If you want your writing to reach a lot of readers, you have to know who those readers are. Not a vague demographic description, either. You need to know what resonates with them, what turns them off, and what common interests they share.
Now more than ever, people expect writers to know and relate to our audience. Authors rely on social media, reader reviews, and email newsletters to spread the word about our books. We can’t afford to be out of touch with our readers. All authors need to take the time to figure out which readers will appreciate our work the most — and where we can find them.
Identify unique elements of your story and consider who might be attracted to them.
Every reader has pet interests beyond their normal genre preferences. I’ll read pretty much any book set in Vermont. Your book’s content, not just its category, will influence people’s decision to pick it up.
Does your family drama take place at a beach house or on vacation? Consider marketing it to people looking for summer reads. Is the heroine of your historical adventure a wartime nurse? Nurses might take interest in it because it features their profession. When looking for a book’s target audience, don’t just ask yourself where it would sit on a bookstore’s shelves. Consider every aspect of your story and how these unique qualities might appeal to a variety of readers.
Look at your comp titles’ crossover appeal and reader demographics.
Authors and publishing professionals disagree on the usefulness of comp titles: previously published books with comparable content to your own. Regardless of whether you use comps to describe your book publicly, you should be able to discuss your book in the context of what has come before it.
Comp titles also offer hints on possible crossover appeal and reader demographics. Until the Harry Potter series became an obsession among the children on my street, I had nearly forgotten it was a young adult series. Most Harry Potter fans I know are adults. Same with The Hunger Games. If you have crossover hits on your comp list, consider what may have given these books such a wide appeal.
Hopefully you’re reading widely in your genre and can identify a few comp titles for your book. Dig for as much information as possible about who, specifically, is reading these titles. How are they marketed? What do reviewers say about them? What insights can you glean from Goodreads reviews? All of this information will help you learn about the people you’re trying to reach.
Find beta readers in your target audience.
There’s no better way to test your book’s appeal than to solicit feedback directly from your readers. My first novel featured a teen protagonist with a troubled relationship with her mom. Some of my best early feedback came from a an avid reader and mom of three — a perfect beta reader for my women’s fiction. She gave me excellent critique on my character relationships and inspired me to revise the book into what it is today. Because I was not yet a parent myself, I benefited from having someone read from that perspective.
If you don’t have beta readers yet, you can still get to know your target audience in real life and figure out what they like to read. Do they shy away from explicit violence? Do they appreciate character-driven or plot-driven novels? Will a steamy romance make them uncomfortable? Goodreads’ Q&A section can also shed light on reader preferences. Look at what people tend to ask about your comp titles. If you see a lot of questions about potential triggers, pitfalls, or questionable content, take note. This will help teach you what might make your readers put your book down — or recommend it to all their friends.