Blogger: Mary Keeley
When I ask writers who their audience is, I often hear responses like, “women from 20-65” or “readers who love history with suspense” or “men and women who want to learn more about my topic.” Those are defined groups, but my next question drills deeper: How much do you know about your readers and their world? The time to gather this information is long before you start pitching your book to readers.
Interaction with your readers is the new imperative. They are the lifeblood of your book’s sales success. Simply pitching your book to them on Facebook and at book signings does not a meaningful connection make. Get to know them as individuals and gain understanding of their common struggles, interests, hopes, dreams, anxieties, what their daily life is like, and their concerns about their world.
It’s all about identifying your readers’ felt needs and incorporating them into your book. It works the same for fiction and nonfiction. Here are a few suggestions for how to gather this information.
- Go where they hang out. In-person connections make readers feel valued and in turn, they may develop a loyalty to you and your books when you show genuine interest in them and their world.
- Invest in an online meeting service like Go to Meeting if your finances allow. Invite groups of your Facebook followers to an occasional online get-together where you can catch up with each other and then talk about your book. Record their feedback on what touches them most, what doesn’t, and why.
- As you get to know your readers, collect articles and current information that relate to your books and could be of interest to them. Share it on your blog, newsletter, or social media and ask readers for their feedback.
- Monitoring which of your tweets get retweeted and Facebook entries get liked, and so on, may indicate or confirm a felt need.
When you pitch your book to agents, your focus should be on its unique qualities that set it apart from other books in your genre, in other words, from the perspective of its marketability. But when you’re pitching your book to readers, the connections to their felt needs and interests are what matters in your approach.
How well are you doing at connecting with your readers? What have you learned about their lives, their world, and their felt needs? What additional methods have you used to connect with your target readers?
Pitching your book to readers involves connecting with their felt needs. Click to Tweet.
Getting to know what is important to your readers is imperative for authors today. Click to Tweet.
I like the way you set out this very important topic, Mary. I started my journey toward meeting my target audience (Christian women 35-70) many years ago, by reading – and genuinely enjoying – the books they did…particularly Susan Howatch (the Starbridge series) and Andrew Greeley. When I was able to start writing, I kept these examples both in mind and ready at hand for re-reading.
The next step was blogging, and it did take me a while to find my feet, and actually connect with the people I wanted to reach. It was a process of accretion, for want of a better word…I looked for blogs that resonated with me as being representative of describing a need, or a worldview that I could address. Commenting on others’ blogs brought readers to mine, and participating in linkups was a key factor in bringing in more people.
It seems to be working; during a two-month period in which my internet access was severely restricted due to ISP issues (I had to use Barbara’s smartphone to barely maintain my blog) readership actually rose.
“Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart” is not a “writer’s blog”; that much I should make clear. It’s devoted to Christian marriage, because that is the subject closest to my heart. In a sense, the fiction (and nonfiction) may exist to augment the blog. When the present series on dealing with a dying spouse is turned into a book – if I have the time and energy – I’ll SP it (I mean, who’d want to publish a book on a downer subject like that, written by an ex-shooter?) and give the launch info, the special deals, etc…but it won’t take over the blog. Nor will any other book I write. I think it’s important to remain faithful to the people who find something of value in my writing, and who drop by three times a week. (That, incidentally, is why I don’t spend much time on FB or Twitter…blogging and writing are more work than I can handle even now.)
The upshot of all of this has been a learning curve that took me to some places I did not expect to visit. First, it took WAY longer to develop the connections than I would have expected…years, and if you could the preliminary reading as basic research, decades. Second, I’ve learned that platform is really everything, because the platform is me. It’s the biggest shock of my writing life…I mean, I’ll pick a Beth Vogt or Cathy West book because I want to spend time with the writers, through their characters…but I never expected that the same feelings might be engendered in others’ hearts, for me. (Cue Sally Field here…anyone remember that reference, or have I just fossilized myself?)
One more thought…use demographic data to find out what music your people listen to. Many of mine came of age when ‘elevator music’ consisted of 50s ballads and older broadway show tunes, and these set up an emotional resonance in young hearts that has never completely faded. The ambience of songs like “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” or “Stranger On The Shore” can be a useful writing tool, as can some of the pop music that was contemporary with the readers’ youth (The Fifth Dimension comes to mind). It’s not a matter of being retro; it’s paying meet respect to the values that were embraced when the world seemed open, and love seemed like an adventure. My aim is to make the latter real, to show that married love truly IS an adventure, the greatest one (save our salvation) that we may experience.
