Identifying the Target Market for Your Book

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on March 9, 2011 in Book Marketing & PR
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This article was previously published in 2008 at All Freelance Writing. It will remain archived here at All Indie Publishing. Minor updates and edits have been made to ensure continued relevancy.

Before you even think about promoting your book, you have to identify your target market – the people most likely to buy your book. Why? If you don’t identify the right target market(s), you’ll waste time and money on ineffective marketing or promotional tactics. Planning is as important in marketing a book as it is in marketing a business.

Think about traditionally published authors. They need to know their target markets before they can land a publisher (meaning even before they finish their books in some cases). You should too.

So how do you determine who your target market is for your book? Here are a few tips.

Look to Similar Titles

Chances are that there are at least somewhat similar books already released in your niche (for non-fiction books) or genre / sub-genre (for fiction). If there are no other books available even remotely similar to your idea, it may mean there isn’t a market for the type of book you want to write.

This is one of the reasons researching your competition is so important. See who’s buying them. See who’s reviewing them. See what people say about them. These same people will very likely be a part of your own target market.

Look Deeper


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Perhaps you plan to write a book on parenting preschoolers. You may think “Great! There are lots of parents with preschoolers, so there’s a huge market!” By targeting too broadly, you run the risk of joining a larger market that’s already too saturated.

Instead you might narrow the focus of your audience, and therefore your book, to a more specific niche: examples of narrower niches would include potty training your toddler, getting preschoolers to develop healthy eating habits early, or a book targeting work-at-home parents with young children that offers suggestions on keeping kids occupied and entertained while they work without parents feeling like they’re neglecting them.

Want to know what people are interested in within a broader niche to help you narrow down your audience? Try using the Adwords Keyword Tool to see what people are searching for.

Look Beyond the Reader

It’s easy to get so caught up in your end readers that you lose focus of other markets that may be interested in buying your books. Might it be a book that schools would want to buy in bulk? Would the book make an ideal gift? (For example, a book on easy cooking while you’re in college would probably appeal to parents of college students as much as, if not more than, the students themselves.)

Does the reader have the buying power? Similar to the last example, think of test prep books for high school students. Appealing to the students themselves is fine, and they could be one market. But a potentially larger market would again be parents, as they’re likely the ones paying for the books. Along with buying power comes influence. Maybe someone like a teacher will have influence over what the parents by, so that would be another market you would want to appeal to.

What else can you do when trying to determine your book’s target market? Can you create markets for your book? Can you look past your initial reaction, and think of other audiences that might find your book useful or interesting in some way (even if not the way you originally intended)? Did you come up with any interesting target markets for your books? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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20 Comments

  1. Evelyn Lafont
    Evelyn Lafont March 14, 2011 Reply

    I’m going to make an assumptive comment here because I’m too damn lazy to find research that supports my claim.

    I think that some genres (PNR, for instance) are large and have a very large e-reader only audience. In those cases, since self-publishing usually equals cost-prohibitive print copies, it would still make sense to e-pub only.

    • Jennifer Mattern March 15, 2011 Reply

      Not sure about the percentage of PNR readers are e-reader only audience members. But stats I saw from late last year show only 10-11% of Americans in general have e-readers (I would say that’s probably higher when you factor in tablets, but can’t be sure without stats since having a tablet doesn’t mean it’s being used in that capacity).

      I think what’s important is to ask your audience if there are no stats out there. Remember, just because e-books are being hyped up right now and we’re used to them because we’ve seen them around for years, that doesn’t mean the majority of people care and download them.

      There are a lot of hyped up stats about e-books sales that take the numbers completely out of context. This is why we see companies like Amazon touting e-book sales figures as high when compared to the completely different market of hardcover books. The numbers overall aren’t nearly as impressive.

      So before assuming it’s what people want (and only what people want), ask ‘em. The audience you target now can affect your whole series. The e-book only crowd likely includes the cheap hoarders who just want to grab what they can to stock their e-readers on the cheap. The folks willing to pay more for books and e-books are a very different market.

      There’s nothing “wrong” with targeting one or the other. You just have to know which audience is a better fit for your work.

