Thursday, March 19, 2015

Creating an Author Business Plan: Identifying Your Audience

By Marcy Kennedy, @MarcyKennedy 

Part of the Indie Author Series

The more specific you are about your target audience, the more likely you'll be able to reach them.

Welcome back to the third installment in my series on writing your author business plan. We’re working on our Author Business Plan Summary, and we’ve already covered setting our goals and choosing our stories. If you haven’t read those articles yet, I recommend you go back and start from the beginning.

Our next logical step is to identify our audience.

The biggest mistake we tend to make as writers when identifying the audience for our books is to aim too broadly. Most of us do it for one (or both) of the following reasons.

We either don’t know how to figure out who our audience would be, or we hope that our book will have breakout appeal in the way that books like the Harry Potter series or The Hunger Games did. People who didn’t consider themselves readers or didn’t consider themselves fans of the fantasy and dystopian science fiction genres read those books anyway.

Appealing to people who don’t consider themselves avid readers or finding a way to appeal to people who aren’t regular fans of our genre is a fine goal. But it should be a secondary goal. Those people will never read your book unless you can first appeal to a core group of people who love it enough to start recommending it to those non-reading, non-fantasy/mystery/romance-loving friends and family members.

So what we’re trying to do in this section isn’t figure out how to reach everyone with our books. We’re trying to figure out who, specifically, is most likely to passionately love our books.

When you start to think about marketing each individual book, you’ll narrow down your ideal reader even more. We’ll take figuring out your audience and how to reach them to the next level when we work on the marketing section of our author business plan. For now, we want to write a brief overview paragraph that will give us direction for our summary. To put it another way, at this point, you just want to be specific enough that you can say more about them than that they’re a woman from age 19-90 or a man over 40.

Here are some questions that can help you figure out who your ideal reader is.

What gender and age range are most likely to read my books?

Remember, this is most likely. Some men do read romance novels and some women do read military fiction, but most likely, if you’re writing a romance, your audience will be predominantly women between 30 and 55. Adults do read YA fiction, but if you’re writing YA, your audience will most likely be teenage girls.

When marketing our books, we’ll want to be aware of our “secondary audiences,” but right now, we want to know who our main readers will be.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s much easier now to find out the demographics of our potential readers than it was in the past. Enter “(your genre) reader statistics” or “(your genre) reader demographics” in your search bar, or visit websites of one of the professional associations for your genre and see if they have any information available.

What popular authors write books similar to mine?

We all try to make our books unique in some way (and that will be important to identify in the marketing section), but there’s also “nothing new under the sun,” as Ecclesiastes says. To figure out who our audience is and, later, how best to reach them, we need to look at the similarities between our books and the books of other authors.

For example, if you’re writing epic fantasy set in a secondary world, your books might appeal to readers who also love the works of George R. R. Martin or Lindsey Buroker. If you’re writing cozy mysteries set in small towns that often also have a thematic tie in (like quilting or barbeque), your books might appeal to people who also like the works of Elisabeth Spann Craig.

Popular doesn’t have to mean “bestseller.” A popular author is someone with a strong and growing readership (or it could also be an up-and-coming author that you could partner with in some way).

What TV shows might draw a similar audience?

When you were writing the section of your business plan dealing with choosing your stories, perhaps you decided that you wanted to write light-hearted mysteries that also had a romantic element to them. Fans of Castle or The Mentalist might also enjoy your books, especially if your main character is a bit of a loveable rogue.

What expectations are they bringing to the genre that you plan to fulfill or break?

Each genre builds certain expectations in the readers’ minds. For example, mystery readers expect that they’ll be given a puzzle to solve, fantasy readers expect unique settings and abilities, and romance readers expect a happy ending. If you’re going to fulfill those expectations, your audience will be different than if you intend to break them.

My friend Jami Gold is a good example of knowing what her audience expects. She recently announced the upcoming release of the first books in her paranormal romance series, and she explicitly states that her books end happily and have open-door sex scenes. She knows her audience, and her audience will be very different from people who enjoy bittersweet endings (where one of the characters dies, for example) and who want the bedroom door to stay closed.

You’ll have some crossover between this paragraph and the paragraph on choosing your stories, but they build on each other. Each element we add to our business plan helps us clarify what we want and how we’re going to get it.

How did you go about identifying your audience? Do you have any other good tips to provide?

Marcy Kennedy is a suspense and speculative fiction writer who believes fantasy is more real than you think. Alongside her own writing, Marcy works as a freelance fiction editor and teaches classes on craft and social media through WANA International. She’s also the author of the Busy Writer’s Guides series of books. You can find her blogging about writing and about the place where real life meets science fiction, fantasy, and myth at

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About Grammar for Fiction Writers: A Busy Writer’s Guide

The world of grammar is huge, but fiction writers don’t need to know all the nuances to write well. In fact, some of the rules you were taught in English class will actually hurt your fiction writing, not help it. Grammar for Fiction Writers won’t teach you things you don’t need to know. It’s all about the grammar that’s relevant to you as you write your novels and short stories.

Here’s what you’ll find inside:
  • Punctuation Basics including the special uses of dashes and ellipses in fiction, common comma problems, how to format your dialogue, and untangling possessives and contractions.
  • Knowing What Your Words Mean and What They Don’t including commonly confused words, imaginary words and phrases, how to catch and strengthen weak words, and using connotation and denotation to add powerful subtext to your writing.
  • Grammar Rules Every Writer Needs to Know and Follow such as maintaining an active voice and making the best use of all the tenses for fast-paced writing that feels immediate and draws the reader in.
  • Special Challenges for Fiction Writers like reversing cause and effect, characters who are unintentionally doing the impossible, and orphaned dialogue and pronouns.
  • Grammar “Rules” You Can Safely Ignore When Writing Fiction


  1. Great advice, Marcy! I would also recommend seeking out bloggers who have a similar style and discuss the same themes and topics you cover in your writing. Join the community commenting around that blog and eventually approach the author of the blog. Ask if they'd like to team-up with you for cross-promotional activities so you can share audiences.

    1. That's a great tip! Thanks for sharing it :)

  2. Unfortunately, "slipstream reader demographics/statistics" did not get me anywhere. I'm still not sure my books *are* slipstream, either. They're historical adventures with a supernatural twist (ordinary people, extraordinary circumstances, as opposed to urban fantasy, which seems to require a protagonist who's paranormal hirself), but that's not a Genre, in the accepted sense of the term. Any ideas on where to go from here?

    1. Are you talking about time travel? If so, that's definitely a genre and can be either fantasy or science fiction depending on how the time travel happens. Otherwise, you might try historical fantasy, which is a genre where the story is set on our earth, in the past, but there's magic or mythology added to it.

  3. Leave it to me to do it all backwards. I aimed for one small group and then realized my audience was much bigger than anticipated.

    1. That can happen too. That will probably make it easier for you :)

  4. This is a keeper. Thanks, Marcy!