Know Your Audience
by Keith Yatsuhashi
Years ago, a man came into my office in need of help. He said an official in South America planned to grant him the rights to an island that he could then turn into an executive retreat. P.T. Barnum would’ve been proud, as would all the souls who sold the Brooklyn Bridge to unsuspecting buyers. Now at first glance, something like this might lead you to think a good salesman can sell just about anything to anyone. I would argue--as I’m sure Mr. Barnum would too--a sale like this is really based on something else, something all good marketers understand: you have to know your audience. No city councilman would buy the Brooklyn Bridge. No lawyer would either. And no con man worth his salt would waste his time on them. He’d look for a better mark.
So, how do you, an author with or without marketing experience find those marks? The good news is that it’s not hard as you think, particularly for genre writers. The answer’s right there in the sentence I just typed: genre. Romance readers like their romance, ditto for thriller readers, mystery readers, SF/Fantasy, etc. Genre is the key. Focus on what you know about your genre itself then look for places where its fans congregate. And not just book fans. That’s the key.
Our culture is obsessed with media: TV, movies, Internet, what-have-you. Like it our not, that’s where people go for information, both to share and receive it. Forget the bookstore customer for a moment and look at the bigger, media-driven picture. Not long ago, my daughter and I were talking about Harry Potter. One of her friends liked the movie. She didn’t know it was a book. I’ll give you a minute to pull yourself back together before I continue. Recovered yet? Good. This little anecdote is more common than you’d imagine, and it’s why you need to start at the top of the funnel, the widest part. From there, you’ll find all kinds of paths you didn’t know existed.
Let’s say you’re obsessed with mysteries or are selling one. Have you thought about browsing through fan sites for CSI or other top TV shows? The BBC’s Sherlock is hot right now. Bet you can find a lot of new fans there. Those of us who write science fiction and fantasy have a whole host of outlets. Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who. At some point these audiences converge. Follow them, join message boards and fan groups--as a fan yourself, not as someone selling something--nobody likes it when you do that. Naturally, once they get to know you, you can let it slip that you have a book. At the same time, you make sure you put that info, along with your web presence in your signature. Don’t do more than that.
Don’t forget to note where you’ve been. Even if you don’t join these sites, the most popular ones might be open to reviewing your book. Always remember, fans go to sites for a reason, and the web masters are also looking for ways to keep their audience. That means keeping things fresh. Maybe they’re not readers or, what I call, book people. Don’t let that stop you. A fan who put up a Harry Potter movie site might well be open to reviewing a book with the same fan base. Potter’s over, but they need to keep their site going. You won’t know until you email them. FWIW, I recently sent a review copy to a site that doesn’t review books. Crazy? Maybe, but the writer asked for it, and I asked if she would send it to the right contact, or, if she liked it, to spread the word. You never know.
Okay. Now that we’ve identified our audience, how do we keep them? Let’s move away from our con man example and look at something else. Have you ever watched a truly seasoned performer milk the crowd? It’s breathtaking. People like this take their audience’s pulse in an instant. The best will peek into the hall as soon as the doors open to get a feel for it. If it’s dead, they’ll add energy to wake it. If it’s alive, they’ll tap into and channel the wave. A marketer needs to do that too.
When I first started promoting my book, my daughter insisted I use Instagram. It’s where all the kids are, she said. She set up an account for me and even ran it for a while. She then started her own page and made sure to feed mine. My first pics had to do with my book. The response was dismal, and in hindsight, I should have expected it. Instagram is about snazzy, funny pictures, or personal ones. Research that first--who puts up what on what social media sites. A few clicks and some feedback from my daughter’s friends was all it took.
I abandoned saying anything about my book, except for the occasional reminder that it was coming. I searched for subscribers who liked books and media similar to my book and sent out friend requests. The majority went to fans of Japanese animation, science fiction, and fantasy. My daughter supplemented that on her site with YA and other stuff girls her age are into. That was back in October. Since then, I’ve built up 1500 followers on Instagram with fun and funny pics I knew my audience would appreciate--trial and error there. Instinct worked well, but tracking which types of pics received the most likes was key.
Keep in mind who I identified as a natural audience--anime fans. As my book’s release neared, I had my daughter find some pics of popular anime characters reading. Next, we edited the photos so that the cover of the book matched mine. In the pic, we inserted some well-chosen sentences that we knew would get their attention. Not all were successful--probably because I did it too often. The ones that were, though, received as many likes as my snazzy, funny pictures. I made sure to post those pics with many other ones unrelated to my book. That way I didn’t call attention to it. You don’t want your followers to think you’ve abandoned what they like about your site. If they believe you’re only putting up things they don’t care about, you’ve lost them.
Finally, wherever you go, remember to keep things brief, something I neglected to do here. Likely, many who started reading this post didn’t finish. That’s okay. Those who did are my audience: authors looking for tips from other authors. I hope you find mine helpful. Now. Find your mark, get on it, get set...and go!
Purchase Keith Yatsuhashi's debut novel KOJIKI
Keith Yatsuhashi was born in 1965 in Boston, MA. He graduated from Northeastern University in 1989 and is currently the Director of the U.S. Department of Commerce Export Assistance Center in Providence, Rhode Island.
Keith was a competitive figure skater for ten years, winning the U.S. National Junior Dance Championships in 1984, a bronze medal in the 1983 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, and a silver medal in 1984.
In addition to his love for writing, Keith enjoys many hobbies such as golf, reading, and playing football and hockey with his sons. Keith currently lives in Norfolk, MA with his wife, Kathleen and three children-- Caitlin, Jeffrey, and Justin.