Lydia

Written by

Lydia

20 October 2021

Course

Lesson 3: Target Audience

The Novlr step by step Guide to writing your non-fiction book proposal

This is part of our free non-fiction book proposal course written by Lydia, Senior Editor at Penguin Random House. To see all posts in this series, please click here.


In this lesson, you will learn how to identify the target market for your book and craft a reader profile. This is a longer lesson, as it’s important to tackle this all together, so settle in with a cup of tea.

When a publisher considers a book proposal, they will expect to see a section dedicated to the potential audience of the book. It is important that an author shows they have a clear idea of who their book is going to appeal to as it informs the style and content of the book and also how the book will be marketed on publication. 

In this lesson, I will help you think about who your target market is and develop a profile of your ideal reader so that publishers will be impressed by your insight into the market and will see the potential in your book. 

Who is the Target Audience? 

While it can be tempting to claim that everyone is going to enjoy your book, it’s simply not realistic. Rather than trying to market a book to every potential reader out there, a publishing company will always seek to market a book to a small group of readers who are super fans of the type of book they are trying to sell. So it’s much better to focus your attention on identifying a small group of target readers who you are sure will have strong interest in your book – these are the readers who will read a lot of similar books and who might discover your book naturally if they have strong interests in the area you’re writing in. Once you have identified this ideal or ‘primary’ reader, you can begin to think about further groups of people who might buy your book too. 

In order to identify a target audience for your book you need to have a clear idea of what your book is going to mean to people – what it will make them feel, do or learn. Whether your book is a rallying cry on the climate crisis, a vegetarian cookbook, an analysis of women’s roles in WWII, a psychologist’s guide to the grieving process, a how-to for entrepreneurs, or entertaining essays on parenthood, you need to have a clear sense of who the ideal reader is so that you write a book they will enjoy and also so that you know how to market the book to them on publication.

Your Ideal Reader

In Stephen King’s book, On Writing, he described writing his first book with an ideal reader in mind. He imagined a woman of about thirty-five, well-educated and well-read, but not snooty, and always pressed for time, perhaps a healthcare professional or a teacher. This woman is reading the novel for pure entertainment whilst commuting on the bus. Happily, this described his wife, Tabitha, and to this day she reads all his first drafts. Having an “Ideal Reader” in mind will help focus your thinking and positioning around the book. 

It’s important to think very carefully about who your ideal reader is as publishers will expect you to be as precise as possible about the core market. If you don’t know where to start, I’ve outlined some questions on demographics, interests and book habits to help you get started. 

This might be a good time to write some notes in this chapter as you think about your answers to each question. These questions are available to download to import into Novlr so you can write your answers directly beneath them – feel free to pause now, import these into the notes section in Novlr and get set up to do some writing. 

Some questions to think about:

  • How old are they? 
  • What gender are they? 
  • What kind of work do they do?
  • How affluent are they or how much do they earn?
  • Where do they live? Do they live in urban or rural areas?
  • Are they single or married? 
  • Do they have children?
  • What are their interests and hobbies?
  • What kind of lifestyle do they lead?
  • What other books and authors do they read?
  • What genres do they read most often?
  • Are they reading for pleasure or work?
  • How do they consume books? Do they prefer to read hardbacks, paperbacks, audiobooks or ebooks, or do they use a library or other subscription service?
  • How many books do they read a year? Are they an occasional reader or do they read all the time? Do they read one or fifteen books a year?
  • How do they discover books? (Radio, TV, podcasts, recommendations, social adverts?)
  • What are their buying habits? (Do they make impulse purchases or carefully plan their next buy and hunt for good deals?)
  • What kind of TV and movies do they watch?
  • What publications do they read online?
  • Where do they shop most for books? 

Answering these questions will help you get to know your prospective audience better. 

Why are they reading your book? 

Beyond understanding what your reader’s demographics are, understanding what they like and how they consume books and other media, it’s vital you think about why they are reading your book. 

Are they reading your book for pleasure and escapism or because they want to learn something? Are they reading out of their own personal interest or are they reading for work?  

If your book is prescriptive or instructional in some way, consider what the reader’s challenges may be and how you can solve or help them with your book. You may also want to think about whether the reader is reading your book to help themselves or others. Would they have themselves, their family, their colleagues or wider society in mind when reading your book? 

Another important thing to consider is if the reader is coming to your book because they know nothing about the subject, i.e. they are a beginner and curious to learn more, or because they already have specific knowledge and are quite well-versed in the subject you’re writing on and are looking to learn even more? This will influence the tone you use and the assumptions you make about your reader as you write. 

As well as thinking about why the reader may be coming to your book in the first place, it’s also important to think about how they might feel once they’ve read your book. It’s helpful to think about how reading your book might change or affect the ideal reader.

Will reading your book leave the reader feeling inspired and moved? Will they feel reflective after reading or will they be charged up and ready to take action in their own lives or in society? Will your book offer the ideal reader practical tips on how to implement change in their lives and a clear framework of how to move forwards, or will it leave them with more questions to contemplate themselves?

Of course, either is fine, it’s just important you clearly explain to publishers what the reading experience might be like and how the reader will expect to feel or what they will have learnt by the end of the book. 

Beyond the Ideal Reader 

As well as identifying a core market the book will definitely resonate with, you’ll want to think about how you can draw in further readers who might buy your book. This is important – in addition to a primary audience, there’s probably going to be a secondary and a tertiary audience who might need your book. Who might they be?

When writing about your target audience in your proposal, I’d recommend identifying two or three different audiences who might buy your book – your primary audience or ideal reader, a secondary audience and a tertiary audience, if you think there is one. I’d suggest spending more time building a very detailed audience profile for your primary reader and then turning your attention to the secondary audience which you can address in a little less detail. 