    • Jennifer Mattern March 15, 2011 Reply

      Out of curiosity, was this supposed to be on the other post about e-pubbing vs print? If so, I may be able to move it.

  2. Stephanie Golden April 4, 2011 Reply

    “Did you come up with any interesting target markets for your books?”

    YES! My book is about women & self-sacrifice. You could say the market is “all women.” That was my ‘initial reaction,’ to use your phrase, and it stopped me cold. But when I read your post it dawned on me that I can break it up into groups of women: Mothers. Wives. Girlfriends. Women in offices who make the boss look good. Etc. So thank you.

    • Jennifer Mattern April 5, 2011 Reply

      Yep! “All women” would almost never be a target market. General groups rarely are. Even if you were writing about a health condition that could affect all women (say breast cancer) “all women” wouldn’t be considered a target market. You have to break it down into most likely readers — so women in a particular age group, women with a family history, etc. would be more likely target markets than a generalized one. And remember. Not all people in those groups feel like they’re “sacrificing” — they might have exactly what they want out of life and implying it involves sacrifice could actually be insulting. So I’d say you could get even more specific — such as mothers who gave up successful careers for their husband or family rather than just “mothers.”

      • Stephanie Golden April 5, 2011 Reply

        “Not all people in those groups feel like they’re “sacrificing””

        Very true. I did a lot of interviews for this book and it does include the full spectrum. But your advice on getting more specific is extremely helpful. I wish my original publisher had had your understanding of marketing!

  3. G. Holder April 4, 2012 Reply

    Two questions:

    1) For a fiction novel, (contemporary fiction-intrigue) has romance and suspense, set in the art world – how would you start to define target audience?

    2) Would you choose a different target audience for each book?

    Thank you

    • Jennifer Mattern April 5, 2012 Reply

      1) Unfortunately a general description isn’t enough to identify all the target markets for a book. But for starters you would look at the basics — romance readers and suspense readers.

      Narrow it down more by demographics based on the individual book. Will it be of interest more to men or women? What age range? What socio-economic background? What education level? What else are they fans of (think about competing authors and books)? You want to get as specific as possible, because that’s how you figure out how to market to them (for example, whether or not that group uses social media actively).

      But you aren’t limited to one target market. For example, you might target urban-dwelling female romance readers in the 20-40 age range. At the same time, you might target a group of art lovers, depending on the amount of detail you go into about the art world.

      It’s better to target narrowly at first if you only have limited means for marketing and PR. You can always expand your reach as you go. But if you spend that time and money in inefficient ways up front, there’s a bigger chance you’ll reach a plateau and not be able to expand your reach as easily. For example, if your think your book is ideal for female teens, you might start focusing on that market. Later you might put an emphasis on their parents, high school teachers, etc. — people with influence over that primary target market who might also have an interest in the book. If you have the time and resources to strongly promote your book to all of your target markets up front, then you should certainly do that.

      Sometimes your best target markets will surprise you. So I recommend spending a lot of time figuring out who’s reading the competition and why and building a network of potential readers to see who gets excited about the story or subject.

      2) Unless the books are in a series or are very similar, yes. Every book would have its own target audience, because every book is different.

  4. Anastasia May 7, 2012 Reply

    Hi! Thank you for a very useful article. I started to look at my topic with different eyes. i wondered: how could I narrow my audience… I want to erite about my story of what I did to stop feeling guilty about my parenting; on how I discovered a different way to approach it and how it helped me to enjoy my womenhood and motherhood way more than I could before…
    I couldn’t say my audience are “all mothers feeling guilty” buit I also am not clear how best to narrow/specify my audience further:-(
    Would you have an idea that could bring me further?

    Thanks!

