Finding Your Target Audience

I was talking to an author friend, and she’s working on a series that has been difficult for her to finish because she worries that people are going to think the books suck.  I originally intended to write a post on confronting this horrible feeling (because I have it from time to time, too).  I don’t think any writer is immune to worrying their book will not resonate with the right crowd.

But then I thought, “Who is the right crowd?” If we define who we’re writing for and craft our book directly to that group of people, I think we will have a book they will love reading.  If we write for the wrong crowd, then they will not like our book.  So today, I’m going to discuss how to find out who your target audience is.  Once you have defined that, you can then take a look at character tropes and plot tropes that your audience loves and craft a story around those elements.

finding target audience pic
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Not all audiences are the same.  (Thankfully.)

There’s a saying that goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Fortunately, we live in a world where people have a wide range of interests.  You aren’t stuck writing only to one group of people.

Your target audience are the people you are writing for.  Take a look at books that are similar to the one you’re writing.  What are the reviews like?  Why do people love those books?  Why do they hate them?  For example, there is a group of romance readers who hate sex scenes.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But if you want to write a spicy romance, then that particular group is not in your target audience.  If one happens to read your book, they will likely give it a negative review because the book did not meet their expectations.

Your goal as a writer is to find out what your audience’s expectations are and then write your story in a way that will meet those expectations.

Why do people love or hate your book?

Let’s say you already have a book or two out, and you don’t know why someone loves or hates your books.  You want to know if you’re on the right track or if you need to change direction.  It could be that you think you’re writing for one particular audience when in reality, you’re really writing for another one.  The best way to find out is by gathering as much feedback as possible.

But how can you get feedback if no one is contacting you to let you know why they liked or didn’t like your book?

I used to say, “Don’t ever read your reviews.” But when I think about it, new writers often get feedback this way.  They don’t often get emails, comments on blog posts, or messages on Facebook from people who like or don’t like their books.  So one of the ways they’re going to find out who they’re pleasing and not pleasing is through reviews.  The best way to get reviews if you’re new is by offering a free book.  This can be on the retail site like Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iBooks, or Smashwords, or it can be on Wattpad.

Another great way of getting feedback is by getting beta readers who love books in the genre you’re writing for.  (A thriller reader won’t read a romance the same way a romance reader will.  Also, a Christian romance reader will not read an erotic romance the same way an erotic romance reader will.  So when you look within the genre, narrow the search down even farther.  The key is to find people in your target audience.)

If you offer your story for free and aren’t getting reviews or you can’t find beta readers, then I don’t know what to tell you except maybe hire a content editor who can look at the complete story and give you their opinion.  Ideally, this content editor will be familiar with your genre and know the rules for the genre.  (Every genre has a certain set of rules.  Following those rules often means happy readers.  Not following them will mean unhappy readers.)

There is value in good and bad feedback.

I admit that finding out why someone hates your book is never any fun.  No one wants to hear why their book failed to make a good impression with the reader.  But there is value in knowing why they didn’t because sometimes the very reason someone hated your book is the reason why someone else loved it.

I’ll give an example of how negative feedback actually helped me fine-tune my target audience.  I once participated in a multi-author boxed set.  We had quite a few reviews.  There were some of the five-star reviews of “loved all the books” without specifying why.  But guess what?  Every time someone mentioned my book, they did not like it.  After removing myself emotionally from the situation, I realized I wasn’t writing for the same audience that the other authors were.  (These other authors, by the way, are awesome authors, and they sell way better than I do.  So it was me that was “off” in the boxed set.  I was the one who wasn’t writing the book that their particular audience wanted.)  After analyzing all of the reviews, I realized everyone who hated my book didn’t like my hero because they saw him as being weak.  Looking at why they loved the other books, I realized this particular audience preferred alpha heroes.   I write beta heroes.  So for readers looking for alpha heroes, I’m not going to please them.  My book was not a good match for the other authors’ books.  Those authors wrote what those readers were looking for, and I didn’t.  Does that mean my book sucked?  Not to the people who are my fans.  They prefer beta heroes.  How do I know my fans like beta heroes?  They’ve told me.  One of the compliments I get the most is that my heroes are sweethearts.  So that is the group I’m aiming for.

There is a reason why we attract certain readers.  This key is knowing WHY people love or hate your book.  Your goal in narrowing down your target audience is to find out who you’re writing for.  Once you have that figured out, you can tailer your cover, book description, characters, and your plot to that group of people.  When you do that, hopefully, the interest and sales will go up.

16 Comments

  1. I was going to do a post like this at some point. I have to say, I kind of prefer the way you do it, Ruth.

    1. This took me eight times of revising before I finally got it right. This subject was harder than I thought it’d be.

  2. Ron Fritsch says:

    I suspect that many readers want a certain kind of story and feel misled if they happen to read one that doesn’t meet their expectations. There are other readers, like myself, who would rather be surprised. We can enjoy a mystery as well as a romance, a tale set in the real world as well as a fantasy, a beta hero as well as an alpha, a story with a happy ending as well as the bleakest tragedy. Please, writers, don’t forget to target us.

    1. I think if a reader is looking at something genre specific (like romance), then they will be expecting things that follow the rules of the genre. But I agree that there are readers who would like something that doesn’t follow the rigid rules of the genre. I love to read horror, and I would love to see more happy endings. It seems that horror lends itself to some depressing ending or some ending where the threat isn’t fully resolved. When I come across one with a definite ending and the hero/heroine prevails, I love it because it’s rarely done.

      1. Ron Fritsch says:

        I agree: horror with a protagonist who prevails can be a tasty dish.

  3. Good advice, Ruth. God bless.

  4. Great post. I am writing my third book and they are all different genres. I am hoping with this one, I will find where I really fit for my audience, if not, well, I love writing anyway.

    1. I write a variety of genres, too. 🙂 My interests are wide. It sounds like yours are, too. I think once you find the one that sticks with a particular audience, then things get really exciting. That doesn’t mean you have to stick only with that one genre, of course. Sometimes it’s a matter of trial and error to find the right fit.

      1. Thank you Ruth Ann, nice to know you and others have interests beyond one genre. Thank you for your great comment. Karen 🙂

  5. I wrote stories for my kids for years but never thought to publish anything until I lost my job. I am now trying to become a writer. Your advice has been more than helpful. Short or long, I like stories that fulfill the promise. The picture on the front is a promise, the Name is a promise, If the curiosity it triggers is not fulfilled then and only then do I feel disappointed.

    1. You make an excellent point. How we package the book makes a promise to the reader. The cover design we use and our author name (which is our brand) sends a message to the reader on what they can expect when they read the book. I’m glad you brought this up!

  6. Mary P says:

    I am hoping with this one, I will find where I really fit for my audience, if not, well, I love writing anyway. I suspect that many readers want a certain kind of story and feel misled if they happen to read one that doesn’t meet their expectations.

    1. It can take a few books before you nail down your specific audience. I think it took me about ten to figure out why people read my type of romances because I don’t write the kind that is ultra popular. I believe there is an audience out there for every author. The hard part is finding them. 🙂 You’re right. Readers buy a book expecting something specific, and if they don’t get it, they are disappointed. That’s why my book bombed so badly in the multi-author boxed set. My book wasn’t a good fit for them. The other authors, however, knew their audience better and were able to please them. Sometimes it’s a lot of trial and error to get it right.

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