All the foundations of book marketing begin with knowing your audience. And that is your reader!
- How do you identify who your reader is?
- How deep do you need to dig?
- What difference does knowing exactly who your target reader is affect your overall book marketing approach?
Join Orna Ross and Sacha Black as they discuss the differences and similarities of identifying readers of nonfiction versus fiction to help you build a strong base upon which to build all your book marketing activities.
Our fiction and nonfiction salon is brought to you by sponsor Izzard Ink.
Here are some highlights:
Orna, On Fiction Solving a Need
Your novel must solve a problem for the reader, too, and though we mightn’t express it that way, it is actually the need. So romance, obviously, is providing that sort of love kick that perhaps you’re not getting in your life or you are getting into your life, and you want more of it and thriller and crime very often allow us to kind of work through fears around all sorts of different issues that we wouldn’t address directly.
Sacha, On Finding Your Tribe
I always see those memes online that say something about you know, when you find your perfect partner, my weird matches your weird, and that’s really what you’re doing here. You’re pulling on, like your blog post, the thing that’s uniquely you and finding your tribe around that.
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Show NotesBook Marketing: Who is Your Reader and Why Should You Care? @OrnaRoss and @sacha_black have the answers on the #AskALLi Fiction & Nonfiction #podcast. Click To Tweet
About the Hosts
Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com
Sacha Black is a bestselling and competition-winning author. She writes the popular YA Fantasy Eden East novels and a series of non-fiction books that are designed to help writers develop their craft. Sacha has been a long-time resident writing coach for website Writers Helping Writers. She is also a developmental editor, wife and mum.
Read the Transcript
Orna Ross: Hello, good evening, everybody and if you have been looking at the alerts for this event and you are eagle eyed, you will spot that I am not Adam Croft, and she is not Boni Wagner-Stafford. It’s me, Orna Ross, here this evening with Sacha Black. Hi, Sacha.
Sacha Black: Hi, Orna.
Orna Ross: We’re here for the Alliance of Independent Authors weekly Facebook Live, in which we talk about all manner of things to do with self publishing books and running an author business. And yes, and we were supposed to have Boni and Adam here this evening, but neither turned out to be available. So, luckily, we’re always available to talk about self publishing. So, here we are. And this is our session on writing and publishing fiction and nonfiction books. And of course, Sacha does that.
She does both genres and poetry as well as it happens, and indeed I do all of that. as well. So this evening, we’re going to be talking about your ideal reader, your perfect reader, the person to whom you direct your book marketing. And most of you will be familiar, I think, unless you’re just starting out on this exciting journey of self publishing. And if you are, welcome, you have a very interesting time ahead. But if you’ve been doing anything for any length of time, you will have heard various people talk about the importance of the ideal reader. When did you first start hearing about concept Sacha? Can you remember where you first came across it?
Sacha Black: A long time ago, but I think I became aware of, in a weird way I was probably more aware of readers before I’d even published but I think that was just the circumstances because I was writing and blogging and sharing lessons that I learned on my writing journey, and so I sort of accidentally, in a very wonderful way, found an audience anyway, so I was acutely aware of readers and giving readers what they want and the audience probably before I publish, and I do count myself lucky there.
Orna Ross: I think that’s interesting, though, I think there’s a bit of a generational thing here. I think people your age and younger are much more inclined to write in that public way. People my age and older are from a very different sort of tradition where you did everything by yourself. Loads of things went into a bottom drawer, never to be seen again and you only sent out your very best work after you have been doing things for ages and you got lots of rejections. You went back and worked on it again, and it was a very, very different process.
And I would say not as good in terms of if you’re going to self publish your own work, because I think that’s what awareness of and that whole thing of getting feedback early, hearing what people think, you know, because how people receive your work is always very, very different to how you imagine it. So I guess this kind of ideal reader idea is that it’s very hard to write into a vacuum. And it’s very hard to write for, you know, generality of humanity or whatever.
