You want to write a book? Cool! You’ve already written a book? Awesome! So who’s the book for?
If you write a book without knowing your target audience, you’re just writing a book for yourself. Which is all fine and good unless you want other people to want to read your book.
To know who your book is for, you need to know your target audience.
Here’s what you’ll learn about your target audience for your book:
- What is a target audience?
- Target audience examples
- Fiction target audience
- Nonfiction target audience
- Why knowing your target audience matters
- How to determine your target audience
What is a target audience?
A target audience is who you write your book for. It’s the group of people who would be the most helped or entertained by your book. Your readership might extend past your intended target audience, but the target audience is who you intentionally aim for.
Target Audience Examples
If you want a few examples of what a target audience would be, and really how specific you should be getting with yours, learning from others is a great way to bring it into your own practice.
Here are examples of target audiences:
- Self-Publishing School: Our own target audience varies by product, but if we look at our flagship program Become a Bestseller, our target audience is someone who wants to successfully self-publish a nonfiction book in order to gain authority and grow their business, or leave a legacy. This person is typically out of their 20s, has some savings to invest in their own success, and are eager and willing to learn the process and do the work themselves, so they can replicate this over again (meaning they may have more than 1 book idea).
- Dillon Barr’s The Happiness Gap: This author’s target audience for his book on achieving success without focusing on money, fame, or accomplishments is a 21-year-old male fresh out of college hungry for the next thing in life. Money focused. Driven. Compulsive
- Bolt Farm Treehouses: This company that rents luxurious treehouses for vacation (and some long-term stays) target audience is actually a couple, newly engaged or married and looking for a romantic honeymoon destination that’s excluded from the hustle and bustle of life.
Keep in mind that focusing on your target audience doesn’t mean other people won’t find and buy your book. It typically serves as a means for you to focus on the best people who will relate to and get the most from your book.
As an example: anyone, even families, can stay at a Bolt Farm Treehouses, but the audience they aim to attract are newlyweds, as this is who will gain the most from the experience in a romantic secluded getaway.
How to Find a Fiction Target Audience
With a fiction story, you need to know your target audience to know how to appeal to them, how to relate to them, and how to entertain them.
There are topics and content that certain demographics will standardly be likely to find interesting. Some of those contributing demographic traits are gender, sex, orientation, age, education, sociopolitical factors, preferences, life experiences, etc.
Knowing what type of person will enjoy your stories will help you cater those stories more precisely, and it can help you sell more books by knowing who to pitch it to.
Most of the time, the book genre will determine the target audience, along with the category.
Here are a few examples of a fiction book target audience:
- Young Adult Fantasy: your target audience will be teenagers between 13-18 years old and enjoy magic.
- Adult Contemporary: your target audience will be people over the age of 18 who like stories set in today’s world featuring uncommon but possible challenges.
- Middle-grade Science Fiction: your target audience will be children aged 8-12 years who enjoy advanced technology set in a futuristic world.
Knowing the target audience of your fiction book will help you craft everything from the plot, dialogue, and even the setting.
If you’re writing young adult, the challenges faced in your story’s plot will involve more conflicts that are common in young adult’s lives, like finding love, discovering who they are, and coming to terms with becoming their own person.
Nonfiction Target Audience
In nonfiction, your target audience is who the book would help the most. Where a lot of new writers go wrong with this is when they write the book for themselves instead of for their audience.
For example, if you’re writing a book about motherhood–a book with YOU in mind might just be a diary documenting your personal experiences being a mother. Unless you’re already a celebrity, the audience for a book like that is likely you, your parents, and maybe your own book club if you guilt them into it.
A book by the same writer with the AUDIENCE in mind might be something like Best Habits for Nursing Mothers–people who are struggling to nurse are now interested in your book. Now you’ve got a niche target demographic–new mothers.
Narrowing your target audience before you write the book can help you aim for the content your readers will be most interested in. It also makes your book easier to sell. Let’s get into a few more reasons you should define your target audience.
Why knowing your target audience matters
You want to know your target audience to know how to craft your book, how to pitch your book, and how to promote your book.
These are only a few specific reasons you want to know your target audience before you write the book.
#1 – Adult content
Arguably the most important demographic in determining your target audience–age–requires a careful curation of content for that age group.
For example, in fiction: if you’re writing for middle grade, you’re going to keep the language and content in check for middle graders. You can’t have content that is inappropriate for children who read middle grade books, or you’ll cut your books off from most of your audience.
Nonfiction is the same. Some of my favorite books when I was eight or nine were the American Girl books about making money. They broke entrepreneurship, economics, and budgeting into terms and concepts that I could easily grasp. Reading a macroeconomics textbook for my Bachelor’s degree was a lot of the same content but presented for adults. Not only the content but the FRAMING of that content will dramatically change based on your audience, for many reasons other than age.
#2 – Story conflict
I mention conflict because I see this problem with my own clients–the conflict in their (fiction) books sometimes don’t line up with what their desired audience would be interested or invested in.
I mentioned this above in the fiction section already, but let me go into more detail:
If you’re writing a book for adults, the conflict will need to be something adults find compelling. You can take a basic, low-branch plot and fill it with as much sex and cursing as you want, but that won’t make the conflict interesting to adults–it will just make your story less accessible to readers who would be interested in the conflict your book presents.
