1. Who is your target audience?
Ideally, have a target audience in mind before you write the book. Knowing who you are writing for will not only help you sell and promote the book but will in all likelihood help you write the book.
A few examples of target markets include:
- An age group
- A special interest group such as railroad enthusiasts or Civil War buffs
- A genre: horror, mystery, science fiction, romance, or literature
- A specialization: anthropologists, carpenters, or computer engineers
- People who want help with a specific problem: how to fix a washing machine or build a robot
Because I design training for a living, I find this easier to do for non-fiction than for fiction.
For training, there is usually a very specific problem that you are trying to solve. How do I calculate how to put a satellite into orbit? How do I learn how to use Adobe Illustrator? How do I sell more widgets to working mothers? How do I negotiate a salary increase? How do managers identify and develop top talent?
The more specific the problem, the more specific your target audience. You can literally tailor training to an individual person. However, this level of customization becomes quite expensive. This is why for corporate training, there's usually some sweet spots. It's often broken out by executive, manager, and employee, for example. Also, it will be different by department: sales, technical, marketing, design, etc. Though there will also be classes that could benefit everyone such as working with difficult people.
When I started out blogging, I had no idea what I wanted to write about. Originally, I wanted to write fiction. But I didn't have the resources to kick back and write fiction. So I started blogging simply as a way to keep up my skills. I was drawn to politics because it was easy to write short topical pieces on specific issues and, I found as I started to write, I had a passion for it.
But it took me a long time before I felt like I'd identified something that I thought I could write a book about. Susannah Locke at Vox recently wrote a piece called "How to debunk false beliefs without having it backfire". It's a decent piece based on the work of John Cook and Stephen Lewandowsky. The interesting thing about it though is that compared to some of the very similar classes I was developing and teaching in the corporate world, it looks really, really rudimentary.
I won't go into the reasons for this here, a few of which you can probably guess, but in the corporate world I teach people how to negotiate and work with difficult people and debunk false beliefs all the time.
I found this experience helped me a great deal in the online political forums I hang out in to the point where people started asking me how I was able to reach certain people they didn't think possible.
My target market is people who want to have better political conversations (instead of the usual "You're stupid" / "You're liberal" back and forth. I actually wrote the book with a few specific friends in mind.
2. Who else is reaching your target market? How are they doing it?
Most books in the political world have a very specific format. I call it the "It's really, really incredibly bad, much worse than you think" format.
The format goes like this. The author spends the first 11 chapters describing all aspects of the problem in lurid detail from at least five different angles. In a single paragraph in the last chapter, the author says something to the effect of: "The first step in solving this problem is awareness, there is much work to be done." And that's the end of it. There's not much on how to change things.
I own at least 30 of these books. They bring to light many issues we would otherwise not know about. The issue I was finding in my political conversations, however, was that most people knew it was pretty f*ckin' bad. They just either weren't sure what they could do about it (other than vote, that is) or they wanted to know more about how they could change things.
The book I was interesting in was more of a "How to ..." I wanted to reverse the format and get past the problem in the first chapter. The problem, as framed by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page at Princeton, is that politicians serve the needs of corporate special interest groups over people. In other words, the problem is that we're not a democracy.
Most people know this. It's not worse than they think. It is what they think. It's just overwhelming and they don't know what they can do about it.
So I thought, what if I could break the problem down into something much simpler? What if the question was: How do you win over the people you know?
Who writes about this in the political world?
In the political realm, George Lakoff is one of the few I know about. Don't Think of an Elephant is the gold standard when it comes to framing. Moral Framing and Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea are also quite good. All of these focus specifically on framing. Lakoff has also talked recently about some of the issues he's faced when it comes to liberal views on even framing as a persuasive technique.
Saul Alinsky wrote about winning people over a bit in the classic Rules for Radicals though it was more about community organizing. Bill Moyer's (and yes, it's Bill Moyer, not Bill Moyers) book Doing Democracy is incredible but it is even more focused on community organizing and less on talking to people. Anat Shenker-Osorio talks about some better ways to frame in her book Don't Buy It: The Trouble with Talking Nonsense About the Economy.