Let’s look at an example.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is a bestselling business and personal development book that millions of people around the world have read. 

The book claims it will teach you how to make friends quickly and easily, increase your popularity, win people over to your way of thinking, enable you to win new clients and customers, become a better speaker and entertaining conversationalist, and turn your relationships around. 

Who do you think this book’s primary and secondary audience might be? Here’s an example of what you might write for the primary and secondary audience descriptions: 

Primary audience: ambitious professionals

This book will appeal to driven professionals aged 25-40 who are ambitious and regularly invest in their careers. It will appeal to both men and women though it will likely appeal to men more. This reader is interested in learning how to persuade and influence their colleagues in order to get their own way and impress their seniors so that they progress quickly through an organisation. They might be working in sales or marketing roles and are probably managers. 

They are more likely to be living in cities and have disposable income. They may read around 5-7 books a year, and usually buy books that help them solve a problem or specific issue and offer practical advice from Amazon. They are keen podcast listeners and enjoy listening to audiobooks too. 

Secondary audience: aspiring social butterfly

This book will also appeal to people who want to improve the relationships in their lives, who are focusing on making new friends and increasing their social status. The book will appeal to outgoing and extroverted individuals who might already feel comfortable holding a room or presenting but who want to learn how to command attention better, whether that’s so they can win over a date or friends at a party.

They might be actors, writers and comedians, who enjoy being the centre of attention.  They are interested in the psychology of relationships so that they can forge better connections with their friends and also elevate their social status and popularity by winning over strangers. They might have different tastes to the ‘ambitious professional’, leaning to psychology, smart-thinking and well-being books rather than business books. They tend to buy hardbacks and shop at Waterstones.  

Tertiary audiences: 

  • Psychology students studying behaviour, influence and relationships 
  • Entrepreneurs and small business owners looking to win new clients or funding
  • Introverts who want to feel more confident meeting new people and networking
  • Students keen to meet new friends at university 

I’d recommend assigning each of your audience profiles names as this will really help you keep your ideal readers in mind. 

For example, let’s call the ambitious professional Mike. Mike is a middle manager at an advertising agency in London who wants his team to get behind his vision for a new project he’s leading. He knows that if the project goes well he might be up for promotion but at the moment his team don’t agree with his ideas or like the way he’s running the project. Mike is feeling the pressure and is looking for quick tactics to solve conflict and win over his team. 

And let’s call the aspiring social butterfly Anika. Anika is a 35-year-old writer living in Edinburgh whose writing career is just taking off. She has always enjoyed acting and storytelling but recently she’s found herself in an elite literary circle where she feels shy and uncomfortable. She wants to be a better conversationalist to impress this new set of acquaintances. 

Giving your different audience segments names and referring back to them while writing the book ‘thinking what would Mike get out of this?’ or ‘is this section useful for Anika?’ is a helpful way of making sure the book that you’re writing is providing value and good content for your planned audience. It’s also a good way of expanding your audience profiles for the proposal and forces you to think about who you are writing this book for. 

Illustrating the need for your book

In order for a publisher to think your book is commercially viable, they might want to see evidence that there is a need for your book, and this may involve showing them that the audience you are intending to serve do not currently have access to this information and that your book will therefore fill that need. 

When thinking about the unique value your book is offering, you need to think about both the subject matter and the audience. 

It might be that there are many books on the topic you’re aiming to address but that they were all written and published in the 90s and are really out of date. Perhaps you’re aiming to look at the subject from a fresh perspective with new information or research. If so, highlight that. 

There might be books written on your subject already but they are all written from a narrow point of view, for example, there are many books about how to succeed at work as a woman, but most of them are written by uber-successful white women and there’s a real audience need for this topic to be addressed by a woman of colour. It would be helpful to highlight this to your publisher. 

Maybe your book is completely original and your subject has never been approached before in book form. Of course, it’s worth spending some time thinking about why this might be the case, and important to build a strong case for why there needs to be a book on this new subject as a publisher might be wary about commissioning a book on an entirely new subject.

Perhaps you’re writing about an emerging topic – whether it’s detailing a new discovery in science, unpicking a new fashion or wellness trend or exploring the consequences of an emerging technology on our society. If so, it’s important you highlight that there is a clear demand for a book on this subject. 

No matter what subject you are writing on, it’s helpful to find some evidence to support your claim that there is a need for the book. Showing an awareness of your audience is impressive to a publisher. It shows you have thought clearly about the book and the impact it can have. 

Think about what kind of information is going to help make the case for your particular idea. Is there a report on your subject or audience need that you could use as proof your book is necessary? If you’re writing an informative and reassuring guidebook for new parents, could you show that 58% of your new mothers and fathers don’t feel they are given adequate support and advice in the first year of their child’s life?

If you’re writing a family friendly vegan cookbook for fast meals, can you show some evidence that 2 in 3 vegans say they can’t find enough quick and easy recipes to make for their families? Or if you’re writing a memoir about growing up on a council estate in Manchester, can you give an accurate analysis of how few books there are exploring regional and working-class Britain’s lives from an author from that demographic, and then follow up with convincing stats on why it’s important these experiences are represented? 

Think about the supporting evidence that you can collect and present to a publisher that would make your specific book proposal compelling to commission. Don’t forget to look in different places for your information – you might want to look at consumer insight or research surveys, research the internet, articles and specialist books, or conduct your own primary research via interviews or online polls if you have access to specific networks and people, or have an online community you can reach out to.

Summary 

It’s important to think about your target audience when planning your book idea and when writing it. Remember, don’t try to be all things to all people. Be clear about who your book will appeal to and why. And provide as much information about your audience as possible and why they need your book. 

Now that you have started to identify who your audience is,  in the next lesson we’ll discuss how to write a positioning statement and book summary that will appeal to a publisher.