If you picture one specific person, you’re more likely to get that right. And so also, the important thing about the ideal reader or the perfect reader, and getting a clear picture of that is that it feeds in, you know, into everything once you start publishing, every single thing you do from writing your back blurb to the cover you choose to any other kind of marketing that you’re going to do, knowing who you’re aiming your books at, and all the stuff that goes around the book is extremely important.
So I know that you don’t begin and I thought this was interesting when we were doing the preparation for this session and I started talking about ideal reader you said “Well, actually beginning with the who is your ideal reader is not the first question I would ask myself.” So talk to us a little bit about that.
Sacha Black: Absolutely. So I think this is possibly more relevant for nonfiction writers than fiction writers, but I do still think it’s applicable to fiction writers. But so thinking particularly about my nonfiction, the first thing that I ask myself is “What problem am I trying to solve?” Now I write how to writing craft books so I don’t write more in the creative nonfiction. I’m not a memoirist. I’m not yet anyway. *Inaudible* So that’s why that question is really relevant to me because I think if you know the problem that you’re trying to solve, you know who you are trying to help. And I know that you’ve got some thoughts on that in terms of fiction.
Orna Ross: Yes.
Sacha Black: If you want to elaborate on that?
Orna Ross: Yeah. Well, I was really interested when you said that. I think that’s kind of a very classic thing for a business person to think about when, say, an entrepreneur, if they’re starting a business, I think that they begin to think in those terms, how, what is the problem I’m trying to solve for people here? And I can definitely see that that is a great question to start off thinking about your ideal reader and to start off, indeed, on the non iction journey.
So if you have something that isn’t a matter, that I’m burning to write about this thing, if you look around for the most serious problem there is out there and start writing about it you’re far more likely to sell a lot of books than if you actually start off writing where you want to come from yourself and just expressing yourself kind of thing and of course, what we end up doing is something in between those two things. But when you said that to me, I started to think “Well, actually, you know, we don’t see we don’t think about it in these terms, I don’t think.”
I haven’t met anybody who thinks about it in these terms when it comes to fiction. But actually, your novel must solve a problem for the reader, too, and though we mightn’t express it that way, it is actually the need. So romance, obviously, is providing that sort of love kick that perhaps you’re not getting in your life or you are getting into your life, and you want more of it and thriller and crime very often allow us to kind of work through fears around all sorts of different issues that we wouldn’t address directly.
But by reading about them and, indeed, I think the same process happens when you’re writing about it as well. So I think, though it might not seem so, fiction also solves a problem and perhaps thinking about the problem that your fiction, the fiction that you’re inclined to write or are drawn to write, what problem is it solving? And that might be a way into the ideal reader because the more information you can get about this perfect ideal reader person the better and there are lots of ways to do that.
Sacha Black: Yeah. When I think about the genres that I predominantly read, I definitely go to those genres for different reasons. So I read a lot of, forgive me for getting it wrong, I think it’s expressionist poetry. Did I get that right?
Orna Ross: Yes.
Sacha Black: So I read a lot of expressionist poetry, which is, for those who don’t know, the Rupi Kaur, Atticus, very short micro poetry, which I like to think of as copy written poetry for random reasons, but anyway, when I go to that genre, I’m going to it because I have a need for the philosophical, you know, existential crisis to be solved in a way. And when I go to young adult fantasy I’m going because I want a strong kick ass feminine hero, and a little bit of romance and, you know, memories to be thrown back to my youth, and, you know, and so on and so forth.
I think there’s these different reasons that people go to genres and capitalizing on that reason means you can use that reason when you are promoting your book. And you know, you pull out these themes, these help you to weave your stories, your marketing stories when you are writing your copy. And I think the other thing that’s interesting is that Steven Pressfield talks about this, but for writers, so if for watchers and listeners, so for watchers, this is the book and for listeners, it’s called The Artist’s Journey by Steven Pressfield, and he talks about a concept called the subject, which artists over their careers, develop a theme or subject in their work.
And for me, no matter the genre, I always seem to write about death. And I know that you have a different genre that you write about. But I am working through those thoughts about death and what it means and what it means for humanity and so on and so forth. And you can use that equally when trying to work out who your reader is and how to market because it’s those important elements that you can then draw on to create your hooks and your marketing stories.