Mostly though, it's assumed that the technique of choice is telling people "the truth".
However, in the marketing and branding realm, plenty of people are writing about how to win people over. Here's a few:
- Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, Roger Fisher and William Ury
- The Leader's Guide to Storytelling, Stephen Denning
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip & Dan Heath
- How to Sell Yourself: Winning Techniques for Selling Yourself ... Your Ideas ... Your Message, Art Lundberg
- Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future, Jonah Sachs
- Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind and Marketing Warfare, Al Ries and Jack Trout
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini, Ph. D.
- Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends, and Friends into Customers, Seth Rodin
- And, of course, the Dale Carnegie book that we love to make fun of, How to Make Friends and Influence People
And yes, you may be stifling your gag reflex right now.
But I thought something interesting was going on here. Liberals have no problem influencing people. Why else would we spend so much time trying to tell people "the truth" or "framing" an issue? We try to get people to vote Democratic all the time. I do believe, in fact, it's the primary purpose of this website we're on right now.
Yet we often gag on words like "marketing" or "sales" or "influence" or even "beliefs". We don't seem to believe we have any beliefs. And our gut tells us all of these things are "propaganda". We must stick to the truth and nothing but the truth in the dryest form preferable! Any attempt to win people over other than through cold facts and lots of them is often viewed with scorn.
There's good reason why we should question influence and be skeptical about sales and marketing. And good reason why we should value truth, and science, and facts. However, if we have better beliefs and ideas firmly grounded in science, why are we so ashamed to market them?
Ok, I digress in telling my story. In this case, it helped me think through many of the important decisions when it comes to determining your target market and promotion. It will also come in handy when we get to the next question.
To get back to the idea of target market, you want to know who else is appealing to the same target market and what they're doing that's similar or different.
For fiction books, I imagine this is both harder and easier. It's harder in that you are likely not going to have such a specific issue or skill that you're targeting. It's easier in that there are only so many stories out there - you will likely be writing a version of one of them (or maybe this makes it harder).
3. Why would your audience buy your book? What is your differentiator?
Now we get to the question: Why would someone buy your book?
This is what I like to think about as your differentiator or your value pitch.
A few weeks back, skywriter wrote this comment that I thought was spot on:
I am starting with "The Conversation" because telling people about their new book is the least favorite thing authors do and it requires that they act like an extrovert after a long period of deeply introverted activity.
If you know your differentiator, you will feel much more confident talking about your book.
Why? Because you are providing something of value.
In non-fiction, your differentiator could be your expertise or experience, the unique way you've figured out how to address a particular challenge, it could be a great biographical, auto-biographical, or historical story, it could be a compilation of helpful advice, or it could be explaining a niche field to a new audience.
In fiction, your differentiator could be your voice or style, it could be your interesting characters, it could be your page-turning plots, it could be the insights the characters discover, or it could be the new stories you tell.
You want to have a couple sentence answer so that if someone asks you why they should buy your book, you can answer it.
When I'm asked this question, I tell people that I think we should be able to win over 9 out of 10 people.
I believe this is something of value so I don't feel bad at all talking about it. I also don't feel bad charging for it. Corporations pay hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars per employee for classes that teach people how to lead and persuade. I know I can't expect activists and people I know to pay that much. But it might be worth $25 to some people (and maybe even less in an eventual e-book format!).
Knowing your differentiator will help you get over your fear of talking about your book.
4. Are there any challenges you see?
Of course, the first response I always get is push back. This is my challenge. There is a very specific reason people push back. I call it the liberal fact fallacy. It's the belief that facts win people over.
The Jehovah's Witnesses have no facts. Zero. They were certain the end of the world was going to happen in 1914.
Then in 1918, then 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975, and 1994.
Their membership has gone from 58,000 in 1940 to about 8 million today.
Now we could claim that all of these people are stupid. This is our typical reaction. At least when it comes to Jehovah's Witnesses and Republicans as well. Or, maybe people don't make decisions like computers. All the Jehovah's Witnesses have is a way to convince people.
