Authors have been taught to include demographic information in their book proposals. But they haven’t been taught about the importance of understanding the far more useful information captured by psychographics.
In this article, we’ll examine demographics and psychographics. We’ll discuss how you can use them properly to get an edge in your writing career.
Where Authors Use Demographics
- Book Proposals: Most authors use demographics to describe their target readers to the publisher.
- Reader Personas: Authors use demographics to envision the specific person they are writing to.
- Website Visitor Personas: Authors define their potential website visitors in order to anticipate their needs and thrill those readers. My free course, Seven Secrets of Amazon Author Websites, will walk you through the seven personas who visit author websites. We’ll cover what they’re looking for and how you can thrill them.
- Facebook Targeting: While traditionally published authors use demographics for their proposals, indie authors use demographics for targeting their Facebook ads.
What are demographics?
Demographics are the broad brushstrokes used to describe people.
For the most part, demographics are useless for authors.
Why are demographics useless?
To be fair, demographics used to work long ago when there were only three TV channels.
The problem is that demographic information assumes everyone within that demographic is the same.
Imagine a 31-year-old, white, middle-class woman in 1959. If you know her demographic information, you know a lot about her. You can be statistically confident that she is married, she’s a mom, she has approximately two children, and she goes to church on Sundays with her husband. In 1959, there was a huge group of people who conformed to that median demographic archetype.
Now, imagine a 31-year-old, white, middle-class woman in 2019. Same demographic information, and yet we know far less about her. She could be an executive at a tech firm, a full-time student working on her Ph. D., or a stay-at-home mom. We have no idea if she goes to church on Sunday or whether she is divorced, single, or married. We don’t even know if she has children.
While demographic information was useful when everyone was trying to be the same, today, when everyone is trying to be different, it’s less useful.
Most books don’t have a narrow demographic appeal. When they do, it is generally due to the genre rather than the specific book.
While white, middle-class, boomer women may be the biggest consumers of romance novels, how is that useful for making decisions with your romance novel? It’s not!
Authors include demographic information in their proposals out of obligation, but no one ever uses the information at any point to make decisions. It’s a complete waste of time because demographic information is not as useful as it used to be.
Finally, demographics do not capture the number-one definer of people in our era: politics.
Most Americans fall into one of three camps:
- “Please don’t talk to me about politics.”
From a marketing and targeting perspective, it’s important to understand that people subscribe to one of those political camps. The political leanings of your audience will impact what language you use while writing and describing your book.
America is fragmenting. In real life and on social media, people are moving away from people who are different. Left-leaning Americans are slowly migrating from Middle America to states like California, New York, and Virginia. Right-leaning people are slowly migrating out of those states and into Middle America. They are often selling each other their houses as they relocate to be closer to people like themselves.
I hear the same phenomenon is occurring in the UK over Brexit. Leavers are unfriending Remainers on Facebook and vice versa. I don’t know if physical migration is happening, but people are moving apart culturally and socially.
This fragmentation impacts marketing because the word-of-mouth ripple effect only works in social networks. As the Left and Right move apart, the ripple in one community won’t reach the other. People on the Left and Right are reading different books and watching different movies and shows.
As a marketer, I’m not condoning this shift. I’m just describing it. Don’t shoot the messenger. In marketing, we must work with the world as it is, not as we wish it was. You may want unity, but you have to sell your book in the real world.
For most authors, as many as 80% of their readers fall into the same political camp the author subscribes to. The author is the stone that starts the ripple, and the ripple only goes to the edges of one pond. Unless you’re around people who are very different than you, you’re unlikely to cause ripples in another pond.
You must be OK with that, to some degree, because there are still millions of people in these three political camps. You can earn a lot of income, impact the community, and affect change in your particular group.
With a few exceptions, demographics don’t tell you much about the political leanings of your target audience. Demographics don’t capture the world as it is. They capture the world as it used to be. And yet, knowing which political camp your readers fall into has a big impact on your book because Left and Right are even starting to use different language.
What are psychographics?
Savvy authors, publishers, and marketers now use psychographics. Psychographics look at the psychology of the person rather than the superficial details of age and location.
If you can understand what your readers have in common psychologically, you can target them more effectively. Your target readers may have different ethnicities, ages, and locations, but they all have a similar psychological need that drew them to your book.
When you understand the psychological need, your marketing will be far more effective.
The classic Marketing 101 attitude we examine is a person’s attitude toward money.
- I always buy the cheapest option.
- I’m willing to spend extra for quality.
