Thursday, January 16, 2014

Who’s Your Audience

By Christina Carson

I don’t know about you, but every time someone—agent, publisher, marketer, has asked me the question—who would my audience be—I’d stare blankly at them and mumble, “I don’t have a bloody clue.” If you write in a strict genre, it’s much more straightforward. But for all the rest of us who either cross genre lines or are forced by the conformist needs of marketers to check off the only remaining box—literary fiction, it’s tough. Seth Godin in a recent blog gives us a much more useful approach to this
question of who would buy my books. Here is his take:

Answering, "anyone who pays us money," is a cop out.
Almost as bad is describing your customers by demographics. It's only a little interesting to know that they are, on average, 32 year old, white, male, lacrosse fans.
No, what we need to know is:
What do they believe?
Who do they trust?
What are they afraid of and who do they love?
What are they seeking?
Who are their friends?
What do they talk about?

When I read through that list, I could answer every one of those questions because regardless of the backdrop I choose, historic or contemporary or the particular aspect of the human condition I explore, there is a group of people out there for whom I can easily answer those questions.
·       What do they believe? There’s got to be a better way to live than how they are presently doing so.
·       Who do they trust? People who have the courage to tell them the truth.
·       What are they afraid of? Reaching the end of their lives without experiencing what they sense is possible.
·       Who do they love? A person who inspires them and encourages them toward what they know is true for themselves.
·       What are they seeking? Some way to live that offers substantive purpose and meaning.
·       Who are their friends? Those who understand their longing and respect it.
·       What do they talk about? If they talk at all, they share an intimate vision of a stimulating life unencumbered by the mundane and open to exploration and possibility.

With Seth’s approach, it becomes possible for authors to help readers FIND THEM—to find the writers who speak directly to what they want to hear, talk about and be part of. It pulls from a much larger segment of society than simple demographics, because it respects the multifaceted nature of human beings. Maybe the reader wants to start with a genre but within it wants something more, perhaps a pulp fiction philosopher like John D. MacDonald. Or maybe the reader prefers to hang out directly with those who share his or her values, the ones identified in the above questions, less needful of a particular setting or nature of a story.

I am one of those writers that falls readily into that second group, the one that’s difficult to pinpoint any other way. If you wonder about the human condition, the explanation for why our lives so often disappoint us, coupled with an alternative, then I’m your lady. All I need do is take one of the hundreds of stories we already live and create characters capable of showing another way for that story to end.

And without Seth Godin’s insights I wouldn’t have thought to tell you, and you might never have known.

My blogs run along those similar lines, and since they are somewhat erratic,
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  1. You've given me a lot to think about. Now I have to decide how to apply this to my marketing.

    1. It gave me a great deal of clarity that I hadn't had until writing this blog. It doesn't even necessarily suggest an action to me, at least not yet, but a mark on a map that makes one easier to locate. I'd be interested in what you find yourself doing with it.

  2. Spot on! Yes, that's what was wrong all along with the Boomer Lit concept: way too focused on the demographic (Baby Boomers = all those born between 1946 and 1964) when in fact it should be focused on themes: what to do when you face your biggest SECOND transition in life, i.e. leaving your lifetime job behind. A new love? A new pursuit? Reviving love the second time around (if you're happily married, that is!)

    Then, the Boomer Lit Group on Goodreads further opened up the themes of Boomer Lit, to include nostalgia pieces, the evocation of the 1960s and 70s, i.e. rethink/recall how we addressed our FIRST transition in life (when we came of age back in the 60s and 70s). Fine and good. At this point, I think the whole issue has become muddled and no one really knows what Boomer Lit is about except that it pulls together all those books that mature people happen to like.

    From a marketing point of view, Boomer Lit will work only on the day a Big Publisher decides it wants to create a Boomer Lit Imprint.

    Because, Christina, our guru friend, Seth Godin, has found a fine trick to try and push writers to figure out what their audience might be - his questions are totally valid, they make sense to writers and they are very useful - but they are no good to help take the next step once you've answered his questions, i.e. figure out the profile of that audience in order to market to them...

    1. There is never one answer to anything, but a big piece that I see missing in the way electronic media puts people together but doesn't connect them like word of mouth did is to find a way that begins to offer readers a defined and welcoming place where they fit in, by identifying that place for them. The entire problem for the no-genre writers is that there is no identifiable demographic group, and this is a first step toward actually addressing that. You were bang on when you started down the trail of marketing themes in Boomer Lit, describing who would enjoy those themes and why. Then watch your new demographic group form around the description, much like growing a crystal. It works the other way round, Claude. Think about it.

  3. I always appreciate your honesty, even when it's much harder to hear than these encouraging words. Thank you, dear heart.

  4. What an interesting post and great food for thought. Thanks for the insights.

    1. It sure has me thinking, and I appreciate your feedback.

  5. VERY helpful. Much easier to answer those questions (which not surprising would sound so much like yours) then the worldview approach. Thanks for this Christina!

    1. You're most welcome. What those questions identify are attributes that a reader identifies with as well as a writer. Demographics don't pull readers toward us and don't make fans out of them. It is about touching readers not just entertaining them, I do believe.

    2. Yes, indeed, you're so right, it's about touching readers - to entertain is not enough, well said!

    3. When you touch someone, they remember you, forever.