Your author brand is your reputation. It’s a promise to your readers that you’ll be the same person no matter where they find your writing.
We talked about discovering your author brand in Step 1: Look in Your Mirror. In the first step, you discover who you are and remain true to yourself. It’s the most important step, but it’s not the only step.
In this article, we’ll explore the second and more advanced step of discovering who you’re trying to reach with your writing. Knowing who your audience is will give you an advantage over most authors.
Step 2: Look at Your Readers
Targeting by Demographics
When ad agencies sell ads, they decide what demographic they want to target. Who do they want to view the ad? Ad agencies use demographic age ranges to determine who they are trying to sell to.
When James L. Rubart sold radio ads, his target audience was women ages 25-54. That meant his agency didn’t worry about reaching men. They didn’t focus on reaching women younger than 25 or older than 54.
Instead, they designed an imaginary persona—who fit in the center of that range. Rubart’s agency gave her an imaginary name and determined what car she drove and where she lived.
Everything they said on air, every product they promoted, and all the music they played was designed for her.
Designing a Reader Persona
When my company was designing websites for authors, I forced our clients to go through an exercise to create a persona for their readers. Almost universally, authors hated this exercise.
Defining your audience and focusing on one person improves your website and marketing because it forces you to focus.
Authors hate the exercise because it feels limiting. They worry that zero men will read their book if they only target women. But that is faulty logic.
No book appeals to everyone. The books that have the broadest appeal often have the narrowest focus.
For example, Hunger Games was a best-selling book and a massive film franchise targeted to young teens. Harry Potter was targeted at 12-year-old boys. Since those books hit their target at dead center, the ripple spread outward to boys and girls and men and women of all ages.
When we recommend defining your reader, we’re not trying to limit the ripple. We’re just asking, “Where do you want the ripple to start?”
Determining your target reader will help you develop your branding. It will also help you talk with literary agents and editors from traditional publishing houses. If you walk into an appointment at a writers conference and say, “I’m writing for everybody,” you’ll be marked as a rank amateur.
But if you walk in and describe your target readers by saying, “My target is a 33-year-old female who lives in Toledo,” the editor or agent will know you understand the idea of targeting your marketing.
A Narrow Niche means Greater Impact Over Time
Focus is critical if you want to change people’s lives. Even the greatest communicator, Jesus Christ, focused on his three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John.
If Jesus was trying to reach the world with his message, you’d think he would have gone to teach and preach in Rome, which was the most influential city at that time. But Jesus understood that focus is critical to success.
If you want people to share your message, you have to offer something that changes their lives. Jesus knew how to do that. He changed the lives of his three closest disciples, who then encouraged the 12, who encouraged the 72, and 2,000 years later, billions of people are still spreading his life-changing message.
It’s more important to understand how viral your idea is than how many people you will reach with the idea. If you had a choice between reaching ten people who would successfully share your message with one person every year or reaching 2,000 people total, which would you choose? If the first ten doubled their number every year, it’s much more viral. It takes longer, but eventually, you’d reach the entire population.
As our friend Randy Ingermanson says, “It’s better to drill one well 100 feet deep than a 100 wells one foot deep.”
Creating a Persona
We challenge our website clients to create a persona by describing three fictional people who represent their target reader.
Choose an Age
You can’t choose an age range because no single person is “between the ages of 25 and 54. Every woman is a specific age. So you have to choose an age. Then you ask other demographic questions.
- Is she single or married?
- What does she drive?
- What is her income level?
- What restaurants does she like?
Choose a Stock Photo
We encourage our clients to print a stock photo to represent the person they are trying to reach. To drill deeper, we ask the second series of questions.
- What are her felt needs?
- How would she articulate her own needs?
- Why does she need to read your book?
- Why would she want to read your book?
- What about your book or writing would appeal to her?
- How can you thrill her with your writing?
Discover their Pain Point
What is her primary pain point? What does she struggle with? Maybe your book does not address her primary pain point, but if it can, then your book will sell so much better.
For instance, let’s talk about a fictional persona we’re going to call Future Shock Franny.
