Your Book Is Not for Everyone (Why That’s a Good Thing)

This blog post is not for everyone. It’s for writers who are just beginning to create books–specifically, nonfiction books (health, how-to, business, etc.). The message is:

Think about your audience before you start writing.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that many authors write books with a “field of dreams” mentality: “If I write this, they will come.” Often, these authors, when asked, “What’s your target audience?” respond, “Everyone,” or “All women,” or “Women over the age of 35, because those are the ones buying books.”

To the people faced with the prospect of selling your book, this response sounds like you have unrealistic expectations. In a best case scenario, your PR and sales team may under-deliver on your expectations, and you may part ways feeling unsatisfied. More worrisome than bad feelings, though, is bad product; “My book is for everyone” often means the writer hasn’t thought about audience while writing. The result can be an unsalable book — well-written, maybe, but without a clear angle that can be pitched effectively to media and, more importantly, to consumers.

Publishers and agents know this, of course, which is why most don’t sign anyone on without a table of contents, sample chapters, a competitive analysis, and a marketing plan. They need to know upfront if you’ve done the legwork to know there’s an audience for what you want to say. (One way to explore your audience is to develop a platform for your book before you start writing — but that’s another topic for another post.)

How to Position a Book for an Audience

Before you start writing your book, think of a specific reader who’ll want to buy your book — your ideal reader. This technique of creating a consumer profile is used commonly by copywriters, and you can apply the same process to your writing. Keeping your ideal reader in mind can help you craft a focused product that appeals to a specific audience. Ask yourself:

  • What does your ideal reader look like — is she older or younger?
  • What brings her into the bookstore (or to her online retailer) on the day she discovers your book?
  • What problem does your book solve for her?
  • How will she feel after reading your book, and why would she recommend it to a friend (versus loaning out her personal copy)?

The more details you can provide in response these questions, the clearer the picture of your reader becomes. If you keep that picture in mind while you’re writing, you’ll be crafting a book with a clear point of view. When it’s finished, you’ll be in a better position to sell it because you already know who your reader is. She’s not a “woman over 35.” She’s a “professional women in her 30s who is a first time mother trying to decide how to manage her career now that her life is changing.”

That’s a very specific woman, much easier to find and much easier to sell to then all women over 35. An acquiring editor, agent, or freelance publicist may look at the description of that woman and say, “I know where to find her. I know what TV shows she watches, what radio programs and podcasts she listens to, and what magazines and blogs she reads. I can make her want this book.”

A Better Book Means a Better ROI

In a perfect world, you’d be able to write in a vacuum and still find a market for your book. But in today’s publishing climate, more books are available than ever before. Your competition for readers is enormous. The people charged with helping you find and get the attention of these readers have a bigger challenge before them than they did five years ago, or even five months ago. The more work you can do in advance to help them sell your book, the better off you’ll be.

Even if you’re self-publishing, knowing your specific audience can be critical to your success. If your book is easy to sell, the professionals you hire to help you sell it will have an easier time pitching it — which means you’ll be more likely to get a return on your financial investment.

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