All Posts in Category: Audience
You’ve got a great idea — now you need a great title! Of course, it’s possible that your agent or editor will want to change your title, but having an attention-getting title will sell your idea to an agent and editor.
- Readers buy titles. Research shows that the title and the cover are two of the most compelling reasons people buy books.
- Make it memorable. Who Moved My Cheese? is a title readers remember. If nothing else, they remember the word “cheese” in the title, and that helps them readily locate the book in bookstores or online.
- Create a counter-trend. Your weight loss book might be called The Anti-Diet.
- Try something controversial. A nurse’s advice book could be called What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You.
- Capture your message. The Power of Positive Thinking does exactly what it says it’s going to do – it shows you the power of positive thinking.
- Test run your title. Do people ask you to repeat it, have trouble spelling it, mistake one word in the title for a similar-sounding word?
It isn’t enough to have a book idea–you have to have an audience who’ll be interested in buying your book.
Who cares about your message? That’s your audience. By finding out more about your potential audience, its size (publishers love statistics) and how you can best target them in your writing and your book promotion, you’ll convince a publisher that you have what it takes to sell your book. If you self publish, you still need to know this information in order to get your books into the hands of readers.
- It’s much easier to find your audience if you know they’re 30-something married women with two children who read Good Housekeeping magazine than if you think that everyone will love your book.
- Envision the types of magazines your typical reader would pick up. Cosmo or Woman’s Day? Maxim or Men’s Health?
- Investigate the magazine’s demographic. Call for a sales kit, check the website, or browse the ads.
- Use your analytical skills. Parents of young children probably aren’t looking for luxury travel books. Childless, unmarried twenty-something probably aren’t thinking too hard about retirement.
- Get yourself invited to give talks on your subject matter. Who shows up? That’s your audience!
To be a successful book author, you have to think about your audience from the very beginning. And by that I mean the very beginning–at the inception of your idea, you should be asking yourself questions about who will want to read what you’ve written.
Here are some steps to make the process of finding your audience less daunting:
1. Think of your work in big terms. You’re leaving a legacy–something you want to be proud of. What is that legacy going to be?
2. Ask yourself what your message is. Do you believe wholeheartedly in your message? People can spot insincerity.
3. Find out what makes your audience tick. What moves them and motivates them? You have to care about your audience to succeed.
4. Consider where you’ll reach them. Where are they? How can you connect with them?
5. Commit to your message and your project. It takes significant dedication and perseverance to succeed in the book business. But you really can do it!
I’m often asked about how to continue a writing career that has gotten off to a promising start. You can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who has written a book on how to break into publishing, but maintaining a writing career? Being a mid-career writer? Being a midlist writer? Those concerns are skated over.
Why? Because there are a lot fewer people in this group, and the information is less standard. If you want to get your first novel published, then you have to write the novel, polish the novel, find some agents to query, write a query letter, and see what happens. That’s pretty much it.
There are other things you can do, but if you don’t do those things, in approximately that order, you’re not going to get anywhere.
But when someone says, “I’ve written some books, and I want to take my career to the next level,” there’s no obvious procedure you can point out. It’s a lot easier to talk about query letters.
Even so, here are, forthwith, my thoughts on taking an already established writing career to the next level. This is for nonfiction, since these are the writers I work with most often, but much of the information is also applicable to novelists.
- Figure out what you want. Do you want to make a living as a writer? Do you want your books to bolster your main career and showcase your expertise? Do you have ideas you want to share with people, period? Your answers will guide your decision-making. If you just have ideas you want to share, there’s nothing wrong with starting a blog and putting together some e-books and seeing where that goes. If you want to make a living, you have to be more strategic: who buys writing, what kind of writing do they buy, how will you find these people? If you want to be the go-to expert, then writing books is just one part of the platform-building that you need to be involved in. Speaking at conferences, doing radio interviews, and otherwise spreading the word about your brilliance should all be part of your strategy.
- Join more advanced writers’ organizations. It’s one thing to go to the local writers’ group when you’re just starting out, but if you hope to get to the next level, it helps to have mentors who are already there—people already doing what you want to be doing. After I’d published a couple of books, I joined ASJA (the American Society of Journalists and Authors), the National Writers Union, the Authors Guild, and several others. I don’t belong to any of them now, but I’m glad I did when I did. (Now I focus more on genre organizations, like the RWA.)
