Readers of this site already know the biggest secret in publishing: writing your book is only the start.
It’s an amazing start—you’ve done something most people only dream about!—and it’s essential to creating a career as a writer, but it really is only the beginning.
Once you’ve written the book, you need to find readers for it. And as tough as the writing process may have been, figuring out how to attract, connect with, and convert potential readers into adoring fans can seem intimidating.
Take a deep breath.
We’re here to help.
Finding your ideal reader and turning them into a loyal fan isn’t as hard as you think. It takes some solid research, dedication, persistence, and a willingness to experiment, but once you get the hang of a few simple strategies, it’ll stop being a chore and become part of your daily routine as a working writer.
In part 1 of this book marketing series, we’ll explore how you can build your audience step-by-step, starting with figuring out who that ideal audience is in the first place!
Let’s get started.
How to Identify Your Ideal Reader
The first step in building an audience is to figure out what you want that audience to look like.
It doesn’t do you a heck of a lot of good to build an audience that doesn’t actually want your book. If you’ve spent your time and effort assembling a loyal base of readers who absolutely love gardening, then go and write a how-to guide on car maintenance, you’re not going to make the best use of your connections! Sure, a few might buy the book, but you’re not going to see the results you wanted.
Instead, it’s best to concentrate on figuring out who you’d love to have reading your book—who’s your imaginary dream reader, the one you had in mind while you were writing?
If you know exactly who would benefit from your book, what they like and dislike, how they spend their time, and what their other interests are, you can find them more easily, make deeper connections, and serve their needs better.
And in the end, that’s what makes the biggest difference: providing the most value possible to your specific readers.
So how do you identify your ideal reader?
Follow these simple steps:
1. Create an Imaginary Superfan
Every author wants superfans. Not the kind that kidnap you into a shack in the woods and force you to write for them, a la Misery, but the kind who will buy everything you ever write and recommend your books to everyone around them.
Those are the fans that create a following.
When you’re starting your marketing plans for a new book (preferably in the pre-planning phase, before you ever put a word on paper!), think about who your perfect reader is.
Ask yourself these questions:
What are their demographics? Demographics refer to the outward-facing characteristics of a person—it’s the differences that the Census uses to categorize people. Think about your ideal reader’s age, gender, location, ethnic background, education level, and career.
What do they do for a living? Do they live in a big city on the East Coast or in a small town in the Midwest? Are they male or female? Married or single? Are they a cool twenty-something Spanish-speaker or an older, active grandma of five?
Be as specific as you can.
Demographics are the dry facts behind your ideal superfan: the who, what, and where. Next, you’ll want to figure out the “why” behind your ideal fan.
What are their psychographics? Psychographics are a person’s internal, mental qualities. Everyone has a different attitude and mindset, and psychographics look to help us understand people based on their broad responses to certain issues.
Are they laid-back or frequently stressed? Do they lie awake at night worrying? Are they open to new experiences? Are they loud or quiet? Outgoing or reserved?
Think about your ideal fan’s personal values, interests, ideals, goals, and aspirations. What makes them tick? Again, be as specific as you can.
What’s their personal style? How do they dress? What do they like to eat? Where do they shop?
What’s their budget? Do they have a lot of disposable income, or are things a little tight? Are they cash-strapped working moms? Rich, successful business people? Folks who want to move up the ladder? Are they spending $5 a day on fancy lattes, or do they make coffee at home?
Consider creating an inspiration board featuring your ideal reader—use magazine clippings or printouts from websites to give yourself a visual representation of the reader you most want to reach.
Refer back to this whenever you’re thinking about your marketing and ask if your plans will resonate with Jane or Jack Reader.
2. Survey People Interested in Your Topic
Now that you have an ideal superfan in mind, it’s time to talk to actual people interested in your topic and find out more about who they are, where their passions lie, and how you might reach out to them.
That ideal fan is out there somewhere, but there’s a whole lot more people who only kinda-sorta fit the profile you’ve created. So you need to talk to those real people to help you broaden your approach.
Head online to forums and Facebook pages specializing in your topic, make an account, and start getting active!
Don’t pitch your book—just check out the conversations that are happening, contribute when you have something to say, and always add value: offer tips and tricks that you think would be handy, expecting nothing in return.
When you’re comfortable around the folks on the forum, ask if you can take a quick, informal survey. Ask just a few simple questions around your topic and about the people you’re interacting with:
- How many books do you typically read in a month or a year?
- How active are you online?
- What’s your biggest struggle with [your preferred topic]?
- What do you want to learn more about?
- How do you like to learn? Online, through a book, through a course, through discussion, etc.?
- What would make your life easier when talking about [your preferred topic]? What would really rock your world if you found a book on it?
3. Adjust Your Plan
Based on the results of your survey, take another look at your ideal superfan and see if anything needs to be adjusted.
Then comes the hard part: take another look at your book and see what needs to be adjusted!
You should be doing all this groundwork before you even write the book, so you don’t need to rewrite anything. Instead, you should be adjusting the outline you’d planned to better serve both your ideal reader and the real potential readers you’ve been chatting with and surveying online.
If you want to write a book on sustainable living and were considering focusing on backyard chickens, but all the people you’ve talked to (even those that meet your Imaginary Superfan criteria) seem more interested in beekeeping, it might be time to pivot and look into the many merits of home-produced honey.
But this isn’t just about huge pivots. It’s also about small tweaks. Maybe your potential fans are interested in keeping chickens, but they already know how to build a coop and what feed to use. Where they’re curious or uncertain is about taking care of chickens in cold climates where they can’t stay outside all year.