    • Jennifer Mattern May 15, 2012 Reply

      Why couldn’t you target an audience of mothers who feel some sort of guilt over their parenting choices? That sounds like a reasonable target market to me. Remember, a target market should be somewhat specific. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a small group of readers. :)

      You could probably narrow it down more based on certain decisions if you want. For example, if your own feelings of guilt had to do with you being a working mom and leaving the kids with other caretakers during the day, you might specifically target working moms who feel guilt over having that role. I’m not saying that’s your situation or that there’s any reason to feel guilty about it, but it’s one of the more common examples I’ve come across. But really, I don’t think that’s necessary, especially if the book is about you rather than advice on overcoming feelings of guilt. In that case your reader base would be mothers who are looking to feel less alone in their situation, as they might not be willing to openly discuss their own feelings of guilt because they worry about how they’ll be judged.

      • Anastasia May 15, 2012 Reply

        Oh that’s great, thank you!
        I am torn between “my story” approach with some research and interviews thrown in and so popular “how to” book. I’ve spoken to a professional PR lady and she meant that books usually don’t’ earn money, it’s the business behind it that benefits from a book published and hence “how to” would always be a better option…

        My head is spinning! All I know is that I want to write a book and I am willing to invest time and effort into building my author’s platform but I am so afraid to make the wrong choice about what kind of book it will be.

        How would you decide/think to get you to a decision? (I am not a psychologist or a teacher or a parent educator, so lack formal/recognized “expert” status)

        • Jennifer Mattern May 15, 2012 Reply

          That’s not entirely true. Maybe she was focused on business-oriented books released by her colleagues? I used to run a PR firm myself, and I can say colleagues in that industry publish for different reasons than traditional authors. They worry less about profiting from the books themselves because it’s more about being seen as a thought leader or industry expert. That builds awareness and trust within their target market. That, in turn, can lead to more clients and increased sales for their core business.

          But that doesn’t mean books don’t work well as a core business too. I know plenty of authors in both groups from my work in marketing and PR and now my current work as a writer. And they can both flop or prosper depending on how the individual author handles the production and marketing of their books. So don’t let that worry you too much.

          Focus on the market you want to write for. Would they prefer more of a memoir style? Or are they looking for instructional books? If you go the “how to” route, do you feel confident enough in your credentials to do well there? In other words, why would people buy that kind of book from you over mental health professionals with a different understanding of guilt and dealing with those emotions? That’s not to say your book couldn’t be as good. You would just have to find a way to make it stand out. Heck. You could combine both styles. For example, you might make it a community-style feel by interviewing other mothers (maybe even well-known moms) about their own feelings of guilt and their tips on getting over it. Then you could sprinkle in some of your own stories, really showing readers that they’re not alone. Again, not saying that’s the best way to go. You know your market far better than I do. My point is just that you don’t have to mold your books to one specific template. Do what works for you and your readers. :)

          Why not focus on building your platform first, maybe while you do research for the book? You can perfect your “voice” that way for your audience, and see who gravitates to you on your blog, social media accounts, etc. That could help you get a better feel for the kind of book you want to write, and you could even use a site or blog to develop base content that could then be adapted for use in the book.

  5. Anastasia May 15, 2012 Reply

    Oh my god Jennifer, you are fabulous! Thank you:-)
    You are right, my heart is more for “just” writing books” then using a book for a business. I even can think of a whole series just because there are several (many actually) topics that “one doesn’t talk” about usually and I feel a very strong desire to talk about them.
    I read several books on how to approach non-fiction and am very busy focusing on building my platform while thinking/researching my book outline.

    • Jennifer Mattern May 16, 2012 Reply

      No problem. :)

      If you don’t mind, I’m going to recommend a book you might enjoy. It’s Damn! Why Didn’t I Write That? (I believe by Marc McCutcheon). It doesn’t cover the act of writing nonfiction so much as talking about “real people” who make good money writing nonfiction books — as in people who don’t necessarily have any special credentials. I know that was something you were concerned about, so if nothing else it might be motivational. :)

      And congrats on having a series idea around the book. I’m a big fan of series, both as a reader and a writer. And honestly, I think yours sounds interesting. I’m not a mother yet, but when I am, it’s probably the kind of thing I’d want to read. I like candid discussions, and it sounds like the series would involve just that — a “things moms think” kind of thing (and hey… there’s an available domain name for you). ;) Again, just a suggestion, but I feel like that kind of topic would lend itself well to not only frank discussions with a slight shock value (being that they’re things people don’t usually talk about), but also to a bit of humor. It might make the uncomfortable topics go over better.