- If you don’t have an agent, get one. But make sure it’s a good one (check out my blog posts on agents for more information on this).
- Network with other writers and editors. Online, there are many opportunities for this: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and more. Probably 99 percent of my business comes from referrals these days. Sometimes it’s a direct referral: a writer has a client with a project said writer can’t do and so recommends me. Sometimes it’s more along the lines of, “Did you see this ad?” Networking is a two-way street: you have to give to get. It isn’t a scored game (you give me one and I’ll give you one) but it is a numbers games: the more you’re out there, the more you’re likely to be remembered. People who ask me for help, then piss all over my help, don’t get more help. You wouldn’t believe how often this happens.
- Specialize. I’ve been in the position where I need to hire writers on any number of occasions. I almost never need to hire a writer who can write about anything. I almost always have to have a writer who can write (and has written ) about a specific niche or area of expertise. That is true of most editors in the world. You can certainly have more than one niche, but it makes life much easier to be able to say, “I write about x.” That’s not just for editors, by the way, that’s also for you. “I can write about anything for anyone” doesn’t give you any idea of what your next step should be. “I write about tech issues businesses face” gives you a lot more information about what you should be doing right about now.
- But diversify. The “diversify” part of the plan means that you should look for more than one kind of outlet for your writing. For example, I found early on if I wanted to keep writing books, I had to promote them, and one way I could promote them was to write articles based on the material, for which I got paid. It’s a nice little racket once you figure it out. Now more than ever writers have plenty of outlets: blogs (your own and others), podcasts, traditional book publishing, traditional magazine publishing, trade publishing, online magazines, etc. That’s just the surface. If you’re working in a couple different areas, if one disappears tomorrow, you are not dead in the water.
Some ideas to consider for making your book more appealing to agents and editors:
- Expand your niche. Sometimes agents and editors like a book but don’t think the primary audience for it is big enough. You can expand your niche by adding secondary audiences. A book for straight parents of gay teens can also be marketed to include school professionals and other family members and friends.
- Focus on one genre or another, not ten. You may think that your erotic paranormal futuristic romantic suspense will appeal to readers in all the genres represented but that’s not always true. It can seem muddled instead of inclusive. Editors and agents need to know what shelf the book should go on in the bookstore. Pick one to emphasize and don’t worry about the rest.
- Emphasize the timeliness of your idea by tying it to current events (but don’t make it too timely – book publishing is a slow business).
- Restructure your book. When I originally conceived the idea for Dojo Wisdom, it was for the book to be narrative non-fiction. At the time, narrative non-fiction wasn’t one-tenth as popular as it is now, so I capitalized on a trend and broke the book into lessons. You can use a similar approach to break your magnum opus into two companion books or a trilogy, turn your general nonfiction book into a prescriptive self-help, and so on.
- Work on your platform. A writer with a lot of fans is irresistible to agents and editors. Consider ways to connect online and offline with readers who’ll line up to buy your book.
- Make your book bigger. This isn’t a word count issue but a vision issue.
One of the most difficult things for writers to figure out is who will read their books. But if you don’t know who your audience is, you can’t find them (and neither can a potential publisher).
Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, it’s worth spending some time on identifying your readers before you get too far along in your process. If you don’t know who your audience is, you’re going to have a hard time convincing editors and agents that there is an audience for your book.
More than that, different kinds of audiences have different needs and expectations, which will shape how you write your book. They are also reached in different ways. Many times when I ask a writer to specifically describe the audience for their book to me, I get something like, “everyone in the known world will be interested in this book” or “this is a kids’ book.”
What I hear when someone says that is, “I have no idea who my audience is.” Fortunately, this is a problem that can be cured. Think of your favorite magazine. Smithsonian? Inc.? Woman’s Day? While it’s true that a reader of Smithsonian may have some similarities to a reader of Woman’s Day, you have to agree that those magazines target very different readerships. If you were an advertiser and you asked for the readership demographics, they would tell you very different stories: Woman’s Day has mostly female readers of a certain age, income, geographic distribution and worldview. Smithsonian readers would have different attributes. Woman’s Day editors know the details of their audience intimately, and if they want to appeal to their audience, they take those attributes into consideration when assigning articles.
