Caveat emptor, right? Buyer beware.
Most of us know when to be careful. Shady ads or get rich quick schemes.
Things that look too good to be true usually are.
What about when caveat emptor is a person?
There are people that should be painted in caveat emptor. Preferably a thick coat, applied with a wide brush.
There’s a book consultant out there that charges a whack of cash to help authors find their audience. Sounds great, right? Because so many writers have no clue who their reader is. Especially authors.
No names. I don’t want to send anyone his way, not even accidentally.
He tells the story of some struggling romance writer who couldn’t figure out who her audience is. So she hired him. He spent a chunk of time analyzing her sales and competition and said her audience is white women aged 25–40 who read romance. And then he blogged about it. Proudly.
Like he really believed he did a good job on that one.
What does race have to do with romance? Did she write some kind of racist Becky book that no self-respecting woman of color would read? Does he think only white ladies rang the cash register to eat up the 50 shades of grey?
That’s demographics, dude, and in romance, they don’t matter.
Know why we peg people by demographics?
Remember the 1950s? Dirty Dancing and American Graffiti and Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie. That’s where demographics in advertising came from.
Demography goes farther back. To the work of John Graunt, who wrote about it back in 1662 when he talked about using birth and death records to get an idea of how old the population was. Like, how many men men are statistically of military age and such.
In advertising, demographics were big in the 50s. Know why?
Because if you were an advertiser looking to buy ads on one of the 3 television stations to sell your spiffy new Frigidaire, it was helpful to know that a 35 year old white lady was more likely to be able to afford it. Quite technically, her husband. And she needed to be a homeowner. Renters don’t buy fridges.
Back then, things like race and financial status made the difference between an ad that rang the cash register and one that did not.
So you showed a white lady in the ad and ran it in the middle of the afternoon when the renters are at work and the middle class stay at home wives are home watching television and cha-chang. Sales happened.
And honestly? It wasn’t so much about targeting the right people as figuring out how to exclude the wrong people.
Same applied with all those glossy postcards ads. Ads for the expensive stuff was sent by zip code. So they could exclude poor neighborhoods. No point wasting a stamp on people who can’t afford what they sell.
Ouch, right? Commerce has some ugly roots.
There are times when demographics matter…
Tampax doesn’t buy ads in men’s magazines, and there’s not much point advertising pregnancy vitamins in a magazine geared towards retired people, if you know what I mean.
There are times that demographics matter. But only if the end product will only be used by a specific demographic. That’s less often than you’d think.
Dumb word, great idea
In 1964, Harvard alumnus and social scientist Daniel Yankelovich wrote that traditional demographic traits lack the insights marketers need.
Around the same time, a market researcher named Emanuel Demby started using the word ‘psychographics’ to refer to shared attitudes, values, behaviors and interests. Dumb word, great idea.
That’s half a century ago. Yet, in 2020, some dude is still charging people out the wahoo to “find their audience” using demographics.
Jeff Bezos didn’t get rich because he sold books. He got rich because he understood the power of psychographics in the sales process. People who like that also also buy this. Common interests.
But it’s not just helpful when making a sale. It’s also a great way to find your people in the first place.
When J.K. Rowling published the first Harry Potter book, her publisher believed the target was young boys and recommended she aim for a YA audience with a strong focus on boys.
Good thing (for her) she didn’t listen.
If she’d listened, she’d have geared her blog posts and advertising to young boys and what they’re interested in. Instead, she talked about enchanted animals and mythology and magic.
Know what that is? Interests. Which are psychographics.
When her books took off, the line ups weren’t made of young boys. They were boys and girls, teenagers, and a lot of adults. More adults than you’d imagine. The common factor was not age or gender. It was a shared interest.
The club with your name on it
Imagine a room full of people. Tall and short. Women and men. Old and young. And they’ve all piled into that room because they share an interest with you. Maybe even more than one.
When you start thinking that way, you’re getting warm.
Omg, my grandma had that, too…
Lisa Genova’s first book, Still Alice, is about a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s. Her grandma had it. That’s what inspired her to write the book. She wanted to show what it’s like to watch someone struggling with it.
It was heartbreaking and beautiful. Look up the movie trailer. You’ll see.
While she was writing the book, she was blogging about Alzheimer's. Then she contacted the Alzheimer’s Association and showed them her writing. They liked it, so she started writing for them, too. And built an audience.
It was the simplest method of all. Finding an audience by using a topic central to what the writer writes about.
From rejection to a million books sold…
Mel Sherratt spent years trying to get a publisher. She even got to the point of acquisition meetings with publishers. Several times. Then they said no.
She blogged the entire journey. Every submission, every rejection, every excited meeting and the bitter disappointment afterwards.
Finally, she gave up. Told her readers the dream of a getting a publisher isn’t going to happen for her. So she self published. Her book hit the top 100. When she’d sold a million books, Harper Collins came calling.
Her audience had nothing to do with her book. But they shared her dream. Because she was brave enough to write about rejection. Share the journey with other people on the same path.
So many other ways…
Chelsea Campbell had a real publisher for her first book, but they didn’t promote it and she didn’t have an audience. Sales flopped and then they rejected her second book. Because the first one didn’t sell.
So she started a Kickstarter and shared all the stuff she had to do to self publish. The cover art. The layout. The formatting. Omg, you guys. There is so much to do. And it all costs money. Her second book sold more in 3 months than her first book sold in 3 years.
E.L. James found her audience in a Twilight fan fiction board. That’s where she started writing the stories that became 50 shades. They were about the Twilight characters. Except, when the stories got too racy, she got booted from the board. But by then, she already had a following.
Amanda Hocking ran a paranormal romance blog long before her books took off and she became one of the first people to earn over a million with self-published books.
There’s one guy, sorry I forget his name — he writes all these posts about his childhood in the deep south. Big, big following. When he published his book, it was recipes he grew up with. Granny’s deep south cooking.
It doesn’t have to be the topic of your book that connects people.
It can be, but it doesn’t have to.
Do you suppose it’s possible to belong to someone before we’ve even met them?
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a delightful book that spent 11 weeks on the NYT bestseller list and was made into a movie.
It’s about a book club, written in letters that aren’t to you, but will speak to you. One reviewer said “I want to be part of a book club like this so bad”
There’s all sorts of faces in that little room in Guernsey. Smiling and sour. Old and young. Men and women. They’re all there because of a shared interest. I won’t tell you what it is. No spoilers.
There’s a delightful line where the main character asks “Do you think it’s possible to belong to someone before we’ve even met them?”
Yes, I want to shriek. Yes.
We can be as different as night and day, you and I, but in one specific area, our hearts beat in synch. When it comes to that one thing, we resonate.
Isn’t that how our hearts work best? When we are drawn together, not by age or gender, but because we share some small part of our worldview?
That shared interest might be the thing you write about.
But it doesn’t have to be.
How do you do find your people and build an audience? The trick is to think long term…
Imagine that room full of people. It’s not about what they look like. Not about what race, gender or age they are. Doesn’t matter if they’re rich or poor.
They are there because of something that stirs their heart and lights up their eyes. Something they’ll be interested in week after week, month after month.
You can’t think of book marketing the way internet marketers think. You’re not selling a program that closes the doors and opens twice a year. No. You’re building relationships that will still be in good standing when you’re working on the 5th book or the 500th article.
“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” ― Carl Jung
You’ll also like…
How 8 New Authors Built Big Audiences and Raked in Millions on Their First Book
Most authors have no clue how to build an audience even after their book is done, much less before…