Great suggestions and examples, Andrew. And “it’s important to remain faithful to the people who find something of value in my writing…” is really the heart of it, isn’t it.
We like you Andrew. We really like you. 🙂
(At least, I hope that’s the correct reference. I might need more coffee.)
Yeah, that’s it…uh, wait, I think I got something in my eyes. Can’t see the screen clearly, all of a sudden.
Thanks. You don’t know how much that means. I am humbled and exalted, both, to walk among the friendly giants that inhabit this community, as a pilgrim wandering a grove of sequoias.
Wendy L Macdonald
Yes, Andrew, I remember that acceptance speech—I’ve always liked Sally Field. Your comment “the platform is me” reminds us that to be ‘out there’ is a big and sobering responsibility. You’ve given me more to think and pray about. ❀
As I write, I see myself writing to specific people I know, trusting that they are representative of a larger group. I care very much about these people, but some of them are very time-consuming. The idea of connecting with large numbers of like-minded folk is, honestly, terrifying. Lord, give me strength!
I take comfort in the Lamentations promise that because of the Lord’s great love, I am not consumed. My desire is to attract these needy people to God, not me. Meanwhile, I often discover that thoughts I’ve recorded in my WIP are exactly right for my real-world encounters. Thanks be to God.
Shirlee, you surely must have your finger on the pulse of your readers when you see that your thoughts in your writing are right for your intended readers. You are in a good place.
This is great advice. I’d also suggest joining a book club where the members represent the demographics of your target audience. Listening to the discussion in my book club has helped me gain a better idea of what women readers want to read.
Excellent suggestion, Shelia. A targeted book group like that is a perfect environment for developing relationships with readers, practicing your book pitch, and obtaining feedback to learn where you should revise or re-direct your book.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Great info, Mary. I know that one of my favorite parts of writer’s conferences is sitting at a table with agents and editors and asking them about their job and the books they love. Perhaps there is a way to do this with readers as well. A way to connect in this kind of fun and informal setting.
Kristen, that’s a great comparison. Sitting among a group of your target readers, listening to what they have to say about what’s going on in their lives, can be enlightening. And it shouldn’t be any more daunting than sitting with us agents and editors.
Mary, I appreciate this post, because I know I’ve not spent much time on getting to know my readers so I can pitch to them. As I read some of the comments here this morning, I can see that I am discovering some readers through my blog. As Andrew mentioned, developing these relationships has taken a long time. I haven’t figured out how to tap into readers’ interest on Facebook and Twitter, so I am thinking this is something I need to research more. And to figure out exactly where my readers hang out and begin hanging out there.
I love your suggestions, and I need to be more purposeful in implementing them. Adding to my to-do list: research where my readers hang out, in person and online. 🙂
Thanks for the helpful post!
Jeanne, for what it’s worth, I just got some advice from a well-established author…the kind who doesn’t need to blog, or tweet, or FB. people look for his name. The advice was this – to be careful with the use of FB or Twitter for anything substantive, because they both demand a telegraphic writing style, to fit their ephemerality, that will creep over into your other writing. He advised me to concentrate on my blog (which he likes), and to hone a relaxed and ‘deep’ style, because that is precisely what is beginning to be missed in today’s market. I’m certainly not expert enough to either endorse or negate his views, but they do seem to make a functional kind of sense, and I did notice that my style changed when I had to blog for two months on a Smartphone.
Andrew this is great food for thought. Thank you for sharing!
In all honesty, this whole aspect of publishing is hard for me to get a handle on.
Jeanne, I think you’ve done a beautiful and consistent job at reaching your reader through your blog. Keep up the great work!
Motion seconded, passed unanimously, and hereby adopted.
Thank you, Jenni and Andrew. Your words encourage me!
Jeanne, be encouraged. Word of mouth still is the most effective method of marketing. Those relationships you have begun to develop on your blog are readers who will suggest your blog to reader friends, who in turn will also tell others.
Shelia’s suggestion to join a book group at a local library might be a natural place to start connecting with readers in person.