Well, look at that: you just got a really specific, targeted, actionable plan for a book that real readers want to read.
4. Be Specific and Targeted
And there’s the key to your market research: be specific and targeted.
The narrower the scope, the more likely you are to resonate with potential superfans.
Sure, it’s awesome to attract a huge, broad fan base…but that doesn’t necessarily equal financial success for your book.
It’s better to focus on a really narrow niche where you can become very well known, very quickly. You’ll rise to the top of the Amazon charts by targeting a niche need that has gone ignored, with specific and actionable insights that no one else is providing.
From there, you can start broadening your base: write your next book on a related topic that’s a bit broader, then move into a neighboring field, and go from there, steadily accumulating fans as you go by being specific, intentional, and responsive every step of the way.
How to Reach Your Potential Readers
Now that you’ve figured out who your Ideal Superfan is and who the real readers are who are looking for the kind of information and expertise you can provide are, it’s time to figure out how to spread the word about your book to them.
You’ve already made an awesome start here—you’re active on forums and Facebook pages of interest to these readers thanks to your survey research!
To put yourself in the places where these folks hear about books and resources like yours, follow these steps:
1. Follow the Online Trail
You already know some of your potential fan base’s online hangouts: the forums and Facebook pages you’ve been active in.
But where else do they go? What blogs do they read? What magazines do they subscribe to? What social media channels do they prefer?
This doesn’t all have to be in your area of interest—for instance, plenty of crafters also read cooking blogs.
Be comprehensive in assessing where the folks you’ve been talking to spend their time online—and offline, too. Ask what magazines they like, what stores they shop at, and what their favorite restaurant is. People love giving recommendations and sharing things they enjoy, so most folks you ask will be happy to tell you about where they like to spend their time and money.
All of this gives you a sense of where you might be able to reach out to find new readers.
For instance, folks interested in backyard chicken-keeping may drink a lot of fair-trade coffee, shop at Trader Joe’s, and prefer Patagonia clothes; they hang out on Instagram and read Mother Earth News. Or you might be surprised to find out that many of them have a not-so-secret Cheesecake Factory habit, read romance novels, and spend half the day on Snapchat!
Keep an open mind and listen to what your potential readers tell you.
Make a list of the blogs, websites, email newsletters, and social media channels you hear mentioned most often. These are going to be your major points of focus for your marketing efforts down the line.
2. Identify Influencers
You’ll likely see references to a few key figures in your niche popping up over and over again.
Who are the standout stars in your area?
You probably already recognize their names—you should be active and informed in your niche if you’re going to provide great insight and value on the topic—but are there any you weren’t aware of?
Check out the Instagram feeds, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and blogs of these folks. See what they’re posting about, what style they write in, and whether there are any common threads.
Again, keep a list of these key influencers. Reach out to see if they accept guest posts on their site; if so, get writing! Even before your book is available, appearing on a key influencer’s site as a guest can enhance your profile and boost your audience awareness.
When your book is published, you’ll want to reach out to the influencers you’ve connected with to offer them a free copy. There should be no strings attached here—just offer them a free book ahead of the publication date as a way to say thank you for the value they provide to your niche community.
Most of the time, this free copy will get a mention on the influencer’s social media feeds, or maybe even a review. And that can really boost your sales!
3. Try Paid Advertising
One last way to reach your ideal audience is to place paid ads where they hang out—both online and off.
You’ve made a list of top blogs, sites, and social media in your niche. You can also figure out, based on your conversations and surveys, what people are looking for in a book on your topic. That gives you a whole bunch of keywords you can use to target specific readers!
Consider trying a Facebook or Google Adwords campaign targeted at the very detailed reader profile you developed when you created your Imaginary Superfan.
You can also place blog network ads on sites that lots of your readers follow—and often, it’s not very expensive to take out a shiny, visible banner ad on a niche blog.
Try Goodreads ads, too, especially if you’re a fiction author.
Again, target the keywords carefully and keep the other interests of your Imaginary Superfan and your real potential readers in mind. You might be competing for attention with other writers in your niche if you only focus on direct keywords and easy sites, like “backyard chickens” or sustainable living blogs, to use our example.
But if you know your chicken-loving fans really love a certain cooking blog, you could take out a clever ad talking about how fresh eggs are the best for baking and drive a ton of traffic straight to your book!
If your budget allows it, check out offline ads, too—if your readers all tend to subscribe to a certain magazine, you might want to see if they have “business-card-size” ads available or if there’s a “marketplace” section, which is often affordable to advertise in.
Better yet, try approaching the magazine with an article pitch! This is a great technique to get your name and work in front of readers, establish yourself as an expert, and get paid for the article itself.
Doing solid background research; creating an Imaginary Superfan; finding out where your potential fans hang out and who they already follow; and creating specific, targeted, value-filled content based on your potential audience’s needs puts you miles ahead of the competition when you’re planning both your book and your marketing campaign.
You’re well on your way to assembling a loyal, devoted fan base!
(For Part 2 of this series, click here: Audience Engagement: How to Establish a Genuine Connection with Your Readers.)
About the Author
Kate Sullivan is the managing editor of TCK Publishing, an independent publisher specializing in helping authors achieve personal and professional success.
When she’s not editing a book or writing a blog post, she’s thinking about how to help authors connect with their fans and build the platform of their dreams.
She doesn’t have any chickens.
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