Who is your book for?
While this isn’t intended to be a trick question, the quizzical looks that I often receive from writers during pitch sessions suggest otherwise.
After a few moments of chin-tapping or staring into space, here are some common responses:
- My book is for everyone!
- This novel is for both Christians and non-Christians.
- This book is for every woman out there who has gone through (fill-in-the-blank).
When I hear one of those answers, I recognize the writer’s heart for their work is to reach the widest swath possible of potential readers. Yet, when it comes to audience, think counterintuitively.
If you attempt to write for everyone, your book risks the likelihood of connecting with no one.
Imagine that you’re Beyoncé and there are 100,000 people in the audience. (Just go with me here…)
As you stand on the stage, it’s really hard to connect with any one person in the audience because there are so many. However, if you’ve ever been at a concert, some of the most meaningful moments are when a performer goes over to a single individual in the crowd and touches his or her hand. Making the connection with your specific audience is like you grabbing a select number of people by the hand and making that all-important personal connection with them.
You can’t grab every reader, but you can lay the groundwork for an emotional connection with a specific group of readers. The way that you know when you’re connecting with an audience is when you see emails or comments from readers saying: “You knew exactly what I was going through” or “This story reminds me of what I went through…”
Now, if you’re holding out on insisting that your book is for everyone, I’m not here to tell you that you’re wrong. In fact, some books seem like everyone is drawn to them like Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life, Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling or Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love. However, these broadly popular books are the exception, not the rule.
So, back to earth for all the other writers out there…
As a literary agent, I’m looking for prospective clients with a strong sense of their specific audience, even if their novel or nonfiction work is driven by a strong self-interest. Of course, we want to write books that we’re interested in writing, but at some point, we’ll need readers to be interested in our books as well.
In a moment, I’ll share eight questions that you can use to investigate your audience. These questions aren’t just for marketing your book. They can bolster your confidence and creativity during the writing process. If you tend to get stuck in your head, these questions draw you back out to your audience’s wants, desires and dreams. If you’re afraid of running out of creative material, tapping into your audience’s world can fuel new streams of possibilities.
Here are those eight questions that you can use to help research your audience. Some of these questions are unusual but purposeful because they’ll prompt new creative ideas for the readers that you already know and push you to get curious about the readers that you’d like to attract.
AUDIENCE RESEARCH QUESTIONS:
- What does your dream reader wish that he or she could do but can’t (or won’t) do it right now?
- What are their “hills to die on”? (What are some of their top values?)
- What are four or five items that your target reader would have in their Amazon cart? What problems would those items address or solve?
- What are some of their unsatisfied felt needs? (For example: desire for adventure, belonging, etc…)
- What problems are your readers praying about?
- Whom do they follow on social media? What kinds of posts resonate with them the most?
- What pressures/stresses keep them from enjoying leisure time?
- What value do you offer your current audience that keeps them connected to you?
JOIN THE CONVERSATION: Who is your audience? How do you get to know them? As you review the eight audience research questions, which ones might be most helpful for you?
A purpose-driven life is cool,
can make world catch its breath,
but I think we need a tool
for purpose-driven death,
one that sets a soul to shine
in facing the unwanted,
in calling to the great Divine
with a faith undaunted
by limits on left days to live.
Here we can stretch out our hands
and truly give all we can give,
for the heart now understands
that being poured as a libation
is the greatest liberation.
Thank you, Andrew. Once again, your words have touched my heart. Maybe I’m part of your audience! ; )
Susan, thank you so much for this. Your words have brought light and purpose to a very rough day.
It goes both ways, you know. My readers are the hands and heart of Christ, helping me to go on.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Great ideas, Barb! Thank you for making us think about this. I also write RomComs, but for the purpose of responding to your blog post, I want to talk about the audience for the children’s manuscripts that I’ve been working on. So, it consists of two age categories. The children themselves and those kiddos’ parents. The children just want a good book! They want to be swept away into a story world. They want adventure and mystery and a 20lb puppy galloping after a rampaging squirrel and getting trapped in a Rube Goldberg machine when all she really wants is a piece of ham! They want to see the fur fly when the squirrel attacks and the kid heroes to win in the end. Their parents, they want wholesome content that models good values. They want God moments woven throughout the story that make the reader think just a little deeper about spiritual things. But those parents are also so very tired of boring and preachy kid’s books. They want books by Jesus-loving authors who can write a rollicking tale! So fabulous and fun that it zips their child into the story and engages both their mind and heart. They want their kids to be able to recommend the book to friends without being embarrassed by preachy moments because the faith message is so skillfully done that it is a vital part of the story.
Which of your 8 questions was most helpful?
Looking at my reader’s Amazon cart!
It would be the parent’s cart, but have items in it for their child.
This mystery cart would have a giant pizza-shaped or tortilla-shaped blanket because their child loves to snuggle up with books. It would have some dog brushes or a guinea pig harness because their child loves animals. It would include a bug catching kit or maybe binoculars so their child could engage with the outdoors. Plus, there would be a stack of amazing chapter books and middle grade novels for their young reader. The Andrew Lost books, The Dead Sea Squirrels, The Dragon Slayer Academy books. Also, the How to Train Your Dragon books, the Alcatraz Smedry books, and Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies!
My readers long to touch the divine, yet they keep God at arm’s length. They think the Bible is too big and too hard for them to understand. I am careful to include in my audience adult Christians with poor reading skills — I strive to write adult thoughts at a 4th-grade reading level (half of American adults read below the high-school level). Many of my readers have no books in their Amazon cart, because they don’t enjoy reading. I want them to get a taste of God’s Word and think, “I can do this! I can read the Bible. It can shape my life.”
This is one of the most instructive posts I’ve read in a while! It’s something we authors struggle with constantly. I love the questions you ask. I’ve printed out the list. Thank you!!
Such a helpful post, Barb–thank you! I feel like these questions are helpful for creating social media posts to resonate with our audience too. Definitely want to return to these and think them through more thoroughly!
It’s been helpful to me to think of my “ideal reader” as a “kindred spiriti,” someone who is probably a lot like me…who loves classic English literature but also wants to work for greater diversity and racial justice in our world, who is an introvert but prioritizes relationships, who loves beauty and to be touched deeply but also needs to have her funny bone tickled. Still working on this one, but your question of “What problems are your readers praying about?” definitely stood out to me.
Wendy L Macdonald
Thank you, dear Barb, for this excellent list of research questions. And for making us smile.
Blessings ~ Wendy Mac 🙂
Fun opener! This is one of the early journeys of our book, isn’t it? To determine who we are trying to reach. And out of all the thoughts we have on the subject, discerning which will resonate with them.
Barb, this is excellent. The one that struck me the most was #5: What problems are your readers praying about? BAM. That is FELT need.
Often as writers we forget that adjective. If the reader doesn’t FEEL the need, she won’t buy or read the book. If she’s praying about a problem, she knows she needs help in that area.
Thank you, Barb, for posting this. The questions are great and will now be in my “think about” file. I think numbers 2, 5, and 6 are the ones that spoke to me the most. I love helpful, insightful things like this.