What I imagine, in my mind, is what if we could do the same with a much better, science and truth driven narrative that also takes into consideration some of the emotional needs of people?
I'm not encouraging emulating the Jehovah's Witnesses. Jesus. Err ... yeah. I use this solely as an example of a group winning people over with zero facts on their side. None whatsoever. This is intriguing. What if, instead of spending most of our time in head-to-head fact battles with the people who make us maddest, we did things a little differently (with facts still on our side!)?
What I want to illustrate with this example is that I knew going into the project that there are some definite challenges with my target market because a liberal audience can have some very strong opinions about marketing.
Towards this end, I knew I would likely have some convincing to do. I'm ok with that though. I have this conversation all the time. Here's one variation if you're interested.
What this meant to me in terms of a strategy was that I needed a "higher touch" approach. That is, there's a few preconceptions that may have to be overcome and I might be better off spending more time with a few people than less time with a larger number.
I was pretty intrigued by this challenge though and have found that if I can talk directly to people or show them some examples, the lights start to go on. The other good news is that I've found that once people see that I am talking about being honest and that facts are crucial (just not the end all, be all), they tend to be more open.
What I would recommend if you are considering self-publishing or are new to self-publishing is simply that you try to address as many of these questions as you can as early as possible because you start to see how some approaches might work better than others.
5. Your target audience determines your strategy
Identify where your target audience hangs out and hang out there with them. I've been talking to people on political sites for years. I actually started writing posts that I could share with them on how to win people over and how to win specific conversations. Now when I send them the links, I also have a book to recommend. And I mention it.
Look at how people doing similar things have reached their target audience. Lakoff reached a few key politicians. He also leveraged his academic connections. Some of the folks on the marketing side like Seth Godin use more what I'd call guerilla techniques - they leverage the Internet and social media more.
Reach the influencers. Who else is doing what you do and what does their audience look like? I've gotten some great recommendations from the folks at The Winning Words Project as well as from other bloggers with similar interests. I've had an op-ed in the Cincinnati Enquirer, our local paper with a print readership of over 100,000, and I was interviewed for Ink 19. I've also been contacted by a couple local politicians who have read and recommended the book. My only regret is that I wish I'd of started doing this sooner.
Focus on the buyers. The hardest thing for me is sometimes spending too much time in a single conversation. I've found I have more luck if I can share some tips, maybe work in a quick book recommendation, and then repeat. The book is advertised on my website so the recommendation depends on how comfortable I feel with people and whether or not I think it will be perceived as pushy.
Get people to recommend you on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I should have started earlier on this as well. Lesson learned. The reviews are absolutely critical and as Teresa pointed out may lead to opportunities at promotion sites like BookBub.
As you reach audience, get their e-mails and encourage them to follow you on Facebook and Twitter. I post new content to the people I know weekly and occasionally I'll repost really successful old posts or just comment about something funny to mix it up so it's not always about me. It used to make me uncomfortable doing this, but what I've found as I've gotten more experienced is that people who like what you do want to hear about new things.
Because I am a new author, my strategy is very much in the trenches. It is very much social media and blogger oriented. It is also relatively high touch as I mentioned.
I'll close with another great quote from skywriter:
Know your audience. Be able to identify your audience. It is the only way to sell books. Collect email addresses from your blog and everywhere else. That is your potential audience.
She suggests doing this well in advance to build anticipation. I only wish I would have thought that far ahead. It's hard to do with a first book. This is the value that hiring some key professionals can bring to the table. Especially if you're new.
I'll also say in closing that I think it helps to set realistic expectations with a first book. Mine were quite modest. I wanted to learn how to self-publish. I wanted to have fun, try something new, and meet new people. I was hoping to sell 100 copies. And I was hoping it might lead to something else.
I've hit all of these except the last, the hardest one in my opinion, and this is in the works and a very real possibility.
Next week I hope to talk more about more marketing strategies and share some resources.
What was (or "is" if you're thinking about self-publishing) your target market? And/or how did it influence your strategy?
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David Akadjian is the author of The Little Book of Revolution: A Distributive Strategy for Democracy.
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