What is a target audience, and how can you use your knowledge to get your books into readers’ hands? In this article, I will detail what it is, how to find the target audience for your own book, and what questions to ask yourself about marketing your book to the right people.
In marketing, a target audience is the particular group of people at which your book is aimed. It may be who your book is written for initially, or it may be defined after you’ve finished. You choose or identify your target audience based on who is most likely to enjoy your book.
Sometimes, your book has multiple target audiences. For my example, I will use a popular book, The Martian, by Andy Weir. This is a science fiction book with a nerdier aspect to it (how to survive on Mars), so science fiction readers are one such target audience. This book is rated 13+ because of strong language and peril, but its witty and imaginative writing entertains everyone from 13 to 35 years old. The book is about a man using his ingenuity to survive on the barren planet of Mars, so another audience group would be those who enjoy survival stories, post-apocalyptic (somewhat) stories, and inventiveness-overcoming-hopelessness stories.
Of course, this is a highly popular book, so it is read beyond its initial audience, and you, as a writer, must decide how you will promote your own work.
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Why it’s Important
You may have decided your target audience even before writing your book, or you may have just written a story and need to decide after the fact. Either is fine—though if you waited until after, I recommend revising your books that it’s cohesive. From here, you’d probably be editing and designing, but I’m going to skip ahead and say that you’re ready to release your book into the world.
How will people know where to find your book?
Promotion, of course! Promotion is the biggest way (aside from general word-of-mouth) that a book is widespread. Your marketing campaign should be focused on a few specific groups so you can allocate your funds to the correct places. You probably don’t have much of a budget left for marketing, and since it’s often a confusing and messy world, you want to know that your marketing is being as effective as it can be. But what does this mean?
Take for example, children’s books. Very young children typically aren’t buying or choosing books for themselves; their parents are. Thus, instead of making a marketing campaign aimed at children, you would market them to parents and daycares. A trend I’ve seen on the rise are LGBTQIA+ inclusive children’s books, which are effectively marketed at inclusive parents who want their children growing up learning to be accepting of everyone. Stereotypically, this same marketing plan would not work on conservative parents or most religious parents. It may also not work for families of certain cultures, and different approaches would have to be made for them, if at all. Knowing what to say, how to say it, and where to say it are the ways your book will sell.
So, why is knowing your target audience important? Because it helps you get your book into the right hands!
How to Decide/Determine Your Own
Take a close look at your own book. If you’ve been writing with a specific market in mind, you’re already halfway there—good job! If you haven’t, not to worry. It is generally easy to identify your main target audience. Ask yourself these questions:
What is the genre of your book? One such target audience is determined by that. Is it for history readers? Fantasy or sci-fi? Mystery, Thriller, Crime? Something else?
What is the reading level of your book? Is it for children, teens, adults?
Who is your main character? What kind of person do you think is most likely to relate to them?
Who will this book help? (If this is a non-fiction book, or a book with a strong message, it may affect the reader, but can also be targeted at parents, educators, and the like.)
Are there any books out there that are similar to yours? What is their main audience?
Click here to go more in-depth about finding your target audience.
Knowing your main audience and secondary audiences can help a lot when designing your book as well. Just look at other popular books in the genre you’re writing. Notice how the cover of a middle-grade book is different from the cover of a teen romance, which is different from an adult historical fiction and so on.
Writing for a Target Audience
If you have started writing your book with an audience in mind, or you’ve decided it afterward and are now revising your writing, keep these things in mind: language, reading level, character, and plot.
In my opinion, this is one of the biggest things. Paired with reading level, the language of a book is the act of choosing which words you’re going to use. This means common words verses long or intricate words, strong language, and innuendo.
This goes hand in hand with language, but it focuses more on how the words are put together in a sentence than the words themselves. If your writing is simplistic and repetitive, it may be good for young children just learning how to read or learning the nuances of storytelling, but an advanced reader is likely to get very bored very quickly. Likewise, if you fill your book with complicated metaphors or double meanings, a novice reader will be left confused.