People have vastly different attitudes toward money. To market to someone who only buys the cheapest option, you must be the cheapest option because that’s the only criteria they use when making buying decisions. On the other side of the spectrum are people who only look at quality. In between the two extremes are the people who want the best value—the customers who look for the best bang-for-the-buck.
Most people are hostile to your genre because most genres only appeal to a small slice of the reading population. That means most readers won’t be attracted to your genre. Mystery Thriller Suspense is the most popular genre, but it’s still only a small slice of a large reading-population pie.
What do your target readers want? For effective marketing, you must determine their specific rather than general desires. After all, everyone wants their children to be healthy and well-fed.
Psychographics are based on specific desires that are unique to your readers. For example:
- I want to be seen as a virtuous member of the community.
- I’m going to live my life, and I don’t care what other people think.
Those are conflicting desires, and most people fall toward one side of the continuum or the other.
Fear is the most powerful psychographic that marketers can take advantage of. Advertisers often play to the fears of their customers by pointing out how risky and scary the world is. They present their product as a means of safety, and they promise to care for your health, privacy, or family. It’s a powerful motivation because people feel afraid right now.
I don’t like marketing to fear, and I try not to do it as a practice. When everyone was freaking out about GDPR, we did an episode to inform people and settle the panic rather than capitalizing on the fear.
On the other hand, I acknowledge that fear is very powerful. For example:
- I’m afraid of guns.
- I’m afraid of being an unarmed victim with no way to defend myself.
Both fears lead people to different perspectives and actions.
- Spending time with people energizes me.
- Spending time in groups drains me.
You can craft your novel to make it appealing to introverts or extroverts. The number of characters in your book will appeal to one or the other. Writing for introverts or extroverts will affect how you market your book.
Your book may address physical pain, but it’s more common for novels to address psychological pain.
- It hurts to see everything changing so much around me. I feel like I don’t recognize my country anymore.
- It pains me how backward everything is. We could be living in the future right now!
A white, middle-class reader may hold either of those views, and the demographic information doesn’t capture their personal psychological pain. Whether you’re marketing soap, food, or books, your efforts will be determined by which view pains them.
While demographics are literally skin-deep, psychographics get to the core of who you are as a person. Discovering your reader’s psychographic forces you to deeply understand your readers.
Values are deeply held beliefs such as:
- I value autonomy.
- I don’t want others telling me who I should be or what I should do.
- I value family. I am willing to make sacrifices to have a healthy, happy family.
Find out your readers’ specific values.
Is your reader a dog person or a cat person? If you find the right opinion, it can be very targetable on Facebook.
Find out what your readers are passionate about.
- Every single sport
- No sports at all
It’s important to know your reader’s passions because they are the key to effective marketing. If they’re all passionate about one thing, you can target what no one else is targeting.
Psychographics are much more useful in making marketing decisions. They force you to understand your readers more fundamentally. Demographics are superficial, but psychographics touch the core of who we are.
While demographics ask the question “who,” psychographics ask “why.” Psychographics ask more probing questions and treat people uniquely.
Readers who share nothing in common demographically may like the same book for psychographic reasons.
Specific Book Examples
Let’s examine a few books for which we can fairly easily determine the target psychographic.
Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia
Correia’s book has 1,400 reviews on Amazon and has been very successful. His books are urban fantasy books that I would summarize as “Libertarians with shotguns versus evil vampires.” I would venture to guess 80% of the people who read these books own a firearm. These books play to the fantasy of using your gun to defend your family from the evil in the world. What could be worse than a vampire or zombie trying to kill your family? Plus, you can kill a zombie without remorse because it’s already dead.
The theme speaks to a desire to be the hero that overcomes evil and protects the vulnerable.
This is a book Correia could sell at a gun show where he probably won’t see any other novelists selling books. It’s not about guns, but the psychographic appeals to people who want to own guns to protect their family and ward off evil.
The Ebb Tide by Beverly Lewis
Lewis’s book is about the Amish, and the genre is absolutely huge. The Amish genre generates millions of dollars in sales every year. Demographically, it’s driven by evangelical women, but that information isn’t very helpful because not all evangelical women read Amish novels.
If you target your marketing demographically, you’ll get a lot of false-positive leads.
The psychographics paint a different picture. Amish books are a balm for readers suffering from future shock, which is the trauma of experiencing your culture changing around you so quickly.
If you are pained and exhausted by the rapid cultural change and want a break from it, read an Amish book. It is a vacation into a wholesome world where nothing ever changes.
