Welcome back to Wednesdays on Self Publishing Advisor, where we tackle the intricacies of marketing each and every week in the hopes of making your life as an indie, hybrid, or self-publishing author just a little bit easier. This is actually the third post in a series examining marketing B.A.S.I.C.S.––yes, that’s an acronym! but more on that later––with a particular emphasis on marketing for new or first-time authors. It all began two weeks ago with this introductory post, and continued last week with an in-depth look at the “B” in B.A.S.I.C.S.: “Building an Online Presence.” This week, we’re ready for a new letter and a new sub-topic. What does the letter “A” stand for, then? Simple: “Ascertaining Your Ideal Reader.” This is one of the most important and foundational of steps to crafting a successful marketing strategy.
What is this “Ideal Reader” business??
Your ideal reader is not simply the person who buys your book; he or she is the person who falls in love with the world your book creates and actively looks for ways to participate in that world, whether by following you (the author) on social media or sharing your book with others. They’re not invested solely out of obligation––which is to say, they’re most likely not members of your immediate family or friend circle. As wonderful as your existing network of relationships is, and as useful as your friends and family can be––as cheerleaders and amplifiers in your marketing campaign––they first fell in love with you and not your book, and that is always going to be a complicated tightrope to walk.
Your ideal reader, on the other hand, is a fan; but more than this, he or she is engaged with your book outside of the text as defined by letters inked on a page or pixels shadowing a screen. Your ideal reader will slide your book into a back pocket while walking the dog or slip it into the diaper bag when taking the kids to story hour at the library; she’ll talk about it over the headset while duking it out with her friends on the Xbox or he’ll pass his dog-eared battered copy on to a friend or someone will drop it reluctantly by a Little Free Library––not giving it up because they didn’t have a use for it anymore, but rather giving it up because they’re fairly certain someone else might need it very much indeed. These people are your mediators, your access, and your ambassadors to the world.
What does an ideal reader have to do with marketing, anyway?
As with any product, your book needs someone to buy it. You can try to move copies by being absurdly wealthy and getting your superPAC to buy and then distribute thousands of volumes to local libraries in the vague hope that people will discover it while browsing and magically translate that discovery into a sudden impulse to buy more copies and distribute them to friends and family––but I’d be lying if I told you this is a time-honored or even remotely effective strategy. Time and again, authors who meet their own personal benchmarks for “success” (and the word means something different to everyone) point to these sudden spikes or “strategic bulk” purchases as unethical, while grassroots support from middle or low-income readers who actually love your book enough to buy it despite limited resources tends to lead to long-term sustainable sales. It goes without saying that people who have a personal, political, or financial stake in promoting your book are useful … but they can also unintentionally sabotage your success if they make your book about themselves, or about anything other than untrammeled storytelling. And in order to find your grassroots supporters, you have to know where they live (so to speak), and the language they use (literally but also figuratively) to share what they love.
How do I track down my ideal reader, then?
Your ideal reader, if you’re an author of nonfiction, can be identified according to what problem he or she is trying to solve––whether that problem is the reader’s dependency on sugar for energy (a dietary self-help book, perhaps) or the upcoming dinner he’s throwing for the in-laws (a Mediterranean cookbook, perhaps) or her desire to fill a gap in her understanding (of particle physics, or a history of bipartisan politics in America, or the internal hierarchy of multinational corporations). If you’re an author of fiction, your ideal reader is defined as someone who, when looking for new material to read, is drawn to the type of content or genre or characterization or form which you like to write––in other words, your ideal reader is someone whose tastes in consumption corresponds directly with your tastes in production. There are many other people who might read your book and enjoy it or benefit from it, but they are baptized into the fold rather than the founders of it.
Now, your book many bend genre traditions. It may be so utterly innovative that the usual metrics of comparison––genre, plotting, etc––break down entirely. And that’s entirely wonderful, even if it makes identifying your ideal reader just a touch more difficult. If this is the case for you, instead of trying to jam your book into the confines of a neat description, ask yourself: What do I like to read? What works of art and music and film move me? Where do I like to go to discover new reading material? These make for the simplest and most effective path to finding your readers.
Once you find your ideal reader, what next? Well, you make it worth their while to buy your book. And that’s where next week’s blog post comes in. Make sure to check back here next Wednesday! There’s so much more to come.
Thank you for reading! If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠
||ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.