How to find your book’s target market

Yellow multitudeEditor’s note: I’ve received so many requests for a copy of this article from the September 12, 2012 Build Book Buzz newsletter that I’m reprinting it here.

Our recent newsletter survey revealed that finding your book’s target audience is a big problem for many of you.

It is absolutely crucial that you know who is most likely to buy your book. It doesn’t matter how well-written it is if the people who should buy it don’t know about it. And for them to know about it, you have to know who they are and how to get in front of them.

Finding your target audience is often more challenging for fiction writers than it is for nonfiction writers because so many novelists write for the joy of it instead of writing for a specific market. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong from a creative perspective, but from a business view, if you want people to read what you write, you need to write with your audience in mind.

Here’s how fiction and nonfiction writers alike can zero in on who will buy their book.

What’s your book’s personality?

Marketing professionals often assign personalities to their brands because that helps them better understand and reach the consumer who will be attracted to that brand. The person who will buy a product that seems playful, for example, might not be the same person who is attracted to a brand with a more scholarly personality.

It works this way with books, too. Your first task, then, is to determine your book’s personality. Is it male or female? Humorous or serious? Edgy or conservative? Mysterious or straightforward? Sexy or not sexy? Shy or friendly?

Well, you get the point. If your book was a person, who would it be?

Create a persona for your audience

With your book’s personality in mind, figure out who would be attracted to it by asking yourself more questions. I really like those presented in my friend Jan Bear’s e-book, TARGET MARKETING FOR AUTHORS: How to Find and Captivate Your Book’s Target Audience. In her book, Bear uses these topics to guide us through the process:

  • Demographics: What is your target audience’s gender, age, race or ethnicity, family structure, household income, employment, and education level?
  • Geography: What is that person’s location, language spoken, dialect, and climate?
  • Life cycle: What about lifestyle and life stage?
  • Culture: What is your reader’s urban/rural/suburban/small town, work habits, religious observance, holidays and festivals, activities, recreation, entertainment, and volunteerism situation?
  • Motivation: What are your target audience’s beliefs and desires?

Take the answers to those questions and use them to create an imaginary person – a persona – that represents your target audience. For nonfiction, certain specifics, such as profession or health issues, might be more important than gender or income level. Regardless, when you know whether the person who will like your book is married or divorced, in her 20s or his 40s, blue collar or white collar, Catholic or Jewish, and so on, it will be easier for you to find that person in both the real and virtual worlds.

The good news is that with so many people spending time online, it’s easier to connect with your book’s target audience – or audiences, in some cases – than it was pre-internet. This is especially important for e-books. It’s important to understand, though, that your audience might not be online. You won’t know that unless you take the time to create that persona for your book’s audience.

For more information on how to determine your book’s target audience, I highly recommend Bear’s book, TARGET MARKETING FOR AUTHORS: How to Find and Captivate Your Book’s Target Audience. It’s thorough, but not long, because it’s so focused on its topic.

(Photo by Racineur via Compfight)

What’s your take on this — is it important or not?  

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  1. I really like the way you have framed this by suggesting an author create an imaginary persona that represents her target audience. Thinking about a conversation we could have with someone who might be interested in our book would also help. I especially like the notion about trying to identify a persona’s beliefs and desires. Trying to meet these desires would be a worthwhile goal, I suspect. Giving our book a personality really helps it come alive. Thanks for the tips. Great as usual.

  2. Hi Sandra,

    Out of all the blog posts I have ever read on this subject yours has to be the most helpful. Thank you so much!

    1. Thanks so much for letting me know! Please feel free to share the link so we can help more authors. : )


  3. Hi Sandra, I liked so much about this post that you directed me to from the LinkedIn ‘7 things’ group. My concerns had been about defining an audience for a memoir that is not all about overcoming adversity, though there is that, but more a bittersweet story coming of age in the music business during the historical 60s.

    The first suggestion might have been the greatest help: choosing a personality for the book. I think I’ve got it pegged as a five year epic.

    The rest of the demographic and descriptive audience elements I’m pretty sure I can fill in. However, I might take issue with trying to cram all that into a single persona. For example, I can see a demographic that includes Millennials, because the characters are in their twenties; as well as veterans of the sixties, particularly those on the west coast.

    This is a mere quibble and should not deflect from how much I appreciate this excellent post.

    1. Thanks, Larry. You bring up a good point — some authors will need to create more than one target audience “persona” or avatar for their books. I’m glad it was helpful overall!


  4. Hello Sandra,

    Have just discovered you on linkedin. Still trying to find my way out of the wilderness of first time publisher, into a place where I know where to find food, where to find support etc. to market my book. I am so grateful I have found such a well of knowledge and direction.

    Thank you

    1. I’m so glad you found your way here, Valerie! Thanks for the kind words — I appreciate them! The search box on the right (scroll down) might help you find specific info you’re looking for or need.



  5. Hi Sandra,

    This is a very interesting post, thank you for sharing! I started to read it with mixed feelings; so often we are advised to ‘write what you enjoy reading’ in the sure and certain knowledge that if you enjoy it, so will others. Well, yes – but working out where to find those ‘others’ and to get news of your work to them is the problem, isn’t it? Your process allowed me to think more deeply about the people and the kind of online communities where I might find them. For me, it will likely be a mix of science-fiction and crime readers, and they come in all ages, from all backgrounds, and all locations… not so easy to define, I think! But it is a good start! I’ve been soft-promoting my forthcoming book for a while now – it will soon be time to step up the pace and this will help me enormously, so thank you again.

    1. I’m so glad it was helpful, Elaine! Thanks for letting me know. Yes, there is this idea that “if you build it, they will come,” but it’s not that simple. You have to make sure those people who will love your books know they exist.


  6. Thanks for another great article, Sandra. I’m working on my second novel; a genealogical thriller. While I write this one, however, I am also studying how to promote it, etc. Didn’t do this as much as I should have when I wrote The Inheritance and realize more than ever how critical it is to the process. I always find your advice worthwhile. Thank you again.

    1. Marianne, the better you know your audience, the more likely you are to write a book they will love. And I’m sure that’s just what you’ll do. I hope it’s a fun process for you!


  7. I missed your webinar from Tuesday is there any way I could purchase/get a copy of it at this late date?

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