Fiction Writers: How to Find Your Ideal Reader

by | Feb 13, 2015

By Cathy Yardley (@CathyYardley)

Last week, editor and author Cathy Yardley shared her tips for finding readers for your nonfiction book. Today, Cathy offers some great suggestions for identifying the audience of your fiction books.

In my last post, I covered how to find your ideal reader for nonfiction authors. For nonfiction, your ideal reader is identified by what problem he’s trying to solve. Fiction, on the other hand, is trickier. You’re trying to discover your reader based on how he finds new novels he enjoys.

You could say his “problem” is finding books that satisfy his particular tastes, especially when he doesn’t have anything new to read – all his favorite authors are between books, he’s read all their offerings, and now he’s forced to search for something else to feed the craving. If you’re a hard core fiction fan, you know just how real this craving can be!

Before you can identify who your audience is, you need to know what you are offering. To do this, answer the following questions:

  1. What genre are you writing?
    A lot of people have difficulty figuring out what genre they’re writing. They may feel like their work “doesn’t fit” into any genre, or is a cross-genre work – say, a romance and a sci-fi, or a blend of thriller and humor.

    I could go into this topic at length, but bottom line: one genre’s audience will be more open to your book than any other, based on the conventions of that genre. Romance readers are more likely to look for romances that have sci-fi elements than sci-fi readers are to look for love stories, so even if your storylines are fairly evenly based, in this case I’d lean towards targeting romance readers.

    You want to find the core audience that is most likely to enjoy your work. This will be your beachhead genre.

  2. What are you the most passionate about in your story?
    • Why did you write this story in the first place?
    • Do you love intricate world building? Do you prefer a break-neck action adventure?
    • Do you emphasize the mood, atmosphere and setting in beautiful prose?
    • Do you want to explore a particular theme?

    The things you love about writing are usually the things you carry through in all your work. Your audience will respond to that, as well.

    If you write mystery, there’s a big difference between a light mystery with plenty of banter and humor, and a terse, noir-inspired mystery. While some readers might enjoy both, your ideal reader prefers to stick with the style you write. Don’t focus on convincing people to try your book despite their preferences.

  3. Who are some comparative authors and titles?
    Notice Amazon does this all the time with their recommendations. If you had to name a few authors in your genre who either remind you of your work, who you admire (because they do what you’re passionate about extremely well), or who tackle themes you often explore… who would they be? What novels, specifically? More than likely, your ideal reader will already know about and voraciously read these authors.

Next Step: Go Native

Start with a simple Google search for some of your comparative authors plus “fans” or “reader group” or “book blog”. This will lead you to:

  • forums
  • blogs
  • book review sites where there should discussions

Feel free to participate. However, do NOT identify yourself as an author! This is not the time to bullishly force your way into a conversation to shill your wares. This is fact finding only!

Let’s say you’ve written a Dystopian Sci-Fi novel. There are plenty of comparative titles to choose from. You read several, and decide the two most similar are Johnny Mnemonic by William Gibson and READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline.

After searching for those titles plus “fan” or “discussion”, you check out in some forums that discuss cyberpunk and sci-fi stories and those stories particularly, to see what readers love (and what they complain about) and to get a sense of who they are:

  • how often they read
  • what else they read
  • what they recommend to each other and why

Because they like the same things you like, you should be able to communicate with them thoughtfully, perhaps even offering up your own recommendations – as long as they are not your book. At least, not at this point, and not in this context.

Final Step: Create a Targeted Marketing Plan

Through your research:

  • you know your genre
  • you’ve found comparative authors
  • you’ve researched your audience

You now know:

  • what they like
  • what they dislike
  • how they find new novels

Armed with this information:

  • You’re able to better niche your genre down to best attract your ideal reader through search via online bookstore, including metadata.
  • You know the keywords they’d use, or how to write the book description to best attract them.
  • You know the smaller book bloggers and forums that feed into the more influential ones.
  • You’ll know where to send review copies.
  • You might submit guest posts about topics and peeves that your target audience will enjoy to (i.e., “Why Are Dystopian worlds either filthy or sterile?” or “Five Best All-Hell-Breaks-Loose Dystopian Movies” ).
  • And, you might offer “Read for Review” copies to targeted groups that allow them.

