This weekend at Dragon*con several Magical Worders were on a panel called Knowing Your Audience. Based on the title of the panel, you can safely assume that the discussion began with “Who is your audience?” Now, there were a lot of panelists and I don’t remember the details of everyone’s answers so I’m not even going to pretend that I do. I believe answers ranged from agents and editors are your first audience, to very specific demographics based on age and education level, to a more general answer of readers of XYZ book will like my books as well. All of these are legitimate answers, but why are they important?
Because you need an audience to sell a book.
Let’s start at the beginning with the statement that agents and editors are your first audience. This is completely true, but it is important to know who your ultimate audience will be because while editors often say they want something new and unique, if the marketing department doesn’t know where to put it on shelves, the publisher probably won’t pick up the book. (I’ve heard it said before that it is good to be on the cutting edge but not the bleeding edge–and I wish I could remember who to attribute that quote to.) So it is important to know who is likely to read your book–and be realistic about it.
So how do you figure out who your audience is? If you can pin down your genre, that is always a plus, but in this day and age of genre blending, that isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Figuring out who writes similar books is another way. Now I’m not saying try to emulate another writer–the market already has that writer–but if you can say that readers of XYZ series will probably also enjoy your book, that will give the publisher an idea how to market you (and if that genre is doing well enough that they’d like to take you on.)
At around this point during the panel, a young woman raised her hand and asked if the advent of self-publishing and e-books would negate the need to pin down genres and allow more obscure and ‘riskier’ (as in titles publishers wouldn’t think they could sell) to be released. The answer is both no and yes. Many small and electronic presses have made a name for themselves by publishing books most NY houses traditionally stay clear of (racy erotica anyone?). But the problem with self-publishing is that there is a glut of it out there and while your book about wizard hamsters battling count Dracula’s cat (honest to goodness, both of those characters were mentioned during the course of the panel) might be supurb, you have to find people who want to read about wizard hamsters, and most importantly, let them know your book is out there.
Knowing your audience is more than just that one line in your query letter, it is also about finding your audience.
Hanging your shingle out on the internet isn’t enough because that relies on the readers finding you. Your book sitting on the right shelf with the right cover will go a long way toward helping readers find your book in a brick and mortar store, but there is still a lot of competition out there, and once we start talking digital, browsing is limited. So how do you find your audience? Or really, how does your audience find you?
That’s where promo comes in and where knowing your audience is critical. Targeting the correct group of readers will be more effective (both in result and cost) than randomly blanketing the market. This goes for everything from ads to events. For example, I write urban fantasy, so I make sure I budget for sci fi/fantasy conventions because that is where many fans of the genre gather. On the internet side, when I go on blog tours, I look for blogs that focus on my genre and on genres whose readers tend to be receptive to crossing over to urban fantasy. For instance, my books, while squarely in the urban fantasy genre, also have mystery, horror, and romantic elements in them. With that in mind, I often put ads and do blogs at places with a strong contingency of paranormal romance readers because many read both genres, but I don’t spend a lot of time at blogs catering to mystery readers because far fewer of them are willing to read fantasy novels. Knowing this helps me spend my time and money in the most useful places.
Now, if all of this sounds far too calculating and intimidating, take a deep breath and a step back. If you’re like me, you’re writing in a genre you love so you already understand at least part of the audience because you are the audience. You still have to do some market analysis, but as a reader, you know how you find new authors and that’s a good starting point. Oh, and while promoting is a lot of work at times, writers often get to do super fun things like Dragon*con and call it business. ^_^
It was great seeing several of you at Dragon. Have a great weekend everyone!