How to Find your Target Readership: 4 Ideas for Authors

Sophie Playle

Finding your target readership is the best thing you can do to give your novel a fighting chance of success.

It’s useful to think about your target readership before you publish. Perhaps before you even start writing, if you have a good sense of what you want to write. After all, if there’s no readership for your novel, it won’t sell. It’s as simple as that.

But assuming there is a readership out there for your book, how do you find it?

Writers tend to identify with the artistic rather than the business side of the publishing industry, so marketing strategy often doesn’t come easily. But it is essential. Simply writing a great work is not enough when there are so many other great works out there.

Effective marketing means you get to place your great work right into the hands of the people who’d most like to read it.

So here are some tips to help you find, and connect with, your target readership.

Identify your literary colleagues

Any commercial marketing strategy worth its salt takes a close look at competitors. (How are they marketing themselves? Who are they marketing to?) But how do you, as an author, find your competitors?

Sometimes it’s obvious. But if you’re struggling, I recommend the approach outlined by Amy Deardon in her useful workbook The Story Template.

In an exercise called Similar Stories, she recommends jotting down favourite stories from childhood and adulthood, especially those that feel relevant to your work in progress. This is also something I was encouraged to do while working on my novel for my creative writing MA.

The writers of these works could well turn out to be your competitors, or even your literary colleagues. In which case, their readership is likely to overlap with your target readership.

  • If your literary influences are still popular despite being dead, there’s a market with a convenient gap in it, ready for you to fill.
  • If your literary influences are alive and you’re feeling swashbuckling, you could always engineer a PR stunt in the manner of legendary feuds of old (think Kingsley Amis vs Julian Barnes or VS Naipaul vs Paul Theroux).

At the very least, you’ll know where your potential readers can be found.

Create reader personas

Buyer personas are a useful tool for businesses who want to tailor products and services to a particular market. I think they’re even more powerful for authors than for other entrepreneurs.

Businesses often base buyer personas on interviews with consumers, but you can base yours on your intuition, and on the people who buy from your competitors.

The best way to start is to create three fictional characters (as a writer, this shouldn’t be too hard for you!) who you think would be interested in reading your work. These are your reader personas.

Give each character a name, describe their demographic, think about their behaviours, then about how, when and where they’ll read your books. Finally, see if you can identify their general wants and needs, and their life values.

You’ll use these profiles to target your marketing messages more effectively.

Become a social listener

The majority of book marketers I’ve come across on social media seem to use it as an advertising billboard. But it’s much more valuable as a listening device.

If you eavesdrop on the social media feeds of your literary colleagues, you’ll find out what their readership loves, what it hates, and what it most desires. You can use this intelligence in both your writing and your marketing strategy.

And when you find people on social media who seem to fit your reader personas, you’ll find out how accurate your predictions were.

You don’t have to stay glued to Twitter or Snapchat around the clock to be a social listener, though.

Free tools like Google Alerts, Social Mention and Hootsuite will help you find out what’s being mentioned, by who, and when.

Attract them to you like bees to honey

Book marketing used to be led by advertising, but the internet has changed everything. We’re all becoming immune (or even hostile) to traditional ads, so nowadays you need to box clever.

The worst thing you can do is wait until your book is published and then keep asking random strangers to buy it.

Instead, start your own inbound marketing campaign right now. Create blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos and any method that might appeal to your target market.

Whenever any of your readers interacts with your content, take the trouble to respond or at least thank them for getting in touch. The key thing is to let them know you’re listening.

Then, when the time comes to sell your work, you’ll have a ready-made community waiting to read your book and tell their friends about it.

Remember: marketing needn’t be a dirty word

When you become an author, especially if you’re an indie author, you must also become a marketer.

Don’t look so worried. It’s okay.

It’s okay because good marketing’s not about pestering people with unwanted attention.

It’s about sending the right messages to the people who really want to hear from you: your target readership.

Sophie Playleis a professional fiction editor. She specialises in developmental editing, critiquing and copy-editing, and loves working with authors and publishers who are passionate about high-quality storytelling. Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction are her genres of choice. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and has a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. Find out more:

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