Some writers launch into their book based on a great story idea or a nonfiction idea that they believe needs to be written about without ever seriously considering who will actually buy their book. Before you ever start to write–anything–it’s critical that you have identified, then catered to, your target market.

How to identify your target market

Identifying your target market may not always be that easy. If you’re writing chick lit, you could say your target market is women. But that’s not entirely accurate. Not all women are going to buy your book. Your job is to determine which women will most likely buy. What are their ages? What other interests do they have? Do they usually have families, or will your target market be predominantly single women? These are all legitimate questions that you’ll need to ask yourself before putting pen to paper.

When identifying your target market, start general, but don’t stay there. As a first step, place your potential readers into general categories of gender and age groups. From there, consider other groupings, such as social status, interests, religious affiliations, and so forth.

Do your market research

For the purposes of your proposal, you’ll want to share with the publisher what you’ve discovered about both the reader who will buy your book as well as the type of store that will sell your book.

Gather numerical statistics on the kind of reader who has purchased similar books, attended workshops or seminars on your topic, watched television shows or movies on your subject, or who is affiliated with related organizations. If you’re book is about fitness, find out how much money people spent in the last year on fitness-related products or gym memberships; research the age groups with the highest number of purchasers; and find out what other interests or affiliations these people are typically interested in.

The whole point of this section of your proposal is to show that you have a specific, target audience in mind and that you have done your homework to prove that this target market is large enough to warrant the publisher buying your book. You can never accurately estimate how many people will ultimately buy your book, but you can estimate–based on real data–how many potential buyers there are.

Aside from gathering statistics on your readers, also determine what kind of places might sell your book other than the large bookstores or online avenues. What specialty outlets might cater to your target market? Your fitness book might be a good fit for a health food store or a sporting goods store. As you research your target market, you’ll likely discover some interesting places that your reader can be found hanging out on a regular basis.

Targeting a niche market

If your book will not have broad universal appeal, like a cookbook might, you’ll have to convince the publisher that your specific niche market is still large enough for book sales. To do so, research every possible avenue, affiliation, or interest group that your audience might be connected with. Find out how many members each of these organizations has, if there is a growth trend in this particular field, and what the vehicles are through which you could sell books within this niche. The tighter the niche, the harder you’ll have to work to prove the numbers will be there when it comes time to sell.

If you have a fiction book that also has a niche market, you can look to competitive titles in that genre or perhaps movies or television shows to prove that you are writing a story that will garner a lot of interest. A perfect example of this is the vampire craze that began a few years ago but is now beginning to fade.

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, or even children’s books, much of the research you’ll need to support your case for potential buyers can be found through internet searches or through government agencies or private organizations (such as the Nielsen Group) that make it their job to compile statistics on buying trends. Use these figures to support your case for how you’ve identified your target market and why that market is large enough for the publisher to buy your book.

During my next post, I’ll cover the various things that should be included in the sections of Book Specifications, Back Matter, and Special Features.

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Welcome back to Part 2 of our discussion on how to market your book. Last time we talked about using interviews, book signings, magazine articles, postcards, and the power of partnerships to help market your book. Today, let’s continue the conversation with in-person visits, speaking engagements, and online marketing.

1. In-person visits: If you write for children, in-person visits to schools or libraries where you read parts or perhaps all (if you write picture books) of your book to your target age range can’t be beat. First, you have a captive audience, and second, kids get real excited when they get to meet a genuine author and have that author share his or her book with them. This is nothing but a good thing for the author who is then being talked up by the kids to their parents and grandparents–the ones who need to be influenced the most!

Take advantage of these opportunities by making your reading as fun and interactive as possible so the kids will not forget their experience. Leave them with a token gift that has the name of your latest release on it, and send them home with a marketing sheet of that latest release along with a mention of other books you’ve written. If done properly, these visits will almost always translate into sales and into helping you gain a reputation with your audience. The most important key to these visits is to really connect with the kids and don’t be a phony or condescending. Both are a big-time turnoff for children.

If you don’t write for kids, you still may have an opportunity to do in-person visits, depending on the nature of your book and who your audience is. Think of all the places your audience may congregate, and try to set up a time there where you can share your book in an informal and personal way. Some authors have had success going to coffee shops and doing readings, if their book is of the poetic or literary type. Others may schedule a time at an organizational event where they make themselves available to discuss and answer questions about their book.

Like the children’s writers, you can also do library visits. Design some marketing materials such as fliers and posters, and work with the library to promote your visit. Be sure to indicate the nature of the book you will be discussing so you get the right audience to come see you. You could incorporate a book signing as well, but make sure that you spend most of your time in Q & A, reading, or discussing your book. The idea behind the in-person visit is much like a campaigning politician: you want to appear personable and in-touch with your audience. People will be more excited about your book if you can get them excited about you.

2. Speaking engagements: These are different from in-person visits in that they’re not meant to be quite as informal and personable. Of course, you still need to be personable, by taking questions after you speak, meeting with your audience, and so forth, but the main idea is to more formally address your audience on a topic related to your book, or perhaps the book itself. If your target audience isn’t part of a group that would naturally congregate (as in a trade industry, people that share a hobby or sport, or a religious denomination), check around your community for places where you could speak then advertise to bring your target audience to you. Certain civic groups are often in need of speakers, and if you can find familiar ground between their needs and what your book is about, you should be able to capture an audience using their resource channels. If your audience is such that they do form established organizations, find out if they have national or state chapters, if they hold regular events, and how they book speakers.