Once you have the cornerstone, your targeted ideal reader, creating the plan becomes much, much easier.

Above all: Respect Your Reader

Readers aren’t just dollar signs with legs. Marketing isn’t about “making a sale”… it’s about building a readership.

Target the wrong readers by casting the net too wide, or fool them into purchasing your book by being vague and misleading, and you might manage to move some units. But by the time you launch your next book, you’ll be working twice as hard, since you’ll have few repeat customers. Better to slowly and organically grow a group of core fans – your ideal readers – who will then purchase all of your books, because you’re writing just for them.

Yardleyphoto2Cathy Yardley is the author of eighteen traditionally published romance, women’s fiction, and urban fantasy novels. She’s also a developmental editor and writing coach at Sign up for her free e-course Jumpstart Your Writing Career, and receive helpful hints on pinpointing where you might be stuck – and how to get back on track for a successful fiction writing career.


tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Réal Laplaine

    Very good tips, Cathy – thanks very much.

  2. Richard

    I have a new book coming out next month called Harry the Louse. I recently posted a first showing of the cover with synopsis and I too am really struggling as to which category it belongs. Any ideas?

    • Cathy Yardley

      Could you post a link to the synopsis? I saw the cover on your website, and see that it says you’re thinking “women’s chick lit” but the cover doesn’t really suggest that.

      • Richard

        I abandoned the notion ‘chick lit’ early on so not sure where you unearthed it. This book is more for the mature professional woman. I am attaching a link to the ‘teaser’ I posted,—what-do-you-think/harry-the-louse-1st-itch
        but in summation, two 50 something professional women (a doctor and lawyer) are targetted by Harry, a crisis-hit Cretan. He ropes in his ‘above board’ friend, who has a vineyard and his own aeroplane to take on one of the women. Harry concentrates on the GP hoping to divest her of some of her cash, but she has come to the Greek island hoping to benefit on the desperate situation there and turns the tables cunningly on Harry. – thanks in advance

        • Cathy Yardley

          I saw “chick lit” mentioned on your home page, so might want to edit that a bit. I get the feeling this is not women’s fiction at all, which would generally be what you’re thinking with targeting “mature professional woman.” Personally, I’d categorize it on Kindle as Humorous, possibly Black Humor (I don’t know how dark the humor is), and/or Satire. You’ll have a bit less competition there anyway, which would help with initial discoverability, and I think that it would fit better.

          • Richard

            Good job I asked you the question – forgotten that original mention there in that small section! Thank you for your help and suggestions.

  3. Richard

    I have a new book coming out next month called Harry the Louse. I recently posted a first showing of the cover with synopsis and I too am really struggling as to which category it belongs. Any ideas please?

  4. Marji Laine

    This post is solid gold! Thanks so much for the hints. I’ve had a devil of a time trying to narrow my audience. Romance is a huge category, as someone else mentioned, though my books definitely fit there. It’s the sub-genre I struggle with. While they aren’t cozy mysteries, they also aren’t entirely suspenseful. I always thought they matched the type of stories that Phyllis A. Whitney used to write – a little suspense, a lot of romance, and a juicy mystery. Is romantic mystery a genre?

    • Cathy Yardley

      I think “romantic suspense” is the sub-genre you’re looking for — and it’s very popular right now. (I mean, there’s always an audience for it, but it does seem to be on a particular up-cycle right now.) I’m glad you found the article helpful!

  5. MM Justus

    You are aware that romance can’t really act as a catch-all for any story that has a romance in it, right? The romance genre has some of the tightest conventions of any genre out there. More so than mystery, even.