So what are the demographics (the specific characteristics) of your readers? Besides the obvious – are they men or women (or both), are they adults or children? – dig deeper.
- What are their ages?
- Are they married, single, divorced?
- Do they have children?
- What are their children’s ages?
- What are their interests and hobbies?
- Where will you find them?
Those are the questions agents and editors will have for you when you pitch your book to them. In some cases, an audience is already “out there.” For example, if you’re writing a romance, then your audience will be romance readers and you don’t need to give yourself a stress headache trying to figure that out. Of course, you need to be aware of all the subtleties and nuances of your audience. In romance, there are a number of subgenres – people who like to read historical romances may not be interested in paranormal romances.
That matters because promoting your vampire story to historical readers may be met with a huge yawn. If you write category (series) romance and then move to single title, the readers of your category romances may not follow you – they read the category (e.g., Harlequin Intrique), not the specific author. You need to know that.
It also matters because romance readers expect a happily ever after. You may have a beautiful, compelling love story, but if it doesn’t have a happily ever after, it’s not even considered a romance by romance readers. It may be a love story, but it ain’t a romance.
How do you figure this stuff out? By being where your audience is, doing what they do, shopping where they shop. By respecting who they are. In other words, not I’m going to churn out a middle grade novel because they’re short and easy to write.
Know who your audience is and write your book for them.
There are two kinds of markets you need to be familiar with. The first is book publishing in general (and this website is designed to help you understand that). The other market is the audience for your specific subject matter. In my case, that tends to be martial arts enthusiasts, whether they are instructors, students, or just people interested in various aspects of the martial arts. For me to write books they will want to buy, not only do I have to understand the book publishing market as a whole, but my niche in particular.
For example, when Dojo Wisdom came out, the market for long narrative nonfiction was on life support. Book publishers were actively looking for small advice books. I simply tweaked an idea I’d had for a long time (how the principles of martial arts can be applied to all areas of life) and was able to sell a series of books on the topic. Now, the opposite is true: publishers are actively looking for long narrative nonfiction.
This is not to say that you should chase trends, especially when a long lead time is involved (as in book publishing). A few years ago, Feng Shui books were all the rage. Now book editors are acquiring other things. But you do need to understand certain basics about the market. Many nonfiction writers have come to me with proposals for 20,000 or 30,000 word books. That’s not a book. That’s a really long article. It could work as a self-published ebook, but not as a title for most traditional publishers. Agents and editors talk about novelists whose tomes weigh in at 200,000 words, which is about 100,000 too many. Those are basic problems in understanding the market that are very hard for you to overcome, no matter how brilliant your writing is.
Your Book’s Home
In order to successfully pitch your project to agents and editors, you need to know what shelf it will go on in the bookstore. A few years ago, I worked with a writer, a former police officer, who wanted to write a book about missing persons, her specialty. She wanted to tell stories about the various cases she’d worked on. She wanted to inform people about how to protect themselves and their families from abduction. She wanted to give readers advice on what to do if it happened in their lives.
That’s a lot of ground to cover in one book, and it crosses genres – there’s true crime, self defense, self help, and how to. Her book proposal went through many incarnations as she wrestled with her subject matter. But it was when she got market feedback from an editor that it finally came together for her. She would write a true crime book about a major missing persons case she’d investigated, and as she described the case and its resolution, along the way she would inform readers about myths and misconceptions many people share about missing persons cases. That would fulfill her intention of educating readers on how to prevent or deal with such crimes, without making it the focus of the book or detracting from the overall story she wanted to tell.
It’s a subtle difference but a very big one. A true crime book has a specific place on a shelf in a bookstore. A how-to book has a different place. Martial Arts for Dummies is a sports how-to. Dojo Wisdom is a self-help book. Dojo Wisdom for Writers is a writing reference. Dojo Wisdom for Mothers is a parenting book. They’re all “about” martial arts, but they have different places in the bookstore.
So, you have to figure out where your book goes. If you’re not sure, do a bit of research and find out. Booksellers are your friend. Go into a bookstore, look around at the categories, leaf through some of the books, ask questions (buy a book).