Orna Ross: It’s very interesting and Julia Cameron, who also, I think her book, The Artist’s Way, a very similar title, she’s a very different type of writer and teacher to Pressfield. I always think of him as having a very masculine sort of energy. War is his kind of theme. She calls it the vein of gold, which I think is a really nice term and she used to be married to Martin Scorsese, the director. And you can see how he and Robert De Niro and Pacino and all those guys are getting together again to do the gangster movie thing. And that is definitely their vein of gold.
You know, no matter what else they’ve done in their careers, and they’ve done amazing work on lots of other things, it’s whenever they hit off that, something else comes in that’s obviously clearly and deeply kind of ingrained in all of them. And I do think that that concept as a vein of gold can be really useful because the readers looking for what you, the writer, they want to receive what you want to give, and that’s the place where you kind of are trying to get to, what is it that these people want to need that only I can give and and I think that’s the thing that we need to think about as self publishers working today now is that we get very micro niche with all of this so, you know, really thinking very specifically about the one thing you were born to write which will be made up of your family circumstances, your childhood, who said that, you know, everything you need is a writer you’ve got by the time you’re eight years old and it’s going to be tied into that time but something that’s still important to you. So what, no, sorry, go on.
Sacha Black: No, I was just gonna say I always see those memes online that say something about you know, when you find your perfect partner, my weird matches your weird, and that’s really what you’re doing here. You’re pulling on, like your blog post, the thing that’s uniquely you and finding your tribe around that for who their weird matches your weird but in terms of book theme, or, you know, subject as Pressfield will say or vein of gold, as Julia Cameron would say.
Orna Ross: Yeah, I love it. My weird matches your weird. And again, I think this is something if you’ve grown up in the online world that comes a lot easier just allowing yourself to be weird in the first place is easier since we’ve seen how many weird people there are out there and-
Sacha Black: I don’t know what you’re saying, I’m perfectly normal.
Orna Ross: Obviously it’s where I hang out online and the way in which the world and the world of entertainment, which books are part of, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, whether we like it or not, no matter how literary we think we are, that’s the kind of world we’re operating in and there are lots of other draws on people’s attention. And this is, it’s just dividing and dividing and dividing. So the time, you know, when everybody watched and saw the same thing, yes, there are hugely popular shows up lots of people do see and become cultural references. But you know, there are loads of people who have not seen The Game of Thrones and have no intention of ever seeing it.
Sacha Black: Heathens! Heathens!
Orna Ross: It’s allowed! You can do that, you can turn your back on everything that doesn’t make total sense to you and your ideal readers. So in terms of really thinking about, you know, who that person is, particularly if you haven’t done this work before, or maybe if you have or maybe if you write both fiction and nonfiction, you’re writing a sort of a general idea reader, you really, as Sacha says, need to separate those two out, because the language you’ll possibly used to write to them and what they’re looking for, their problem that you’re solving may be quite different. So you need to kind of think about that.
And I would say that you need to write, not just think, so to write a description of this person as I find it useful rather than answering, you can get checklists online that will ask you, you know, all these questions about your reader, but I actually find it much more useful to write a description of them as if they were a character in your book. So you have to kind of give those telling details that you have to give about a character, but also including things like age and income bracket and their interests, their ideas, their worldview, and of course, the all important, you know, problem, what is its? What do you do when you’re kind of thinking about this? Can you remember?
Sacha Black: Yeah, a little bit of that. I also, where I have readers who have read with me through my series, or you know, whatever it is, that particular book or genre that I’m writing in, I kind of bastardize them into one person. So I, you know, I’ve had feedback and comments and reviews and where I think of particular aspects of readers where I have gotten to know them, I kind of mush them into one person. So there’s, perhaps I know that this particular readdle hates love triangles, or this particular reader loves, whatever, whatever.