    I for one have had terrible luck trying to market my books to romance readers, even though the romance is central to the books, because of the structure of my books, which, because the romance doesn’t actually start till about halfway through the books, doesn’t fit romance genre conventions.

    My books are historical adventures with a supernatural twist and a bit of romance. I have yet to figure out where my potential readers hang out, after more than three years of trying.

    Do you have any advice on how to find readers for this type of book? The historical people don’t want it because of the supernatural stuff, and they’re not genre science fiction/fantasy, either.

    It’s not a matter of broadening the net. Every time I do I get thrown back out. Help?

    • Cathy Yardley

      I know romance has very specific expectations, and it would not be a good match. What you have sounds very cross-genre. When you say supernatural, what do you mean? And is this traditionally or self published?

      • MM Justus

        Yes, my books are very cross-genre. When I say supernatural, I mean one element of the book is supernatural. Everything else is basically historical novel with a romantic thread (all of my books do have happily ever afters, though).

        In my first series, the element was time travel, but the time travel was purely a plot device for a fish out of water story — no time machine or explanation in the books (although I did work out an explanation as backstory — it’s basically a combination of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the right genetic quirk). As a whole the series is about 90% historical, 10% supernatural (the second book is actually straight historical, but with characters related to the folks in the other books).

        The second series is set in a sort of Old West Brigadoon so far (I have plans for books set in the same universe but not in the same place — this series is only 2 books long so far), although much darker and without music. Again, most of the story is based on actual historical events, including the event that made the town what it is.

        I’m self-published.

        • Cathy Yardley

          You’re in a tough niche. True historical readers won’t necessarily be open to the time travel element, and as you say, romance readers will find the amount of romance and the pacing of the elements a bit problematic. You mention that they are adventure stories — it seems like that is the best way to approach it, to my mind. Look at the elements of the plot that carry that thread, and emphasize them.

          • MM Justus

            They are adventure stories. But I have no idea how to run with that at all. I don’t even know what you mean by “Look at the elements of the plot that carry that thread, and emphasize them” in this context.

          • Cathy Yardley

            Just doing a quick peek at your book “Repeating History”, the adventure seems to be your main protagonist’s struggle to survive. People love a good survival tale. You’ve got a fish out of water modern man trying to make it in the 1870’s. It’s got a great “My Side of the Mountain” feel to it that way. And given your background, I think positioning it as a historical adventure is still accurate, all things considered… you should be able to reach some historical audiences through your work credentials and then mention the fiction. Just a thought! (Please feel free to email me — I’d love to discuss it with you. )

          • MM Justus

            Emailing you at the address I found on that website, anyway. I hope it’s the right one!

  6. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    Everything you say is obviously true – once you’ve said it.

    Finding the ideal reader for genre fiction is a piece of cake when you compare it to finding the ideal reader for mainstream fiction, a topic I’ve been nibbling around the edges for three years (as I finish the writing) with little success (many indies, especially those who blog, write SFF, romance, thrillers, dytopian, and mysteries).

    I am grateful for all their advice, hard-won and kindly shared, in their genres. But most of it helps ME not at all. The general outlines are similar for all fiction, but, oh! the details. And I’m still looking – so all advice welcome, and I’m checking out your services.

    Very nicely put blog post.


    • Cathy Yardley

      When you say “mainstream fiction” do you mean literary? I’d love to discuss details to help, if you like.

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

        Specifically NOT literary – I consider literary as much of a genre as horror. I write mainstream commercial fiction of the kind that used to be called merely ‘a novel.’

        I think my best course is to contact you on your own website – and discuss specifics. Thanks for offering to help.


  7. KV Hardy

    This is terribly helpful. And, in my opinion, answering the questions and applying the results can also help in identifying the direction of a tricky story…

    • Cathy Yardley

      I’m glad you found the article helpful. And yes, I think knowing your audience can help give some direction to a tricky story. Thanks for commenting!



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