Writing a Great Nonfiction Book, One Page at a Time

Your Audience: Four Steps to Making Sure It’s Bigger than Your Mother

I’m not trying to start something with my heading. I’m sure your mother maintains an ideal weight and that she’s a supportive audience member. However, if you want to sell more than one book, you need to consider carefully who else it is that you’re writing for and how you’ll fulfill their needs and expectations. Writing is an art, but there’s also a bit of science behind it, and science means analysis. If I ask you who your audience is and you say everybody, I will think you haven’t done an appropriate analysis. And without that, you’ll have a hard time refining and focusing your book or delivering on whatever promise you make to your readers.

You can’t start a book project with a “plan” to please all of the people all of the time.

Of course, most authors hope that everyone will read their books. But your job as an author is to identify a primary audience so that you can fulfill the needs and expectations of that audience, and then offer additional content that is closely related but that may be appealing to demographics beyond the core. You can’t start a book project with a “plan” to please all of the people all of the time.

Here are four steps to clarifying and becoming familiar with your ideal reader.

1. Cover the basics: Develop a basic definition of your audience: Kids or young adults or adults? Primarily men or women or both? Particular age groups? Particular occupations? Given your topic and approach, what are some basic characteristics of your audience? If you’re writing a book on funding retirement, your primary reader won’t likely be in the 18 to 28 demographic. That’s not to say that you won’t have readers in that demographic, but when you picture your ideal reader, it shouldn’t be somebody in that age range. Unless your niche is helping young adults start their financial planning early in life. And then the 18 to 28 year olds are your primary audience.

2. Consider unique interests: What are the unique interests of your audience that relate to the core topic of your book, be it leadership, weight loss, language acquisition, travel, psychology, self-help, parenting, etc. Your approach to the book’s topic will have a slant, and that slant should connect clearly and powerfully with your audience’s sensibilities. They will buy the book because they want more information that is aligned with their current way of thinking. For instance, weight loss through exercise, through vegetarianism, or through carb-free eating? Servant leadership, trust-based leadership, or leadership in an era of conscious capitalism? Travel on $10 a day or adventure travel? If adventure travel, for sporting types or nonsporting types?

3. Put yourself in their shoes: Possibly the most important piece of information about your audience, the piece that will help you connect with them on an authentic and possibly emotional level, is the struggles or hurdles they face (again, as they relate to your book). People buy nonfiction for one of two reasons: (1) to be enlightened or informed or (2) to solve a problem or make their lives better. Guess which one is dominant? We’re all looking for a magic pill. So, think long and hard about why your readers are seeking help. This shouldn’t be a one sentence exercise. If you’re writing a weight loss book, “losing weight” is not the answer, or not the only answer. Here are more answers you should consider:

  • Because they’ve tried other diets and none have worked.
  • Because they’ve lost weight before but they always seem to gain it back.
  • Because they feel their spouses aren’t attracted to them anymore.
  • Because they worry they aren’t setting a good example for their children.
  • Because they think their weight is affecting their career progression.

And the list goes on, or should. Now, I’ve chosen an emotional topic as an example, but know that no matter your topic, your reader likely has an emotional reason for buying your book.

4. Educate yourself on their expectations: People who buy books rarely read only one book in a genre. If a reader is buying your diet book, they likely have bought other diet books. And that means they have certain expectations. Know your genre well so that you understand your readers’ expectations. I wrote about standardized genres as well as all of the good reasons to read extensively in your genre.

Of course, for any specific genre, there may be other pieces of information you want to gather on your audience, but these are the essentials I’ve always covered. If you’ve defined your audience in a different way, I’d like to hear about it.

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