Stuff You Need to Know for 2011: Every Author’s Two Audiences

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.

Several times recently I found myself having the same conversation with various Books & Such clients, and I realized what often seems obvious to me  isn’t obvious at all: Every author has two audiences.

The first audience really is obvious–your readers. Many authors forget to consider who their audience is when they write their manuscripts; it can be especially problematic for novelists. This past year as I conversed with a novelist, I asked him who his audience was. He found the question baffling. “People who like my books,” he finally answered.

“Yes, but what sort of books do these readers like?” I replied.

He didn’t know.

I suggested he give considerably more thought to the idea that his readers do fall into a specific category. Sometimes it helps to think about other authors these readers are likely to enjoy.

The second audience is your publisher. Yup, your publisher.

Authors often don’t know when they should communicate with their publisher. They don’t want to be pests, but this reluctance to communicate can cause serious repercussions.

Last year I started to represent a multi-published author. When I met with her current publisher to find out how the publisher saw the relationship, I was dismayed that the author (whom I’ll call Teresa) was viewed as reluctant to promote her books.

When I told Teresa that was the perception, she presented me with an impressive litany of regular promotional activities she had engaged in for her most recent title.

“Did you communicate any of this to your publisher?” I asked.

“No, I just thought they’d see on my website and social media what I was doing.”

Think about that assumption. How many titles does your publisher produce each year? How many authors do the staff work with each year?  How much time do they have to carefully track what each author is doing to promote his or her projects? (Especially since an author will continue to promote titles years after they’ve been released.)

I suggested that Teresa keep a log of everything she did to promote her writing and then to send that log once a month to the marketing and editorial personnel she regularly worked with. That small communication changed the publisher’s view of Teresa. Soon I was hearing, “We can’t imagine anyone working harder than Teresa in promoting her books.” What had changed? Teresa started to think of her publisher as an audience she needed to stay in touch with.

What she did wasn’t intrusive or even frequent. But it was informative. It told her “audience” what it needed to hear: That she was hard at work fulfilling her job as an author.

Other items publishing personnel want to hear include: letters, emails, etc., you receive from readers, showing that individuals are appreciating what you’ve written and are being moved by it; ideas of ways you could promote your title that the publisher might coordinate its marketing/publicity efforts with (be realistic; talk to your agent; send a list, not a scattering of ideas every week); pics of book signings and speaking engagements, especially if a nice crowd shows up.

The main points to keep in mind when communicating with your publisher are:

  • Make the communication regular but not frequent (monthly is about right)
  • Send one email rather than a smattering of thoughts each time something occurs to you
  • When in doubt, talk to your agent
  • Make sure the communication is respectful and enthusiastic rather than whining or demanding

What would you add to the idea of each author having two audiences?

How did you figure out who your readers were?

What have you done in communicating with your publisher that has worked for you?

20 Responses

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  1. Thanks for your insightful post. Actually it affirms a vital relationship I have with my publisher’s marketing team. I give them a regular update about what I am doing to help promote my books. I also try to validate the efforts they are making on my behalf. Bottom line, they know I am willing to work hard to promote the books and in turn, they give an extra effort to me/ my books. Relationships between authors and publishers are important!

    You make excellent points that all authors need to read.

  2. Joyce Magnin says:

    I really appreciated this post, Janet. Thank you.

  3. Lynn Dean says:

    Great insight here! I think many writers fear that they’ll become a nuisance. Ithelps to receive “permission” to do what’s needful.

  4. Lindsay Franklin says:

    Janet, what a great post! Great tips on author-publisher relations.

    Reading about the audience-baffled author made me laugh. I was in the same boat not too long ago! When I told my dad, who has worked in marketing departments for decades, that I was thinking of trying to publish the manuscript I had been playing with, the first question he asked was, “Who is your audience?” I scratched my head and said something to the effect of, “People who like to read.” He wasn’t impressed. It took me a while to realize that I write for young adults. As a former youth leader, this really should have been obvious to me – that I was writing for “my girls” all along. But once I figured that out, it focused my writing tremendously. What types of characters and plot twists would have them gasping, oohing, and aahing? I keep that in my mind whenever I sit down to write now, and hopefully it shows. 🙂

  5. Janet Grant says:

    Missy, I’m glad you figured out how vital that communication is. It really provides more a team mentality, don’t you think?
    Lynn, I hadn’t thought in terms of giving “permission” to communication with the publisher, but that is what authors are waiting for, isn’t it?
    Lindsay, yup, my client and you probably shared the same mystified look when asked the obvious question that neither of you had considered. I’m glad you’re dad probed and got you thinking!

