Finding your novel’s target market: 7 keys hidden in your story

Our guest blogger today is Jan Bear, who helps writers create the platform they need to reach their ideal audience and sell their books. Find out more about Jan, her services, and target market analysis at http://MarketYourBookBlog.com.

Finding your novel’s target market: 7 keys hidden in your story

By Jan Bear

Finding the right target audience for your book can make the difference between bustling sales, excited readers, and a burgeoning writing career versus the loneliness, discouragement, and wasted effort of trying to sell your book to people who don’t want to buy it and never will. Here’s why:

  • If you go the traditional publishing route, knowing the target market for your book helps you to talk like a savvy marketer to agents and publishers deciding whether to publish your book.
  • If you know your target market, you can speak directly to the people who already want your book, saving time, energy, and money in wasted advertising.
  • When you speak directly to your target market, you don’t even have to “sell.” You only have to let them know that your book exists, and they’ll be ready to buy it.

Planning for your novel’s target market

When you’re writing a book, you’ll want to consider your target market –

  1. During the planning phase — to decide whether the effort will be worthwhile
  2. During the execution — to shape the book to talk in the language of your target audience
  3. After the book is published — to find and engage your ideal readers

For many novelists, though, it just isn’t practical to focus on a target market before the book is done. As useful as it is to plan ahead for the target market, the novel is so personal that they’re essentially writing at least the first draft for themselves.

Clues to your target audience

So let’s say you’ve got a novel in hand and you feel too close to it to find its target audience. Here are a few clues hiding in the pages of your book.

  1. Genre: This might be the clearest path to your target market, especially if your book sits comfortably within a recognizable subgenre of one of the big categories: mystery, romance, science fiction, and fantasy. The audience for a cozy mystery is very different from the audience for a hardboiled detective story. If you’re writing within those conventions, some quick internet research will tell you all you need to know about your target audience.
  2. Problem: Maybe one of your characters is dealing with a problem faced by real people: autism, cancer, schizophrenia, homelessness. Anything that has a foundation or nonprofit organization dedicated to it can be a source of sales for your novel. If you approach the problem with sensitivity and compassion in the context of your story, and especially if you offer help or inspiration in dealing with it, those organizations might sell your book to their members.
  3. Setting: If your setting is a loving tribute to a real, recognizable place, the local color in your book can be a way to get the book into local newspapers (articles, not ads), book stores, gift shops and tourist attractions.
  4. Milieu: Some books explore a specialized world within the setting, and people read the book as much for that world as for the plot. It might be a 12th-century Benedictine monastery or a Navajo reservation in 20th-century USA. Linda Kuhlmann, an independently published author I know, wrote a murder mystery that involved horse racing. She contacted her local horse racing arena for a book signing and sold out all the hardbacks she brought to the event. If you’ve written a book that involves some special field of interest, you may have a hook for a target market there.
  5. Theme: Who would resonate with the life lesson your novel teaches? The answer may give you some good places to make contacts. For example, if your theme is that the simple things in life are the most important, you may be able to promote your book through the simple-living blogs. Or if it’s about the importance of family, you might find allies among the mommy- or daddy-bloggers.
  6. Character: Getting the reader to identify with your protagonist is essential to telling a great story. Your protagonist might represent your target market. So if your protagonist is a college graduate trying to work her way out of a dead-end job, a similar person outside your book may turn out to be your ideal reader.
  7. You, the Author: If you bring a specialized knowledge to your story or if you belong to some identifiable group, readers might like your book just because you wrote it. Are you a schoolteacher? A member of a tight-knit religious or social community? Part of the appeal of medical and legal thrillers is the writer-practitioners bringing their inside knowledge to an exciting story of what’s it’s “really” like. So think about your affiliations.

Speaking to your people

Writing for a specific target audience is as important for novelists as for anyone else who communicates. But novels offer a different set of target-marketing challenges compared to informational nonfiction.

You’ll be way ahead in your book’s success if you craft your target marketing through the whole process, from planning to selling. The clues I’ve given you might not all work for your book, and any one might not represent your whole audience. But if you look for opportunities in them, you might find that a simple tweak in your story or a new direction in your promotion can bring your target market into focus and help you sell more books.

