebook extensively, and have read an ebook, possibly on their smartphone. Like most science fiction readers, my target readers started reading sci-fi as teenagers, and typically work in science or technology-related professions. They read for the stimulation of new ideas, but also as a form of escapism. My target readers look for new book recommendations online at io9.com, Wattpad.com, Goodreads, and Reddit.com. The people who will like my book also enjoy books by Michael Hicks, Carl Sagan, and B.V. Larson. What makes my book unique amongst other First Contact books is the peaceful way my protagonist experiences First Contact and the subsequent consequences for humanity. The reason people will buy my book is because they want to read a high-minded perspective on how a peaceful First Contact might occur and how it might transform humanity in an unexpected, non-destructive way.”
This paragraph is part of a larger creative brief that I advise authors to write as a guide to their marketing plan. With a well-written creative brief an author wastes far less time and money when marketing their book. They learn more from their marketing experiments and learn it more quickly. They are more likely to find their superfans and have a better chance at reaching their book sales goals.
And the best time to do the hard work of writing the creative brief for your book? You guessed it: before you write the first word in your manuscript. Since it is likely that you are already a superfan in your book’s genre (“Write what you know!”), you probably already know enough to write a strong creative brief for your planned manuscript. What if your manuscript is already done? You still need a strong creative brief. Not only do you need it as a guide for your marketing efforts, but if you engage other service providers, they need it too.
Everybody isn’t going to buy your book. But if you take a disciplined approach to defining your target reader and where you plan to meet them in your distribution, marketing, and promotional efforts, you should be able to find and build your base of superfans, leading to a successful writing career.
If you are interested in receiving a copy of my creative brief template for authors, or have personal comments or questions, you are welcome to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.