Yes, I liked Sheila’s suggestion. I hadn’t even thought of that. 🙂
One thing I’ve noticed on my blog, whenever I have an article out on a different country, I have high traffic from that country. I recently had an article out on missions in Ukraine and traffic from that country has been high. I’m not sure how to tap into that … if I can? I’m hoping it’s average people and not the country investigating me. 🙂
I always figure it’s the country. Sure, I’m paranoid, but even paranoiacs have enemies.
Shelli, it would be helpful to go back to those blog posts and analyze the comments. Record common responses from the various countries and compare their common interests, struggles, etc. with comments from your other blog posts. You might discover core felt needs among your readers wherever they live.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
So far, I’ve discovered something very interesting about a few of my hockey mom friends. They like historical fiction, they love a good cry, AND they are very un-subtle about how long they think my books should be.
It SLAYS me that one friend told me she’s already told her sisters that they have to look out for my books. Another friend saved my MS for a flight to Europe and put head phones on so no one would bother her while she was reading.
A friend is working on a focus group for me in September, with Navajo women to give me feedback. I am SO looking forward to that.
Each of the people involved in my beta team have had experiences in their lives that I touch on in my work. Everything from the Acadienne Expulsion, to racial prejudice, to spousal abuse. Those people apply the ripple effect to their social circles and now, I have hockey moms asking me when the books are going to come out. Even a former Canonical lawyer for the Catholic church!
It’s a rather interesting cross-cultural demographic. One that only God could have worked out.
One method I’ve employed for these people is to ask them to give me their opinions.
That approach surprises people. For some, being asked by a Christian, to form an educated opinion and for constructive criticism, is so outside the box of what they thought Christians are like.
I’ve asked non-Evangelicals to give me their assessment of the “thump factor”, and definite non-Christians to tell me if the spiritual message affected them has opened up all kinds of discussions about faith and life.
I approach people I trust who I know are readers, because I want the toughest critics I can find.
By being brave, I’ve learned a lot!!!
Mostly, that people want a good story. Many do not want 50 Shades, they want tenderness and kindness. They WANT a HEA. And they want the characters to grow and change. They want a hero who is a man, and a heroine who is a lady. They want to mourn the end of a good book.
When my friend Monique Levert (leh-vare) told me she still wonders about my characters, and if they’re doing okay, I know I ball-parked the story.
Word of mouth around these parts will be huge, because we hockey parents do a lot of sitting around and looking at what each other is reading.
Are my target readers *all* moms with stinky vans? No. But there are a whole lot of them. And they buy books.
Hockey Moms are not the only ones with trashed vehicles…just try taking a group of Pit Bulls to McDonald’s (drive-through) for burgers, fries, and ice cream cones. It’s a fun experience, though not necessarily for the faint of heart, and definitely NOT for neat freaks. “Dude, how did you get ketchup stains on the ceiling?”
And yes, I am impatiently awaiting my copies. Like, before I Meet The Reaper, please!
“She still wonders about your characters” … I love that. The characters do become so real and loved in our hearts, no matter how silly that may sound. Makes me think of the Miss Potter movie again. She talks to her characters. 🙂 And “mourn the end of a good book” … oh, yes. Laugh at me, but I’m having trouble moving on to The Wood’s Edge because I’m still stuck on Jesse Bird and Tamsen Littlejohn. 🙂
A focus group with Navajo women? Go deep!
May God grant you both courage and a sensitive, compassionate heart. (Oh, wait. He already did).
In a race of compassion and heart, Jennifer Major would leave Mother T and the Dalai Lama in the dust. Her kindness and Christian insight has breathed new life into a lot of writing careers, I think. Mine included.
“By being brave, I’ve learned a lot!!!”
In the process you’ve also taught us a lot, Jennifer
Gotta second, pass, and adopt that one too, Jenni.
I love your bravery, Jennifer! And the feedback you’ve received about your stories so far? Fabulous! I’m so looking forward to reading your books!
Ooooh, this inspires me to do something terrifying. Solicit feedback for the serial novel I’ve jsut started blogging.
I’ve learned from other projects that its not enough to just provide a space to reply. You must invite responses.
So before tomorrow, when chapter 3 goes live, I need to come up several good leading questions to encourage useful feedback.
Jane, that’s a good idea. I’m sure you’re up to the challenge.
There’s one more thing, and perhaps it bears mentioning. Readers are neither statistics nor stepping stones, and the road to writing success may lead you into a place you’d never considered…for me, success has been defined by the lives I’ve touched, and the very real friends I’ve made.