Anyway, so I think of them as a whole character. But the other thing that I do is I think about where they find their books and I think that’s really important and often forgotten about, because it has changed drastically. And if you don’t know how your readers find books, then you cannot put marketing materials into those areas. So, for example, my nonfiction, and I read nonfiction prolifically, almost all of the nonfiction books that I read come from either recommendations from, you know, friends, colleagues, other writers or they come from podcasts.
So I know for my nonfiction that I need to engage my readers to help promote me and do that word of mouth because the likelihood is that other writers and people who are reading my particular nonfiction will also be finding it in a similar way. Whereas for my fiction, I know that I used to very much look at Amazon categories and go into bookstores. Well, that’s not how I am finding my books anymore.
I am finding my fiction almost predominantly through Instagram. So that is a very different how to, bless you, that is a very different mechanism for advertising than the nonfiction and I have to think very much about visual aesthetics. How can I engage readers on Instagram? How can I get my books, perhaps physically in their hands in order for them to take photos and promotion like that?
So that question of how do your readers of your particular genre find their books is really important and of course, those are only two examples and you cannot apply that to all of the readers in those genres. But you know, it’s just an example and an idea for where I start thinking about that.
Orna Ross: Yeah, I think it’s really important. And again, it’s about your weird meeting their weird. So it has to be a way that if you’re going to use this as one of your marketing methods, the way they find it and the way you provide it has to meet. So you have to enjoy doing that as well. So no point in trying to do Instagram if you’re not a visual person, for example. If you work on Facebook, you know, you’ll speak and perform in a different sort of way and than you will if you are on Instagram.
They’re not the same pie, there might be some crossover of posts, they’re not the same. Facebook’s designed for shareability. Instagram is designed for kind of scrolling, tagging and a very different sort of experience. So being aware of what you like to do, there’s no point in setting up a big Instagram strategy, if you know that you’re not going to take pictures or, you know, the visual is not interesting to you, you have to find both where they go to buy their books. And we’re looking for buyers or where they discover books, and then matching that with what you like to do.
Again, everybody buys books on Amazon. But if you are not data driven, you don’t like examining figures, you don’t want to engage with that sort of thing then Amazon ads are not likely to work for you or else you say, “Okay, I’m going to do those things, but I have to outsource the work” and then you have to build that into your budget.
So, but once you know what the reader wants, you know, and you begin there, that’s the kind of key point I think we’re trying to say. So again, in terms of thinking about how you can get to know them that little bit better. Another thing, exercise that has been very useful I found when I’ve done courses in the past is to get authors to write a letter to that ideal reader explaining in three sentences how the book is actually going to help them.
So whatever their problem is fiction or nonfiction, write to them in the language that they would understand, in the language that reflects the language that you’re using in the book already. So I think that’s the other thing to say, the language you will use in your marketing is a bridge between the book and the reader and it has to be a language that speaks to them and it has to speak to them in the same sort of language that the book speaks to them. So that’s one of the reasons why understanding who this ideal reader is, is so very important. So do you ever-
Sacha Black: And that goes back?
Orna Ross: Yeah, go on.
Sacha Black: Sorry, I was just gonna say that goes back a little bit to what we were saying about the weird matching the weird and pulling that story or the thing that really matters from the center of your book and putting that emotional hook into the language as well. The other thing that I was going to say is once you have found your ideal reader and you have this picture of them, don’t then take that for granted.
So, obviously, the more books you publish, the more likely it is that you will have grown an audience, be it a small one, a big one, a medium one, whatever, surveying your readers every so often, sort of once a year or something and just making sure that the assumptions that you are holding are still correct about their likes, the tropes they like perhaps or where they are buying their books is really important to make sure your marketing plan is still up to date and current, I think. So I think that is also something to think about.
Orna Ross: Yes, definitely. And often people ask at the start, you know, how deep should I go with these exercises, these questions you are telling me to ask, you know, this letter, this kind of building a profile, I would say, get stuck into doing it, that testing. So you get a general idea, definitely, you think deeply about it, to give it a good session or two where you really work on it, and you get your thoughts down in writing. And then you need to go and test it, which I think is what you’re saying as well. Surveying is part of testing your idea, and as you bring it out there and you get responses.