Keep your main character in mind when writing for your target audience. What is their maturity level? Are many different people within your target audience able to relate to your protagonist? The other characters your protagonist is surrounded by also play an important role. If there is a mentor figure, a best friend, a rival, etc. they can influence an expanded audience.
The plot of your book is how the story is laid out. This can be chronologically or not; it can follow multiple characters or just one; it can have multiple subplots or just the main one. All of these things contribute to the complexity of your story, and like with language, this can determine who your story is for. Books for young children will have one arc within the story, while more advanced readers can keep multiple subplots in mind as they read.
This category is a little different, mainly because it doesn’t always have a plot or characters. It may be a true story or a memoir, but some non-fiction books are manuals or self-help or otherwise. Most non-fiction is for adults anyway, so what you would focus on is what the reader can gain from reading your book, be it specific knowledge, healthier methods of living, etc.
Fiction Target Audience Case Study
The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan is a middle-grade series (ages 8-12) about a twelve-year-old boy who has ADHD and dyslexia. He’s been kicked out of multiple schools and though he tries hard in class, he’s not the best student. Many children can relate to this, and with the main character being at the cusp of their age group, it shows younger children that even people older than them have problems.
Percy has a playful and sassy sense of humour which is appreciated by kids and those rereading the story, but I understand that it comes across as childish to adults reading the series for the first time. The language used is mostly simplistic—simple enough for seven-year-old me to understand what was going on almost 100% of the time.
New ideas, such as the Greek gods and other such myths are explained plainly for readers who may not know much about such things, and there are humorous twists on most ideas, making it enjoyable for children.
The plot of each book is easy to follow as it keeps to a quest format and uses storytelling patterns (they’re going on a journey, there is a McGuffin object, they fight monsters, etc.). It also uses general knowledge of most things, and even if a child doesn’t understand a reference (ex. Lord of the Flies in book 2), there is still enough for them to understand the gist of it.
Marketing for a Target Audience
Ideally, you will hire a marketer/promotor to help you with the launch and subsequent marketing of your book, and you’ll work together to figure all of this stuff out, but not everyone has a big enough budget for this on top of all the editing and design.
Multiple Target Audiences
Having multiple target audiences that you are marketing to means that you pick different aspects of your book to market. For instance, you may make one campaign about your book having a strong female character, and another campaign advertising a high-tech space battle finale to those who love reading action. If you’re writing a historical fiction novel, you may have been sharing with your current audience all of the research you’ve been diving into while writing (stacks of history books, fun history facts, etc.) so they can expect it to be accurate.
For each of these audiences (main and secondary) you will need to prepare separate posts and information. Some, happily, may overlap, but not always. Keep in mind who these ads/posts will most inspire to buy your book (or at least take a closer look at it). A children’s book about dealing with childhood aggression may have a main audience of children, but will be marketed towards parents, child educators, therapists, and others who regularly work with children. A Fantasy Romance with a strong female lead who fights vampires and werewolves to rescue her human lover will be marketed towards readers of paranormal romance, but also those interested in supernatural creatures, probably teens or preteens, and readers of action, and readers who enjoy flipped expectations (female rescues male/female rescues female/female rescues NB instead of stereotypical male hero rescues damsel in distress).
Where to Promote?
Social media is the main place you will be sharing advertisements and posts about your book. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Pinterest, Tiktok, Youtube, and more—each with their own style. Before you can start posting, however, you’ll have to do a little research and find out where your target audience resides. Do your readers spend a lot of time on Pinterest? If so, make a few artboards. If they spend a lot of time on Twitter, come up with some short, snappy tweets to capture their attention. If your readers are on Tiktok, film a few videos about your work on the book, about specific parts/aspects of the book, or something else. Make it unique!
The thing about marketing is that it’s not a cookie cutter kind of thing. Each book is different, and thus each book needs to be marketed differently. If you want your book to stand out, it has to be different from all the other ones out there, but it also has to have enough connections for people to decide its within their interests.