Do you struggle to find your book’s target audience? Tell us why.


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16 Responses to Finding your novel’s target market: 7 keys hidden in your story
  1. LK Watts
    January 20, 2012 | 12:23 pm

    Hi Jan,

    Reading this post has been great for me. I sometimes struggle with my target audience because my book crosses over several genres. It’s predomanantly a memoir about me travelling Australia but has elements of erotica, humour and travel mixed in to it as well. I suppose backpackers are my main target audience because I want them to read my book and think: well I couldn’t have found that in a travel guide. I want my book to tell the inside story of what travelling a foreign country is really like. And as a result, my book tells a very candid story.
    I guess I have also written it for young adults who are confused about which direction to take in life. I was one of those people once, and I decided to go travelling. I want to inspire that group of people as well, and make them realise they have more opportunities then they potentially realise.

    • Jan Bear
      January 27, 2012 | 9:02 pm

      Well, if your book crosses genres, you can think about marketing to each one. It’s hard to market to all of them at the same time, but if you talk to each group specifically, you may find yourself drawing from several streams of traffic.

      Focus first on the largest group of targeted readers. Then you can expand outward to smaller groups.

  2. Dana Lynn Smith, The Savvy Book Marketer
    January 20, 2012 | 10:12 pm

    Jan, what a terrific post! It’s so important to define the target audience and to find hooks within a book that can be used for promotional purposes. Many novelists struggle with this and you have offered some great ideas. Sandy, thanks for sharing this post on your blog.

    • Sandra Beckwith
      January 23, 2012 | 10:34 pm

      Thanks, Dana!

    • Jan Bear
      January 27, 2012 | 9:03 pm

      Thanks, Dana! I appreciate your kindness.

  3. Una Tiers
    January 23, 2012 | 8:43 pm

    Thank you Jan. This is an interesting article to help us locate our readers. The character and life lessons are great directions.
    Una Tiers

    • Jan Bear
      January 27, 2012 | 8:59 pm

      Thanks, Una. Good luck with finding all the audiences for your novel.

  4. Sandra Beckwith
    January 23, 2012 | 10:35 pm

    Thanks, Una. I thought it was helpful, too. Please make sure you check out Jan’s website — lots of good info there!

  5. Dianne Harman
    June 15, 2012 | 12:39 am

    Your article held more “take it to the bank nuggets” in it than about anything I’ve read. I have been struggling with marketing across genres and you’ve given me some direction. Thanks!

  6. susanne
    September 25, 2012 | 8:42 pm

    Really appreciated your blog post Jan. Working with authors, this issue always comes up “Who is your target market-your audience” and I struggled with trying to offer constructive help. Your words hit the spot,very practical suggestions, thanks

    • Sandra Beckwith
      September 25, 2012 | 8:46 pm

      Susanne, Jan has a great e-book that I recommend to the authors in my Book Publicity 101 course: Target Marketing for Authors at http://amzn.to/SQ2GJv. It might be a good resource for you, too.

      Sandy

  7. Sarah Jo Smith
    April 11, 2013 | 5:50 pm

    My women’s fiction book, The Other Side of Heartache, was published on Amazon Kindle books over 90 days ago and on B&N Nook Books just this week. I struggle over finding the correct target audience as this novel is for Baby Boomer women but I don’t know how to reach them. I’ve been told my story would be great for book clubs, but I’m not sure how to connect with their websites without being intrusive. Your article gave me some great tips, Jan. Thank you!

    • Sandra Beckwith
      April 11, 2013 | 5:59 pm

      Sarah, thanks so much for the comment — it’s a challenge, I know. You might also find this blog post about this topic helpful: http://buildbookbuzz.com/how-to-find-your-books-target-market/. It includes a link to Jan’s e-book for authors on how to find your target audience — I’ve got a copy of it , and it’s excellent.

      Sandy

  8. Wendy Dewar Hughes
    April 11, 2013 | 7:03 pm

    You have made me think about my target audience but also what groups might constitute a secondary or tertiary audience.

    Thanks for getting to the point to succinctly.

    • Sandra Beckwith
      April 11, 2013 | 7:13 pm

      Thanks, Wendy. I agree that Jan’s done a great job here.

      Sandy

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