For example, you might want to write Game of Thrones, but you end up with a middle-grade/YA romance plot with barely surface-level political intrigue and a decapitation, disembowelment, and fourteen F-bombs on every other page. The lowbrow story conflict might be fine for younger readers, but the content pushes it out of most of that audience’s reach.
Now you have no readers.
#3 – Language
To write for an audience, you need to know how that audience speaks. I dare anyone over the age of 30 to write a middle-grade book without knowing what TikTok is. Knowing current trends, vernacular, and verbiage used by your audience is an important factor. This makes knowing your target demographic important for research purposes–if you know you’re writing for twelve-year-olds, you can research what twelve-year-olds are interested in right now.
Even if you’ve already written and edited your book, you also want to know your target audience to know how to market your book.
#4 – Finding an agent, editor, or publisher
Knowing your target audience will help you find agents, editors, and publishers who are interested in pushing books toward that particular audience.
For example, most agents only want manuscript submissions in one or two genres, and those genres will have specific audiences.
Know who is interested in reading your book so you’ll know who might be interested in selling your book, and so you can know how to pitch it to them.
#5 – Where to advertise and promote
How can you sell your book to your audience if you don’t know where your audience is? Having a firmer grasp of your target audience will aid in researching and developing marketing campaigns to reach that audience.
How to Determine Your Target Audience
We know what a target audience is, and we know why they’re important–but how do you know who your target audience is?
Here are a few things you can do to hone your target.
#1 – Define your genre
There are countless genres and subgenres for both fiction and nonfiction books–which is best for yours?
Defining the genre of your book starts broad. For example, my collection Little Birds is fiction. If you sharpen the focus, it’s short fiction. If we get a little more specific, it’s a contemporary short fiction collection.
How to Write the Perfect Resume by Dan Clay’s genres might look like nonfiction > business > personal marketing > job search.
The tighter your genre, the more you can target the information and content included in your book.
By defining his book as a job search aid, Dan’s cornering that particular market and can help readers looking for that specific assistance. If he’d just left it under the umbrella of “business,” maybe he’d catch a couple of people who were browsing, but “job search” is something very specific that readers will search when that’s exactly what they’re looking for.
The tighter your niche, the richer your audience actually is, because they want exactly what you’re offering.
#2 – Find your book’s brethren
What books in your genre do you find to be similar to yours? Find out the target audience for those books and authors–do any of them ring true for you?
You might not take their exact target specifications, but this will give you a wider and deeper understanding of how to target audiences with your book content.
#3 – Create an Ideal Reader
This might sound a little silly if you’ve never done it, but try creating a profile for an imaginary ideal reader.
Answer these questions to find your book’s target audience:
- How old are they?
- What do they do for a living?
- What media do they read and watch and listen to?
- Are they single? Married? Cheating on their boyfriend?
- Did they go to college? Did they graduate? What was their major?
- Where do they live? How long have they lived there?
- Favorite color? Favorite food? Favorite thing to do on the weekends?
- What are they struggling with?
- What do they want to change about themselves or their life?
Your ideal reader is representative of the average person in your target audience.
Let’s say my ideal reader is a twenty-eight-year-old queer woman named Elena. She loves cats (has three of her own), she’s allergic to pine nuts, and her favorite color is one specific shade of yellow (she hates all the rest). Elena’s biggest problems right now are that she represses her emotions, she’s struggling to make a big life decision (does she want to foster a child, freeze her eggs, or do nothing?), and she’s VERY afraid of spiders.
If I’m writing for Elena, Little Birds will make her face relatable, complex emotions through a character in a common situation for someone in Elena’s life stage–maybe it will teach her how to identify those emotions in herself and begin to process them.
When you have your ideal reader, you have a clearer picture of WHO you’re writing for. If your book is a knife, your ideal reader is the whetstone to sharpen it.
#4 – Use your network
Look at the audience you have now. Do you have coworkers at your day job that come to you for information, assistance, or entertainment? What kind of person would approach to be your friend? Who do you share common interests with?
People who are interested in you, your advice, or content you produce, are probably pretty similar to people who would be interested in your books.
To get an idea for the audience of my books, I look at my audiences for other content. For example, if I check the analytics page on my YouTube channel, I see my average viewer is a twenty-four-year-old woman from the United States. Based on my video engagement, most of my viewers are queer. Sound familiar? That’s spot-on who I’m writing my books for.
What have you already done, besides writing, that people have been interested in, and what do you know about those people? Use that information to begin building your ideal target audience.
Not only does your current personal and professional network reflect what is likely your book audience, it probably IS the beginning of your book audience. Acknowledging that:
#5 – Ask your network
If you have an audience or network established before your book release, ask them what they’re into. More specifically, ask them what kind of content they want from YOU. What do they trust you on? On what topics do they consider you an expert?
One of my tips for establishing your brand is by asking your existing network to list the three things they associate you with the most.
This exercise can help to determine your target readership as well.
Also consider asking your network what THEY are into. What are their top three areas of interest? What kind of books do they already read? What is something they’re currently struggling with, or have struggled with in the past?
Determining and narrowing your target audience will help with every aspect of book production, from writing it to selling it. Gather data, ask questions, and determine who has the most to gain from reading your book.