3 ways to learn what your readers want

Last week, I participated in an American Society of Journalists and Authors panel about how writers can develop diversified income streams.

When I talked about my work supporting authors with Build Book Buzz, I offered advice to those hoping to do something similar. I stressed how important it is to know as much as possible about your audience so you can give them what they need and want.

As I talked about how I learn as much as I can about what interests you, it occurred to me that my author research compares to your reader research.

Knowing what your readers want makes a difference

Just as I need to know what you want in blog and training content from me, you need to know what your readers want in the types of books that you write.

If you write fiction, you must understand what readers expect and look for in your genre.

Nonfiction authors need to know what knowledge gaps they can fill.

Knowing what your readers want, and delivering it in a high-quality package, is what generates the good word-of-mouth marketing that’s so essential to author and book success.

Knowing what your readers want, and delivering it in a high-quality package, is what generates the good word-of-mouth marketing that's so essential to author and book success.Click to tweet

Here are three ways you can learn more about what your readers want.

1. Online group conversations

Start by joining as many online groups related to your genre or topic as possible. (You can also start your own group.)

You can find a Facebook group for many book genres and categories. Write steampunk? Here’s your group. Are you a poet? The Facebook Poetry Society group has more than 83,000 members. Mystery readers and writers have The Mystery Readers Book Club.

To find the groups for your genre, type “[genre] readers group” into the Facebook search box.

If you write nonfiction, search for your topic plus the word “group.”

Let’s say you’re a time management expert, so that’s what you write about. You’ll want to join the Habits, Productivity, And Time Management group. Do you write about parenting toddlers? Check out the Moms and Dads of Toddlers group with its 24,000 members.

There are also groups for certain nonfiction topics on LinkedIn; many professional associations host groups, as well.

Is your audience using Clubhouse? Look for groups there, too.

How to use groups

Set aside time every day to scroll through discussions to learn what people are talking about.

You don’t even need to contribute. Just read and learn. And do it some more.

With fiction, pay attention to what readers say about what they do and don’t like in a book or author. Not enough of “this?” Too much of “that?” Use this input to help refine your book’s content.

Nonfiction authors, note what your audience is asking questions about. What do they need to learn? What confuses them? The more you know about where they’re at with a topic, the better able you will be to give them what they need in your books and other content you create.

2. Survey readers

Surveying your audience works best if you already have a way to reach them. That might be through your email list and newsletter, the email lists of author friends who write for the same audience as you, the online groups you belong to, and your social network connections.

Before posting a link to a survey in a group, though, check the group’s rules or contact the moderator to make sure it’s allowed.

Free survey tools include:

What to ask

What you’ll ask will depend on what you want to know.

Here’s an approach to consider for fiction:

  • What’s the most recent [genre] book you’ve read?
  • On a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being the least and 5 being the most, how much did you like that book?
  • What did you like about it the most?
  • What did you like the least?

That’s just one idea. Ask the questions that will get you the information you need.

When it comes to nonfiction, consider crafting questions that will help you better understand what your target audience needs in content from someone with your expertise.

You might want to know, for example, how they consume information on your topic outside of books. Would they rather watch a video than read a blog post, for example? Do they prefer to learn from a podcast? Again, it all depends on what you need to know to give them what they want to learn.

3. Talk to readers

Whenever you get the chance, talk to readers. Then listen. And listen some more.


Learn what types of books they read, why, what they do and don’t like in books, what format they prefer, where they buy them, and so on.

If you send your manuscript to beta readers, ask questions that will not only help you improve technical aspects of the manuscript, but will help you understand them as readers, too.

When a readers emails you about your book, whether it’s to tell you how much they liked it or to ask a question, engage with them. Provide what they need, but use your response to help gather information, too.

When online group members are discussing a specific book that might be similar to or appeal to the same audience as yours, ask questions that can help you learn what you need at that moment.

When you talk to reader groups in book clubs, libraries, or virtually, make your presentation interactive by asking questions that engage them and inform you. (And, make note of the questions they ask, too, because those inquiries offer insights for you.)

Keep learning

Being an author means you’re always learning. Sometimes, when you think you have things figured out, the rules change.

If you incorporate author input into your growth as a writer, though, you’ll continue to improve.

What do you to stay in touch with readers? What do you do to make sure you’re delivering what they want, need, and expect? Please tell us in a comment. 

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