The Ebb Tide is a book Lewis could sell at a homeschool convention to moms because they’re often homeschooling with similar psychographic motivations. Not all homeschool moms are into Amish books, just like not all gun show attendees would be into zombies, but suddenly you’re in a location where you’re competing with fewer authors, and the consumers are in your psychographic target.
Psychographics are useful for finding ways to reach potential readers who other authors aren’t reaching. It seems every author is trying to copy every other author to find out what works. But authors who can figure out their readers’ psychographics have an edge.
Psychographics are Not A Limit
You can target multiple psychographic groups by creating different characters that appeal to different groups.
Runaway bestsellers often appeal across the political spectrum and across psychographic clusters.
Marvel does this well with their superheroes. Each hero appeals to a different group of fans while simultaneously trying not to alienate other fans. Captain America appeals to some, while Iron Man appeals to others because they have different values. Their appeal is not based on demographics.
How to Figure Out the Psychographics of Your Readers
Read their reviews.
What words do they say, and why do they like it? If you don’t have many reviews, this may not be a helpful exercise. Analyze what your reviews have in common. It’s a quick way to discover what people like about your book. On the other hand, it can be tricky because sometimes people don’t know why they like a book, so they use vague terms like “fast-paced.”
Look at the other books they read.
On Goodreads, you can see the list of books each of your followers has read. That list is like an individual fingerprint for a reader, and it tells you more about them than their demographics would. That is how machine learning works. Machine learning doesn’t look at your demographic information. It looks at your actual behavior and personal preferences, and then it finds people with similar preferences and makes recommendations for you based on their actual behavior.
Machine learning is the reason Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist is shockingly good. You’ll like many of the songs even though you’ve never heard any of them before. Machine learning isn’t perfect, but it’s surprisingly good.
Get to know yourself.
If you are unpublished and you don’t have reviews to read, get to know yourself on a psychological level. Ask yourself why you read books. What are you trying to get out of them? Why do you read rather than watch a show? Most authors write for themselves, especially in their first books. Early in your career, you represent your target market. Authors usually write to a target market that they previously or currently belong to. For example, YA authors are rarely young adults, but they used to be. As authors mature and grow, their targets expand.
Talk to readers in real life.
A real-life conversation with your reader is the gold standard for finding out their psychographic. When you listen to your readers, you’ll begin to understand why they read and why they like your writing.
Talk to readers in real life by gathering a core group of people who can be your beta readers. As you listen to their thoughts about your writing, you’ll learn why they’re drawn to you and what they’re looking for. Twelve is probably the ideal number of people to have in your group.
How to Use Psychographics to Sell More Books
Design your book to meet psychographic needs and desires
Use psychographics to design addictive and viral books. Once you understand why people read your books and what needs or desires your books are meeting, you can double down to write books they will rave about.
Target fans of books that meet similar psychographic needs.
If your Goodreads research shows that 80% of your followers have read a certain book, you can target fans of that book when you run your Facebook ads. In episode 151, Chris Fox talked about targeting people based on movie preferences. Finding out which movies they watch can lead you to their psychographic. Facebook is the most powerful marketing tool when you’re using psychographics.
Include psychographic information in your proposal.
If you’re seeking a traditional publisher, your psychographic research will impress agents, marketing directors, and publishers. They all know about psychographics, but they assume most authors don’t know how to use them. Including demographic information won’t hurt you, but your specificity about psychographics will make you stand out.
Agents and publishers will still look at your platform and the strength of your writing, but if all things are equal, your psychographic research will distinguish you as an author who knows what it takes to sell books and market to a targeted group of people.
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I recently had surgery and was feeling too weak to do much. But my wife and I recently had a chance to go on a date so we visited a cidery near our house. While we were there, a live band, Much 2 Much started performing. They were amazing. My wife and I sat transfixed. We stayed longer than we intended. Unfortunately, the time they were slotted to perform was during a UT football game. UT football is a huge deal in Austin so the music venue was mostly empty. Much 2 Much debuted their first album that night, and almost no one was there. But they were happy to be living their dream of doing live music for an audience in Austin, the live music capitol of the world.
Their attitude reminded me of my daughter Mercy, who never gets unhappy when she falls down while toddling. She is just happy to be walking! When you have been on your belly or back your whole life, standing upright is amazing even if you can’t do it well.
My encouragement for you is to keep this attitude with your writing. You are a writer! You are living your dream! It’s easy to be so focused on the next milestone that you never end up enjoying where you are right now. Don’t get destination fever where you are so focused on the destination that you forget to enjoy the journey.
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