They’re able to cast a wide net because they have access to a big marketing budget and a pro publicity team. And no matter what the topic, or who the intended audience, when a great book gets exposed to tens of millions of readers, thousands of them are sure to be interested.
I’m assuming you’re not one of those lucky authors.
Then there’s the rare writer who is guaranteed to sell a boatload of books regardless of what their latest work is about or how it’s marketed. J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Malcolm Gladwell, Elizabeth Gilbert; these popular writers are long past the courtship phase with their readers. They are married to their audience. And because it’s a healthy marriage, the reader generally trusts the writer even when they’re taking new risks.
I’m assuming you’re not one of those lucky authors either.
No, you’re probably still dating your audience (in which case you need to keep wooing and wowing ’em), or you’re just mustering up the courage to get into this dating game.
Either way, the same questions are important: What am I looking for in a reader? Who are they? What do I offer them? And how do I find them?
Unlike those two lucky types mentioned above, the success of your newest book depends upon you coming out of the gates knowing your audience — or at the very least imagining a specific readership (before you even write the first word).
Once the book is published, you can’t blow through a bunch of money trying to find buyers, and you can’t lean on previous successes to bring attention to your book.
You have to go directly to your target market, speak to them in the language they understand, and make a clear case for why they NEED your book.
1. You have to know how to write for them
You wouldn’t write a detailed technical manual using dense metaphors (unless you’re John Ashbery), and you wouldn’t write a hard boiled detective novel as if it were the King James Bible.
When it comes to tone, style, structure, and subject matter, your audience will have some basic expectations that need to be met before you can surprise them.
Who is your audience? Do you know how to write for them? Make sure you do plenty of reading within your genre before embarking on a large writing project. Then be sure to get feedback as you go, and enlist the help of an experienced editor as you near the finish line.
2. You have to know what problem you’re solving
YOUR work is only as valuable as HOW MUCH your work helps someone else.
As Todd Sattersten points out, you want to determine what the “felt need” for your book is before you begin writing. Ask yourself the tough questions: Does anyone need this book now? Do people know they need it? If so, how relieved will they be to find out my book meets that need?
If people don’t need your book, you’re going to have a much harder time promoting your work. If people don’t yet know they need it, then you’re going to have to build an educational component into your promotional plans (making them aware of the need first, and then how your book meets it).
This is more than niche marketing; you’re building a linguistic pillar upon which your reader should want to stand. From that higher vantage point, they should be able to see something new about themselves or the world around them (for fiction, non-fiction, and poetry), or be able to comprehend new solutions to problems that seemed insurmountable before they stepped up on that pillar you built for them (for instructional, how-to’s, self-help, etc.).
That makes sense for business books, I hear you say, but how the hell do I apply this to fiction? Well, one of the best examples I’ve heard (and I believe Sattersten was the one who pointed this out in one of his talks) was a novel told in the 1st person by a protagonist suffering from the onset and development of Alzheimer’s. Imagine how helpful, how instructive, and how emotionally powerful a book like that could be for a caretaker or loved one of someone struggling with that disease.
And I don’t imagine the author inhabited such a literary character as a kind of sales gimmick. But rather, the story and concept meant something to them, and they knew (or at least intuited) before beginning that there would be interest and need for such a work of fiction.
Where do your interests and talents intersect with the needs of readers? It might not be easy to pinpoint that spot right off the bat, but once you find it, the rest of your job (the writing and promotion) WILL be easier.
3. You have to know how to market to them
If you know your audience will relate to your book and find it helpful, the last part of the equation is just… finding them! Once again, having a clear idea of who your audience is will help you in this regard.
* Do you imagine they’re on social media? If so, maybe you should be active on Twitter and do some paid Facebook promotion.
* Do they read print newspapers? Send a press release to news editors, write an op-ed piece, or take out a half-page ad.
* Do they attend trade shows and fan conventions? Get on a panel discussion, give a talk, or set up a booth at the fair.
* Do they listen to podcasts? Pitch yourself as an excellent interviewee to those hosts.
* Is your book pertinent to a particular region or city? Sell your book in the gift shops and do local readings.
* Does your book make mention of the NFL, or Tabasco hot sauce, or some other identifiable brand? Cross-promote!
* Etc. Etc.
Don’t forget, your existing readership can be extremely helpful in opening up new opportunities for you — so be sure to ask for their help spreading the word too.
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