Perhaps I’ll one day dominate the NYT List, but that will be small potatoes compared to the prayers and love of the dearest friends I have never physically met.
Real. Love it, Andrew. You are real.
Takes one to know one! 🙂
Wendy L Macdonald
Amen, Andrew. The writing journey is gilded with friendships with readers and other writers. ❀
One more observation on blogging…again, for what it may be worth. Not everyone writes or reads blogs, but those who are part of the blogosphere are influencers. They have a level of engagement with the world that runs deep, and thus…when commenting on a post, it behooves a writer to be serious and substantive. Name recognition will follow. Anything less is a missed opportunity.
Spot on, Andrew!
Wendy L Macdonald
Mary, I’ve been struggling with the target audience question as I work on projects and continue to interact on social media. My own reading preferences have led me into some good places where I’m meeting people I enjoy engaging with and who may like what I eventually have to offer (besides my blogging—which I adore doing). But I think I may have pieced my puzzle. Recovery. In each of my manuscripts I have a recovery story of some sort. People who love recovery stories and who need the encouragement to keep believing it’s possible for them or those they love are a large part of my target audience. And through the genre (mystery/romance) I’ve chosen I can also target those who may not even realize they need to be encouraged. I don’t know if that will be too broad—time will tell.
Blessings ~ Wendy ❀
Recovery … that’s a beautiful route, Wendy. 🙂
I agree with Shelli…recovery is a wonderful route, and a splendid – and needed – platform. Speaking from the “combat trauma” perspective, I can say that I seek out memoirs that include “coming home”, and the nightmares – both figurative and literal – that can ensue. I need to know how to DO this…how to function, more or less, in a society that hasn’t seen what I’ve seen, hasn’t done what I’ve done, and doesn’t have the smell of mass graves under a tropical sun forever in their noses, even in dreams. Therapy, including primal scream therapy, doesn’t much help, but the words of a good writer are a line of white tape through the minefield. Wendy, stay the course. You are NEEDED.
Wendy L Macdonald
Thank you, Andrew (& Shelli), for your encouragement. My heart aches that the “smell of mass graves” is even in your dreams. I can’t begin to imagine the pain you bear both physically and emotionally—only Christ could. I remember an elderly neighbor telling me years ago that a memory from the war was stirred anytime he was around a certain fruit. At the time (I was only ten) I was pleased he didn’t like the dreaded fruit either, but now I wonder how much he’d suffered during his service. I won’t mention the fruit since I don’t want to wreck the enjoyment of it for others (it’s the only one I can’t eat). Blessings as you share your story and help others to know the Burden Bearer intimately. ❀ May He enable us to follow and provide “a line of white tape through the minefield.”
Wendy, that was a major discovery and should be a part of your brand. It defines the readers you need to connect with.
Great ideas, Mary. I’ve attended a couple of Go To Meeting(s) but had never thought about using it to connect with readers.
Pretty neat idea–to use something along these lines with my bloggy-friends. 🙂
At a Go To Meeting, can you see each other? I’ve been to on-line meetings with my magazine editor, with several present, but we could only hear each other, not see each other. I could see my editor, but she was the only person I could see, not the other writers. If you did that Julie … I’d show up! 🙂
Shelli, yes, Go to Meeting has a video option. You can learn more about how it works at the link provided. It’s the next best thing to being together in person.
You’re welcome, Julie. I hope it works well for you.
great suggestions, Mary and loved reading all the comments too. I know I learned the most about my audience in conducting a reader survey. Michael Hyatt has written about using them at least once a year. Last year I asked them what do they struggle with the most in their Christian walk? amazing insights to their needs and hopes and dreams and this has served as a basis for several posts I wrote this year. Hopefully this summer I will send out a new survey. I did ask for demographic info which affirmed lots that I thought but did give me concrete data instead of guessing.
Jean, an annual survey is an excellent idea. Thanks for your contribution to the conversation.
I’ve only ever been able to communicate with teens ages from 14 to 17 on quotev.com. I can’t exactly go out, no one lives around me and I have no friends that are into reading around my age or lower, that are willing to hang out.
I’d love to have a literature friend or people who love my ideas and writing style. I aim towards teens ages between 14 and up, but I’m only able to find and connect with them on a chatting site since I live in the country and I can’t find anyone in my area that loves to read and write just as much as I do.
Any advice? I can’t drive, my husband can, but he and his mom both share the same vehicle.