So the other thing to do is to ask them regularly in social media, or in emails, you know, what they’re enjoying, what they’d like more of, ask them, readers really love to be involved in the making of a book. So sometimes after we’ve been writing and publishing for a while, it becomes just, you know, the daily job and we forget the magic that there was when we started reading and when we just read for pleasure and how excited we would be if an author actually invited us into the world of making the book and there are lots of ways in which you can do that, that will actually, you know, help you but also engage them and it’s a real win-win sort of story.
Sacha Black: Yeah, I’m going to tell you a real random example of that. The next book that I’m writing is, came to me. I feel so silly say this, but it came to me as I walked past a lamppost. Okay, totally random, bolt from the muses, is it dropped fully formed into my head when I walked past this lamp post. I happened to post this lamp post on Instagram, just completely randomly and was like, “Hey, a whole story came to me.”
And seriously, I have now had over 100 photos of lamp posts sent to me from all corners of the world. It is fantastic and it is such good marketing, completely unintentional marketing for this book that isn’t even out yet. But I’ve already, you know, I’ve got this whole group of people on Instagram sending me lamp posts for a thing that they know is coming.
And it’s the little things, you know, you don’t even realize sometimes that these things can be, you know, marketing tactics. I didn’t do it as a marketing tactic. I did it to share a piece of my story with people. But you know, you can just say, “Send me a,” well, I now say “Send me a lamp post” but I didn’t at the start but so there’s these little things that you don’t think can be useful and they’re fantastic for engaging readers in little snippets and parts of your stories. There is now a lamp post on the cover because of this whole saga with lamp posts. But yeah, it’s, you know, there’s an example of that in practice.
Orna Ross: Fantastic. Brilliant, a brilliant example and something that you can never plan. So I think that’s what we’re saying. First of all, you have to plan, you have to ask yourself the right questions. You have to really drill down into getting a clear picture of that reader, this will also help you in writing the book, the clearer you are about who you’re writing for. And this really applies mostly, most of all, to those who are not on social media and not already engaged with a bit of a tribe. So you really get, you know, get as clear an idea as you can, and then take yourself out there, decide on what your methodology is going to be based on where they tend to buy their books and find their books, and go from there. Because you couldn’t have made that up, could you?
Sacha Black: No.
Orna Ross: You couldn’t have said, you just couldn’t. And that’s what happens in conversation and your marketing changed, possibly the book even changed. So I suppose that’s the other thing that’s really important to say here is that it is a conversation. It’s kind of every book is a conversation with a reader and the marketing around it is a conversation as well. So some final thoughts maybe on just the difference between fiction and nonfiction in terms, again, of thinking about readers. Do you find yourself having different sorts of conversations with your nonfiction people and your fiction people?
Sacha Black: Oh yeah, yeah, definitely. So for fiction, I mean, I write young adults so I’m about to say very niche things, but a lot of the conversations I have with young adult readers, some of whom are not young adults can I just point out, are around likes/dislikes. So, you know, what characters but do you, i can’t think of the word, ship, that’s it, you know, for the emotional, romantic things. We talk about recommendations of books. It’s more about those themes and the emotions in the books. “Oh, I like love triangles.” “Okay. Here’s five recommendations for love triangle stories,” or “I really like a female hero with gray morals.” “Okay, go read Jay Kristoff,” or you know, so it is more about the types of characters and those emotions and those hooks, that emotional hook in the story.
For nonfiction, it’s very, very different because I write the how to I often find myself helping. So I will solve problems. I will give away free advice. I will share excerpts from the book, particularly around problem solving, goes back to that original question, what problem am I trying to solve? And I share, just, okay, it is quite Machiavellian, but you share enough of the solution that people know that you can solve the solution but not so much that you’re giving the whole contents of your book away. So those conversations I would say are radically different.
