The population of the world is currently 7.7 billion, give or take. Are they the audience for the book you are writing? (Answer: No) What about the 327 million people who live in the United States? Are they your audience? (Answer: No) What about the 2.32 billion active users on Facebook worldwide. Are they all going to buy your book? (Answer: No) If you’re a mental health professional, are your approximately 700,000 colleagues your audience? (Answer: No).
Then who the heck is the audience for your book?
Even after all these years of books, talks, podcasts, articles, and blog posts, like this one, telling authors to figure out in advance who their buyers are, it’s still hard for many of them to “get” that they are not writing for “everyone.” If you don’t know your audience you may end up marketing to the wrong crowd which is a sad waste of both your time and your book.
Some writers even scare themselves by imagining they’re writing for the wrong audience, such as a critical family member, a difficult client, a judgmental supervisor, or a competitive colleague who has already been successfully published.
Forget about these scary phantom audiences. Let’s see if we can figure out who your real audience is—because they’re out there. You just have to find them. Most books have at least one obvious audience. In addition, they may have secondary or tertiary (third level) audience.
Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Audiences
The primary buyer for a self-help book written by a therapist, for example, is probably a woman. She either wants help with a problem she’s got or she wants to give it to a man for a problem he’s got. The secondary audience might be other therapists who need to stay informed and may want to recommend the book to clients. A tertiary audience might be non-therapists who write or teach about mental health topics and need the book for research purposes. This group can get overlooked during the book marketing phase.
Even when you think you’ve nailed down your audience(s) correctly, there can be surprises. A book may not appeal to a group as anticipated, or vice-versa–it appeals to a group of buyers for no obvious reason. Go figure! Every book is unique, so when you start sleuthing around looking for your book’s audience, you could end up getting it wrong. “In publishing, we say a book needs to find its audience, and often that audience is different from the one envisioned by the author and publisher,” says Todd Sattersten, author of Every Book is a StartUp. You may think you’re writing a book for the elderly or the addicted, but the buyers turn out to be the folks who have to live with, or work with, or care for these demographics, so you’re really writing for them. That means even your cover will have to appeal to them. Once you see where you’ve gone wrong, STOP, recalculate, and shift your marketing strategy to target your real audience.
Googling for Audiences
To hunt down the primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences your book, begin by doing the obvious: Write down your book’s topic and then imagine the types of people who might want to read about that subject. Some writers even create a pretend profile of their ideal reader―age, sex, occupation, favorite recreations, major interests, goals, and dreams. Figure out what groups or organizations they might join and try to reach out to them that way. Searches within Pinterest and Googling for Instagram hashtags are great ways of reaching specific audiences.
There are probably more potential audiences out there than you realize, just waiting to hear about your book. Don’t give up. Keep looking for them. Your book deserves it.
(c) Sylvia Cary, LMFT. From “The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published,” (Timberlake Press) Amazon (updated for 2019)