Editor's note: Jenni Burke from DC Jacobson & Associates wrote this post six years ago, and it remains among the posts I refer to most frequently when I'm trying to help authors develop their understanding of their own writing. It had perished in the switch to a new blogging platform, so here it is again:
Who Are You Writing For?
Originally Posted Thu, 22 Oct 2009
by Jenni Burke
As Christian authors, perhaps the first response that sprang to mind when you read this headline was, “Jesus!” But what I actually mean to ask you is this:
When you sit down each day to work on your manuscript, do you have a specific reader pictured in your mind?
If not, you should.
Identifying your “target market” or audience is much more than an obligatory paragraph for a book proposal. This valuable exercise will actually help you establish the tone, structure, and approach for most effectively delivering the content or characters for your book. Just as a love letter would feel cold and insincere if the writer didn’t truly know his beloved, or an important phone call would be in vain if the caller dialed the wrong number, a book will miss its mark if the author doesn’t write with her audience in mind.
Whether you write fiction or nonfiction and whether your goal is to independently publish or to land a royalty publisher, you need to develop a very clear answer to the question,
Who am I writing to?
Beware the common tendency to over generalize your audience. Our agency, DCJA, reviews myriad proposals and manuscripts that hold promise but come up short partly because they lack connection to a clearly defined target market.
Agents and editors cringe when we read sweeping statements like, “This book will appeal to everyone—men and women between 15-85 years old, Christian and non-Christian alike, and anyone who has ever wondered about God.”
A good writer knows who his audience is (demographics) and what makes them tick (psychographics). Mike Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson, helps authors understand demographics as “external characteristics” and psychographics as “internal motivators” in his foundational article, Writing a Winning Book Proposal.
We have found success using the following questions with our represented authors and consulting clients. You can apply them to your own situation to clarify your vision of who you’re writing to. I encourage you to pull out a notepad or start a fresh word-processing document and jot down your answers to these questions:
- What is the demographic of your primary audience (e.g. gender, age, religious background, education, socio-economic status, occupation, geographical location, etc)? Describe the characteristics of your target reader.
- What is the psychographic of your primary audience (e.g. what felt need will drive them to buy your book, why will they benefit from your book, what are their frustrations or desires, how can/have you written the book to tie in to their interests, etc)? Describe the motivations of your target reader.
- What are the characteristics and motivations of your secondary and (if applicable) tertiary audiences? Hint: think of your primary audience as the “bulls-eye” of your target and the secondary and tertiary audiences as the next concentric circles.
And, especially if you want to pitch your book idea to an agent or estimate your book’s sales potential:
- How many of your target readers exist? Do your research and give statistics if possible. Be realistic.
- How will you reach them with your message? What are their shopping and buying behaviors? Will you find them at your conferences, on the internet, in book stores?
Once you have a clear picture of your target audiences in mind, you can tailor your message to deliver maximum impact. Keep their needs, interests, and behaviors before you as you write and plan, then periodically check in to make sure you stay on track. Ask people you respect who fit your target market “profile” to honestly review your work (not just family and friends).
A real-life example of understanding your audiences’ needs is found in a nonfiction book DCJA recently placed with a major Christian publisher, Escaping the Vampire. The book’s primary audience is teen girls who love the Twilight series. The secondary audience is teen girls who are unsure about Twilight but do read Christian books. And the tertiary audience is parents and youth ministers seeking to connect with their Twilight-obsessed teens. Envisioning these three unique yet intermingled types of reader, you can imagine the implications the author had to balance while writing this book (and the opportunities her marketing team had in promoting it)! She needed to open girls’ eyes to their true Hero, Christ, without alienating the “Twilighters” who would slam the book shut if they sensed it bashing their beloved Edward Cullen. By understanding the tensions and desires in her readers’ hearts and cultural context, she was able to present the vital truth of Christ’s love and reveal common “life-sucking” deceptions in a way each of her audience groups would receive.
Another one of our authors even cut out a magazine picture of a person who represented his “bulls-eye” reader and placed it in a frame on his desk. Now that is a way to visualize who you are writing for!
QUESTION: What challenges or successes have you encountered in defining a target audience for your book? We look forward to hearing your perspective.