The culture she once knew is changing so fast that she can’t keep up with it. She feels like a foreigner in her town. She even feels like a foreigner in her own house because her children are using devices she doesn’t understand, and they are primarily communicating through their devices. When she was their age, she couldn’t have imagined such a device, and she is experiencing future shock. Future shock is a primary psychological pain.
How do you help Future Shock Franny?
There’s a whole genre of books specifically written for her called Amish fiction. Many people wonder why Amish fiction sells so well. It’s a bestselling genre because it alleviates this pain point for a certain persona within our culture. It allows Future Shock Franny to escape to a time she remembers and understands, and it temporarily alleviates the psychological pain of her real life.
Amish fiction doesn’t appeal to me. I love the future, and I love smart devices and gadgets. I prefer to read science fiction rather than Amish. But Amish novelists aren’t trying to reach me. They’re making good money reaching people who are not like me.
Targeting to Thrill
You’ll find the same targeting principle at work if you visit Disneyland, the happiest place on earth. Each of their rides is targeted at a different demographic. The Hollywood Tower of Terror is designed to scare people and give them a thrill.
The spinning teacups ride is designed for a different audience and provides a different kind of thrill.
Each ride is designed with a person in mind.
As an author committed to focusing on one reader, you need to be okay with not targeting most of the population. You won’t be widely read by a large percentage of the United States population because no one is.
The bestselling book of the 20th century is maybe read by 1 of 20 Americans. It’s probably more like 1 of 50. Even if you could get 1 out of 300 Americans to read your book, that’s still one million sales, which is far more than most books sell.
Come to grips with the fact that you need to settle on a niche, and your book will be better for it.
Narrowing is Not Negligence
Many Christian writers feel God has called them to write a certain book. If that’s you, you need to trust that God will raise somebody else to reach the people he has not called you to reach.
Authors sometimes struggle to write because they don’t know who they’re writing to. If you’re writing to make yourself happy, that actually limits your readership to you.
Tips for Finding Your Reader
Here are some tips for finding out who you’re writing for:
Find a real-life person.
Find your target readers and spend time with them. Once you identify your target market, you can identify a real-life person who fits the persona you created. Ask that person if you can take them out for coffee and have a conversation. Then listen to them talk.
I force myself to do this very thing for my web company. I go to writers’ conferences just to talk with writers and hear their challenges and questions. I need to learn what words they use to describe their problems.
It would be easy for me to hang back and focus on websites like most web companies do, but I’ve decided to focus on the people instead.
Readers love to tell you what they think. That’s why there are so many reviewers on Amazon, Goodreads, and Pinterest posting about books they loved or hated. Listen to your readers.
Survey your readers.
Once you figure out where your readers hang out or have an email list of interested readers, send a survey to learn about them.
You don’t have to hire a marketing company to conduct a survey. You can use SurveyMonkey.com to set up a survey for free. It’s a great way to get feedback from your readers.
Learn from your Facebook analytics.
If you have an author page on Facebook, your analytics will report important demographic information. You’ll be able to see the average age of your fans and followers. You’ll also discover which countries and cities your fans live in and whether men or women are more interested in your content.
Your brand is not what you say it is or what you think it is. Your brand is what other people are telling you.
If most of your readers are in their 40s, that’s your target audience. You write to people in their 40s. If most of your readers are teens, then that’s your audience. Knowing your audience will influence every decision, from your newsletters to your website and everything in between.
Venture Beyond Your Own Demographic
In our society right now, birds of a feather are flocking together perhaps more than at any other time in history. We’re all clustered very closely together. Facebook just shows us who we are. When you look at Facebook, you see yourself essentially reflected in the faces of the people you’re interacting with because of how the algorithm works.
When you write to a different demographic than the one you belong to, you’ll write a unique story.
One of the reasons YA is so powerful right now is that YA authors have to get outside of themselves to write to young adults. YA authors are not young adults themselves, but they’ve made a conscious effort to spend time with young people to figure out how they talk and interact. They’ve learned about their values and write to that value system.
When you’re developing your brand, commit to going beyond self-discovery in step one, and start discovering who you’re writing to. Even if your target market narrows, you’ll have a much greater chance of thrilling your audience when you hit the bullseye with your right-on-target book.