Defining your target audience

The number one mistake I see writers make when building their websites is not choosing a target audience.

The purpose of an author’s website may seem obvious–to proudly display all of an author’s information. But consider for a moment the typical author website that simply lists an author’s bio, their publications, and contact information. Who is this website serving?

Unless you’re a student working on a late-night book report, I would argue that the only person such a website serves is the author.

The simple truth is that unless your website is bringing value to others, no one has any purpose for visiting it. So it’s time to get serious about targeting your audience.

Determining your target audience

Maybe your target audience seems obvious to you. Who are you targeting? Why, your readers, of course!

But let’s consider for a moment that you, like me, write for children. Are you still targeting your readers? Or would you rather connect with their guardians, the people buying the books for your readers? Or maybe you want to reach out to librarians and teachers, the people working to get your books into classrooms.

Maybe you aren’t trying to reach readers at all. Maybe you have a killer writing process or you’re a query letter pro and you want to help other writers.

For each of these goals, your target audience changes, and the content you provide and language you use will vary dramatically based on that understanding.

What it means to define your audience (and what it doesn’t)

When I say, “I want you to pick a target audience,” what I mean is that I want you to get as specific as humanly possible. In fact, I want you to be so specific that when you think of your target audience, you picture just one solitary person.


Because the narrower your audience is, the better you can serve them.

YA Fiction is typically written for 12 to 18-year-olds, but approximately half the people reading YA fiction are adults. Who do you want to target?

Do you want to work with newbie writers, published authors, or people who have studied writing extensively but have never finished a novel?

I don’t want you to write for an adult reader who enjoys romance novels. I want you to have a conversation with Christine, a 32-year-old mother of three who spends her day juggling family life, a full-time job, and a house that’s bursting at the seams.

At the end of the evening, once all the children have (finally) settled into bed and the dishes have been loaded and her husband has passed out in front of a late-night talk show, Christine doesn’t prepare for a Netflix binge.

Instead, Christine slips on her favorite, ratty pj pants and the too-big Spice Girls tee she keeps buried in her closet and reaches for a book. Preferably a college-aged sports romance because they are the least like her life and the easiest place to lose herself for a while.

Don’t talk to 30 to 40-somethings who like books where people kiss and stuff. Talk to Christine. Start building real connections.

Find the one person you can totally understand and watch how many will follow.

Why narrowing your audience doesn’t narrow your reach

A lot of people worry that by narrowing their target audiences they are excluding customers and limiting their growth. Chances are that you are one of those people. So let’s talk.

Think about the last time you bought a book. You walk into your local bookstore and see all the categorized rows of books before you. Do you think to yourself, I’m an adult, and I’m responsible, so I guess I’d better head for polisci and find myself a book on citizenship?

No! (Or at least, I hope not.)

You’re going to browse the sections, maybe head for mysteries because you’ve had your eyes glued to a Sherlock marathon for days and you think maybe you’d like to read something similar.

You’ll pick up the books with covers that call to you and buy the books with blurbs that pull you in.

You do not buy books because of a rational understanding. You buy them because of an emotional connection, because of something in the cover art or the title or the little blurb on the back that spoke to you better than the hundreds of other books in that store.

Marie Forleo has this great quote that she uses on her MarieTV and B-School teachings, “If you’re talking to everybody, you’re talking to nobody.”

Why? Because you can’t connect with your intended audience when you’re talking to a generality. You need to get really specific with who you want to reach so that you can understand their needs and wants and forge an authentic connection.

Let’s be honest, your books and services aren’t for everyone, so stop wasting your time selling to an audience that is never going to purchase from you.

Focus your attention on the one person who needs your story. Get your book into their hands, and the rest of your audience will follow.

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