      And as always, you know your market best. I don’t know if there are similar books or series already out there or how they’re performing if they exist. But that would be a great next step — find out if the market’s saturated or wide open for new entrants, and if the readership you want is interested. :)

      • Anastasia May 16, 2012 Reply

        I looked up the book – great stuff, even by reaing the reviews I can tell it’s very inspirational:-)
        You mentioned the market research bit. That’s what I was looking into for the last couple of days. Though my ideas stop at looking through Amazon.com bestselling lists on parenting, motherhood, femenism topics:-)

        I mean how do you estimate market volume and if it is saturated without buying a market research report for big bucks? (I am sure it is possible, I tend to over-complicate things a lot)

        If I had more money I probably would run a proper focus group(s) with my target market! (I thought of trying to do a sort of focus group on a forum/facebook but then I started worring that because it is so public my ideas may be appealing to more prolific writers who can get the job done quicker, if you kow what I mean…

        • Jennifer Mattern May 16, 2012 Reply

          Just to make sure I give you balanced info, there’s a discussion thread about that book in my writing forums (tied to my main blog — All Freelance Writing). Another reader there was less impressed by it, so I’ll link you to the thread so you can get another perspective.

          http://allfreelancewriting.com/forum/book-club-picks-authors/damn-why-didnt-i-write-that/

          As for market research, look beyond competing books. Think about the people first — the people you think would be interested. For example, go into their demographics. If you’re targeting moms, obviously you have women. But what age range? Women in what income range would most relate to the content? Is it more applicable to moms in a certain region geographically? Does the book deal with ethnic or religious traditions that would make it appeal more to moms in those groups?

          Once you’ve narrowed things like that down, government agencies can be great sources of information for population statistics. Just Google something relevant and look for a .gov domain. Census.gov is one example where you can find stats.

          When you have a rough idea of your target market’s size, then start looking into saturation. How many books are on the topic? How are they doing in sales rankings? More importantly, how current are they? (That lets you know if people are buying newly written books as opposed to a few tried and true options. Some niches will have buyers that constantly buy new titles whereas others might have buyers who only care about having one or two good reference books around.)

          And why pay for a focus group? Go ahead and ask people publicly. Or set up private networking groups (via email, a private forum, or on your own blog). I’ve had plenty of ideas stolen, so I understand your worries. But you don’t have to give them all of the books details or branding info up front. And even if someone else runs with a similar idea, just remember that you can do it better. :) Your best option might be to focus on the platform, and then ask your own blog readers or something. You could hand-pick them to ask them privately or at least ask publicly on your own site where you might have fewer poachers than asking on a popular social media site.

  6. Anastasia May 24, 2012 Reply

    Hi!
    I actually spent the last two weeks researching the market:-) I went back and forth with the actual focus of my book as well. I tend to overcomplicate things.
    I am at square 1 again…
    Discovered that you can get away with writing self-help books on e.g. depression even if you are not a psychologist but rather a popular journalist (would have thought you couildn’t)
    I am utterly confused, de-motivated right now:-)

    • Jennifer Mattern May 24, 2012 Reply

      A journalist could probably write a nonfiction book on any topic they specialize in. That’s because they have the skills to conduct effective interviews. In other words, they know how to gather information from the experts and their job is to organize and present it in a way that keeps people reading. If you can do that well, then you could certainly do something similar.

      Stop overthinking things. (I do that a lot too.) And instead focus on the work. If you have a better understanding of the market, you’re in a better position to choose the route you want to take. Do that. Commit to it. And just focus on the research and writing for a while. If you don’t feel more motivated after jumping in, then you can always re-evaluate later and tweak things if you think it’s appropriate.

  7. Alison Byrne February 26, 2014 Reply

    I’m putting together a book proposal, but I’m not sure how/where to find info on my target market. I know, for instance, a handful of books that are similar to mine, so I want to know their specific target market and statistics on their sales. Where do I find that information? Thanks so much.

    Alison

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