How to Find Your Target Audience

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When you know your ideal audience, the words you choose, the scenes you write, and the structure of your story will match what they expect.

 “The moment you speak to the world, you speak to no one.” This advice comes from best-selling and award-winning author Jonathan Fields. What does he mean? Perhaps best-selling and award-winning author Seth Godin can help. “Everyone,” he writes, “is not your customer.”

What both are talking about is the need to know, and to reach, your target audience. It’s encouraging to think that everyone wants to read what you write, but take a moment to consider your own personal tastes. Do you like William Shakespeare? He’s sold an estimated 4 billion copies of his books. How about Agatha Christie? She’s sold an estimated 4 billion copies of her books, too. Classic love stories and murder mysteries are usually binary genres: you love them, or you hate them. Neither William nor Agatha seem to have suffered by choosing a target market.

 Targeting benefits you and your readers

Finding your target audience gives you focus. It helps you narrow the scope of who you want to make happy. Dr. Seuss chose to write only for children. His estimated sales are 500 million books. Stephen King decided to write just for people who love to be frightened. He’s sold more than 350 million books.

When you know your ideal audience, the words you choose, the scenes you write, and the structure of your story will match what they expect.

And readers have strong expectations. Those who love romances expect your lovers to follow a certain formula as they travel through your story arc. Clive Cussler’s readers expect the dashing hero Dirk Pitt or one of his good friends to take them on an adventure that will ultimately end up under the ocean. That particular scenario has landed Cussler on the New York Times fiction best-seller list more than 20 times.

You might think that George R. R. Martin and J. K. Rowling have the same target audience. Both do what you need to do: go deep. Find the niche in your target audience. Due to the graphic nature of his world of magic, Martin writes for adults. He’s sold more than 70 million copies. Rowling’s Harry Potter character appeals more to children and writing for this niche has rewarded her with book sales of more than 450 million.

Who are you writing for?

How to get to who

No hard and fast rule dictates how to identify your target audience. It’s a process of discovery. You can use a spreadsheet, or even draw it out as a mind map on a big sheet of paper taped to the wall. The important part is that you think about who you want to please with your writing.

As they browse online or walk by shelves in a bookstore, who do you want to stop, peruse, and purchase your book? Use the same level of effort you put into imagining your fictional characters to make this target reader come alive.

  • What do they look like? Make them as real as you can. You’re creating a customer persona.
  • Where do they live and why?
  • How old are they, and what connects this age to your writing?
  • What interests them? Delve into this question. Don’t stop with their reading preferences. What else can you discover about them? Channel your inner Dirk Pitt and dig deep for insight.
  • Do you see any patterns? Maybe many of them have the same profession.
  • Who is not a target reader of your fiction book? You gain valuable insight by exploring why these people don’t appreciate what you write.

These can be paragraphs of narrative description, bullet points, or even photos. The objective is to take an expedition and uncover as much as you can about the target audience for your book.

If at this point, you’re not sure who this target audience is, it’s time to do some networking. Identify books that are similar to yours. Find ways to connect with these authors. Reach out to them on social media and ask if they will share with you what they know about their target audience.

Many writers who undertake this exercise make it their goal to distill everything they determine about their target audience down to representation by a single person. What you discover helps you worry less about pleasing the people you’re not writing for.

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You don’t have to be Stephen, George, or J. K. to create magic. It happens when you write only for your target audience. They feel as if you write the book just for them—and in a way, you have. You took the time to understand what makes them happy.

Barbara Cartland wrote more than 723 novels, which have been translated into at least 36 languages. She’s sold more than 1 billion books, but she didn’t write a single word of fiction until she had worked for a year as a society reporter to understand what appealed to her target audience.

One of the reasons Cartland was so prolific was that she didn’t write her books. She dictated them to a secretary. She understood that successful writers need help with editing and proofreading. It’s a collaborative effort.

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