  6. Thank you for your post, which has given me some new ideas. While my YA novel doesn’t get the “you saved my life” fan letters, I do get email regularly from teenagers who’re reading the book for a class and interested in learning more about the topic and about my background. It makes sense to let my publisher know where the novel has gotten course adoptions so they can promote similar course adoptions elsewhere, since teachers are always looking for fiction that can be used successfully across the curriculum.

  7. Sue Harrison says:

    Love this post. I never thought to communicate to my publisher what I was doing to promote my novels. Thank you, Janet!

  8. This is such a helpful post, Janet. Thank you. I agree with Lynn. I think writers are waiting for “permission.” Writers spend so much time, years, trying to catch the attention of agents/ediors/publishers, that they’re scared of doing the wrong thing or communicating too much. I attended a workshop at the ACFW conference re: the agent-author relationship taught by Steve Laube. It was an excellent discussion about communication between writers and their team.

  9. Nikole Hahn says:

    I have always read my comments on my blog. Just the other day I was instructing someone how to build an online platform to become a writer and spoke with her about doing a guest blog on my blog.

    “What do I write about?” She asked.

    I gave her the guidelines, but also said, “read my readers comments, even go to their blogs. My readers return to my blog because I tapped into what they are looking for.”

    As I read your blog, I realized that what you just said hit it right on the button.

  10. Jill Kemerer says:

    This is very helpful. With all the writing craft books out there, I know I would love to read a book for writers on proper etiquette. So many of us are going into the business blind, we have no idea what is appropriate and what isn’t. I’m very thankful for your blog!

  11. Janet,

    Thanks for this excellent post. As CBA writers, we often rightfully worry about lacking humility when it comes to promoting our efforts. The greater arrogance; however, is hiding behind our inked scrolls, waiting for the world to come to us. If we’re not passionate about our writing and our effort to get our message out, then why should anyone else care?

  12. Janet Grant says:

    I’m glad my comments have affirmed some of you and awakened others.
    Thanks, Michael, for pointing out that it can be a false humility to wait for the world to notice your work. Part of an author’s job description is to publicize his or her creative effort.

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  14. Caroline says:

    Great post, and great comments on this post today. Janet, thank you yet again for useful insight into the publishing world.

    I agree with the importance emphasized on knowing your audience. I often think my background as a teacher helps with remembering audience. As a teacher, you have your audience right in front of you – you almost have to remember them! Remembering that audience (and their needs and wants) is a necessity in planning beneficial lessons. Same goes for writing inspiring, challenging, or entertaining words.

    Of course, I’m no master at remembering my audience in writing. Writing provides a path for my own thoughts to explore, expand and grow. But if I want my words to bless others, those words can’t be just for me!

  15. Oops. I’ve erred on the “don’t want to be a pest” side, I think. I’m with Heather (above)… I’m afraid of communicating too much, and, as a result, have done too little.

    So, what’s the life-expectency of this kind of communication? If the book has been out for a while, should we continue the communication?


  16. Traci DePree says:

    This is great stuff, Janet. I would add a third audience–your agent! We need to communicate many of these same things with our agents–what we’re doing, how we’re promoting, whether we have projects on our desk… So they’re fully in the know when they talk to our publishers. 🙂

  17. Lynn Wallace says:

    Thanks, Janet. You’ve confirmed what I’ve been doing. My publisher, editor, and the editor’s wife met at the convention in Denver. I was excited and somewhat nervous, but they put me right at ease. Sam, the publisher, asked me several questions. I hadn’t thought of taking a picture of a book signing. I’ll do that next time, but I do keep them informed. I do not contact them often enough to be a nuisance, but our communications have been good.

  18. Insightful and informative. Thanks Janet.

  19. Anna Houghton says:

    Thanks for the great post. I agree with the comments above too that authors tend to err on the side of caution for fear of becoming a nuisance to their publishers.
    When it comes to audience, I am becoming a little concerned about my book. It is a romance written for a mature audience and my agent has agreed that it is where it will fit in the bookshop, yet the draft which was posted online seems to be very popular with a younger audience, namely teenagers (to be fair, the website has a majority audience of teens rather than adults), but my question is should I worry about the fact my idea of an adult romance is appealing to younger readers too? Thanks.

  20. Larry Carney says:

    Excellent post! While it has already been stated that there is at third audience (the agent of the author), I think that there are perhaps two more categories to consider:

    Audience # 4: The writer. Though it may seem obvious, the first person to read your work is yourself 🙂 Therefore, it is the duty of the writer to make sure that their work is up to their own standards of quality (is it something crafted well) and content (some authors may feel more or less comfortable with certain elements of writing than others).

    Audience #5: People who would never, ever read one of your books. As a writer of faith, there are those who won’t even consider reading your work because of preconceived notions of what “that type of writing” is about. Astound such people. Astonish them with stories which reveal questions they might have dared not ask aloud. After all, are these not the ones we should hope most fervently to read our words?