The frequency, regularity, and group size you speak to is a huge part of any author’s platform, both before the book contract and after. Once your book is released, speaking is an excellent way to promote it and capture a following as an expert in your field (even if that field happens to be writing novels).

3. Online marketing: This segment of the marketing mix for has become the largest for many writers for several reasons, not the least of which is that it’s free. And with all the advances in technology, this segment is continuously growing and changing to the writer’s advantage. Here are a few ways to capitalize on this form of marketing:

• Schedule a virtual tour for your book–many authors swear by these tours for generating interest and a following for their books. The way they work is that you contact other writers in your genre, organizations related to the topic of your book, book review sites, and any online source where you believe you might find your audience. Then schedule specific dates or time frames when these various places will showcase your book and perhaps an interview with you on their site or blog. Announce this schedule on your own website, blog, and other social media you use to let your followers know where you and your book will be–virtually speaking–and when.

It’s helpful to hold book giveaways or contests throughout your tour to keep people interested and checking in with you. And be sure to have something a little different on each site (talk about something unique in each interview, for example, or focus your discussion on a different aspect of your book) so people will want to follow your tour. At each stop on the tour, make sure to lead them back to your website to purchase your book.

• Announce your events: Use the likes of Facebook and Twitter to let your audience know what events (speaking engagements, book signings, etc.) you have coming up, as well as any reviews that have been written about your book (the good ones, of course!), or any articles it was mentioned in. This may not translate into direct sales, but it’s just one more way to promote.

• Video trailers: More and more, we see authors turning to video trailers to promote themselves and their book. Whether it’s formatted like a movie trailer with a built-in teaser, or if it’s a short clip of you speaking on your topic (or both), this can be a very effective way to get people’s attention about your latest release. You can simply post such trailers on your own site, or incorporate them on your virtual tour. These work well with pre-buy situations before your book ever hits the shelves to start creating pull-through interest for your book.

• Hanging out in forums: Going onto others’ blog sites or forums where your target audience may be lurking is a great way to give yourself some exposure. If you have a book on kite flying, and you begin commenting on posts (based on the expert advice given in your book) where kite-flying enthusiasts hang out, you now have a built-in, captive audience to which you can promote your book. Be careful not to use your posts strictly for publicity, however, or you will turn people off in a hurry. Take some time to set yourself up as an expert, include your website address on your posts, and just happen to mention that you wrote a book on the subject!

Being on these forums and blogs can also help you find potential places to speak on your topic as well as find some hidden places where your audience might be.

There are a couple of downsides to online marketing. One is that it can be extremely time consuming. It’s important to see which forms of this marketing work for you and stick with those. And, you must be disciplined about the time you spend marketing online or you will no longer have any time to write! The internet has a way of sucking us into its abyss. Another downside is that sales from online marketing cannot always be directly tracked. Sometimes you may get feedback from your buyers telling you how they discovered your book, but often this is not the case. But whenever you’re getting the word out about your latest release and promoting it directly to your target market, some good will come of it.

If you have an experience with any of the above when it comes to book promotion, or if you’ve done some other creative forms of marketing that haven’t been discussed, I’d love to hear from you. Us writers are always looking for great marketing ideas that work.

Nowadays everyone’s talking about platforms. If you’re a writer looking to be published, you have to have one. Period. I just finished writing a book proposal, and the most difficult aspect for me was writing about my platform. I’m still a fairly new writer and haven’t had the opportunity to develop much of one, although I am working on it.

But I knew that without including all I could in the platform part of my proposal, I would have zero chance of getting it sold. Publishers have to know that you are able to get the word out about your book and that you have “circles” of people to sell it to. Without that, you really don’t stand a chance. So it has become a very important buzz word for a reason.

As I’ve been working on developing my platform and speaking to other writers who are doing the same, I’ve identified several ways an author can build a platform for themselves. I’d like to list 5 here that I believe will give you the most bang for your buck:

1. Identify trade magazines or other newspapers or magazines that will reach your target audience and write for them on a regular basis. Try to get in with the editor as a contributing writer to his or her magazine so your name will begin to be associated with your niche by your particular audience.

2. Take article writing one step further and aim to develop a column to write for local or regional newspapers or magazines. Columns are an excellent way to establish yourself as an expert in your field.

3. Create websites and/or blogs specifically geared to your expertise, and engage in other forums or blogs within your niche. Establish a strong online presence for yourself so when your audience searches online, your sites/blogs will come up as the “go-to place” to meet their needs.

4. Begin to speak at trade or organization shows, for church groups, at schools (for children’s writers), or anywhere throughout your community where your target audience may be found. People tend to associate speakers with being experts at what they are talking about. If you can show a publisher that you have X amount of speaking engagements lined up during the next year that will directly reach your target audience, that is a good thing!

5. In addition to speaking on your topic, you can also develop workshops or seminars where you are acting as an educator. If you don’t charge for these workshops, you can typically get free space at libraries or community centers. Advertise well in advance where you know you can reach your target audience to ensure you have an audience when you conduct your workshop.

Speaking events are perfect places for selling your books, and publishers know that, so the more you can get out in person in front of your audience, the better.

There are other ways to build a platform as well, and sometimes it’ll just be trial and error to see what works best for you. But if there’s a book in your future, now’s the time to start thinking about how to build your platform–not after the book has been written!