Orna Ross: And in terms of, you know, getting that balance right, has that been challenging? Or is it something that you found kind of just goes with the flow because you say it’s Machiavellian, but I’m sure you’re not sitting there thinking, “Okay, I’m going to give away 65% of the advice. I’m going to retain this particular 35% over here so that they will buy my book.” I know you, I know that’s not how you think. So-
Sacha Black: No, it’s not at all. Well, I mostly just try to help as much as I possibly can, is the honest answer. Everybody knows they can just reach out and ask and I think when you write particularly nonfiction, particularly for authors that you naturally fall into that and I don’t mind that, I love that because it means I get to meet more people. I get to help people and I love doing that. And so yes, it is a very natural part of that and it’s also very natural with the fiction as well because I just talk about the things that I love and that I like to talk about with other readers. And I just, you know, nerd out with my, you know, YA fan girliness. That sounds so silly, but you know what I mean.
Orna Ross: I do totally.
Sacha Black: Because I read the genre that I write. So that is also very natural. And what about you?
Orna Ross: Yeah, I think, like, that it’s not born of a strategy as such. But yet, it’s kind of a common sense thing. So similarly, it is about and for all of us at ALLi, I know, it is about sharing what we know and passing it on and learning in that process. Because often the people we’re talking to know things that we don’t know and it all goes around. I’m always touched by how lovely the indie author community is in terms of that sort of support.
Conversations that I have around fiction, its historical stuff. So I mean, it can get really, really, really nerdy about what people would or would not do at the end of the 19th century or would or would not say, and you know, there’s lots of that kind of talk. There are people who enjoy talking about the costumes and the living, you know, the day to day life of the day and how people actually lived then and how different it is to how we live now and all of that. And then there’s always the story, the actual family dynamics, because I always write a family murder mystery.
So it’s kind of a death in the past that has to be resolved in the present. So there are the things that arise out of the actual mystery itself. What I find most interesting about all of that, and I think we’re both putting a lot of emphasis on this is how would I learn about my readers that then, again, in a quite an unconscious way, and yet, it is part of the methodology because it’s done deliberately by me as a writer and publisher to engage in that way.
But it’s also done because I love to do it. So there is no separation of those two things. But I learn so much that unconsciously then goes gets taken into the next book and the marketing and a new ideas even for books from readers, you know. So you begin this process, I think, with the idea of “Okay, I need to know who my reader is so that I can sell books to them.” And as you go on, you realize that “I need to know who my reader is so that we can deepen this relationship and the better this relationship gets, the more readers who think and feel like that are going to come along.”
And there’s the whole thing of sharing, you know, which we’ll talk about again in another show, but just how best to encourage that word of mouth between when it becomes more than one reader and you have more than one, getting them to help you to spread the word. So any last thoughts?
Sacha Black: I just think it comes back to, like you’re saying, what is the thing that you love about that genre or the subject, as Pressfield says, that you are writing about? What is it that you can share that your readers who like your weird will also appreciate and just really going deep on those things that you love which inevitably your readers are loving, and you know, then you form your community. But yeah, I think I see some comments. I don’t know if we have questions.
Orna Ross: I actually think it’s to do more with volumes and things somebody was experiencing a thunderstorm in the background and suggesting headphones with the mic would work in the future but I think we both have headphones and a mic so I’m not sure if that was on their end and your volume is low for some people compared to mine apparently.
So it’s more of a tech thing and it’s too late for us to sort those out. Now, I should say that this session is, it will be there in replay for you to listen to on Facebook Live if you want to go back on anything but of course, this is a pre recording for our podcast, which goes out on the Self Publishing Advice Center every Wednesday,and that’s selfpublishingadvice.org. There’s a different session each week, it’s fiction and nonfiction this week. We also do poetry session and our members’ questions are answered in another session and we also have an advanced salon.
So if you haven’t already, do subscribe to the ALLi podcast to make sure that you don’t miss any episodes. And I should thank Izzard Ink who has sponsored our session today. So thank you, Sacha, for stepping in short notice. It was great talking to you about your ideal readers. And, yeah, we’ll see you next time, folks. Until then, happy writing and happy publishing. Bye bye!