One of the big challenges of publishing your own books is making sure you know who you’re writing for and what they want to read. No matter how much you enjoy writing itself, as authors we have to acknowledge that the whole process works better and is far more enjoyable if we have more readers.
But which readers? This is a lot easier for nonfiction authors to address because there are natural constituencies for their work within the interest area or niche they are publishing in.
For fiction writers it’s much more difficult to answer these kinds of questions except by referring to other, similar writers. That’s the origin of all the fiction marketing that relies on statements like, “If you enjoyed [Book A], then you’re going to love [Book B]!”
To Know Your Readers, Ask Them
Getting to know your readers is one of the best reasons to run a blog that attracts people in your target market. Blogs are great for engaging directly with readers, for getting ideas from them, and for asking them questions.
You don’t necessarily need a lot of readers, either. I would guess that only one in 50 readers will comment on a blog post. That means you can look at each comment as representing a bunch of readers.
Just talking to readers who are interested in your topic will provide you with lots of information about the obstacles they are running into trying to learn your field, and where they’re getting stuck. If you’re writing fiction, you can pose questions about the direction of the story or popular books on the market to get a feel for their individual tastes in a particular genre.
If you don’t have a blog or enough readers to get a conversation going, you can engage with readers in other locations. Here are a few ideas:
- Popular blogs in your field or genre – Taking part in discussions and reading through the comments on popular blogs will give you a lot of information.
- Discussion forums – There are specialty forums for almost all interests, and the questions people are asking in forums are a great source of valuable data.
- LinkedIn groups – This social networking site for businesspeople gets more popular every year. Find and join groups that are talking about your field and you’ll have another great listening post.
You can go beyond asking questions on your blog or taking part in discussions. One way is to use a simple survey tool like SurveyMonkey.com. You can open a free account and use its tools to construct a survey.
You can then either send people to the survey at SurveyMonkey or host it on your own blog or website. This is a terrific way to get people’s thoughts on lots of things, and you can even ask what kinds of books they would buy, where their price sensitivity comes into play, what kinds of stories they prefer, etc.
The recent survey about webinar topics is a perfect example of getting direct, quantifiable information from readers that has helped shape the subjects I’ll be offering.
Here are some tips for survey-taking:
- Keep it short and to the point and more people will complete your survey.
- Include at least one open-ended question where people can write what they like.
- Don’t forget to thank people for taking their time to answer the survey.
- Think about offering a free download like a useful PDF as an added benefit of completing the survey.
Going Offline for Research
You don’t have to be limited to online methods to try to get inside the minds of your readers.
A classic way of finding out your target audience is through niche publications like magazines and newsletters. Many of these have “letters to the editor” or advice columns for newbies, and those are both prime candidates for your research.
Clubs and professional groups are also outstanding places to meet and interact with people in your industry. A lot of the people who go to these meetings are new and looking for help and advice, making them great candidates for finding out what your audience is thinking about.
Although writing and publishing can seem like they take place in a vacuum at times, the more you connect with people in your area of interest—whatever it is—the more likely you are to create books that touch on the exact things people want to know and read.
And that’s the way to successful publishing.