Home > Editor's Corner Podcast > Editor’s Corner Podcast: The Importance of Defining Your Audience

target audience for writers

Time and again from writers (both new and established), we hear, “My book is for everyone!” But nothing appeals to everyone. To effectively reach people, you need to know whom you’re writing for–your audience. Today, we discuss how authors can determine their target audience and answer the questions “How can I keep my personal writing style while still appealing to readers?” and, of course, “How does knowing my target audience affect the marketing of my book?”


Stephanie: Okay and now so am I. Okay. Okay. Welcome to Dog Ear Publishing’s … Sorry, I had a brain fart. All right, let’s try this again. Welcome to Dog Ear Publishing’s Editors corner, in which we explain all things editorial. I’m Stephanie, the Managing Editor at Dog Ear Publishing, and here with me is my colleague Angela. Angela and I have been editing collectively for 31 years and in this podcast, we try to take some of the confusion out of writing and publishing your book. Now today we are discussing the importance of identifying and targeting, your audience in both your text and you’re marketing.

Angela: That’s exactly right and I think one of the things that we typically hear from very new and first-time authors, is that their book has been written for everyone. And we always have to say-

Stephanie: Yay.

Angela: “No, you can’t write a book for everyone. It doesn’t work that way.”

Stephanie: Yeah. That’s a little pie in the sky.

Angela: That’s exactly right because the audience … All the audience is, is the group that you’re trying to reach with your book. So if you’re writing a children’s book, it’s the five to seven year olds that you’re hoping are going to read your book, right?

Stephanie: Right. Absolutely.

Angela: So, where should we get started? I guess where …

Stephanie: Well, you know I kind of … I think that I really like the point that you made in the article that you wrote for the publisher’s … Sorry, for the Editor’s Corner, my goodness, in which you say that this is actually good news. I think a lot of people panic at the thought of restricting their audience. But I really, really do like the idea, you know this is good news because you can’t please everyone. There’s absolutely no way.

Angela: Exactly.

Stephanie: You know you can think of Hollywood movies that try to please everyone that are just tremendous flops.

Angela: That is very true.

Stephanie: You know that’s what always comes to mind.

Angela: That’s very true.

Stephanie: And maybe you’ll have a large audience, maybe it’s gonna be a small audience. But I always find that if an author has written a book really, really well for their audience, then it doesn’t matter if I’m not part of that target audience, I can still enjoy the book.

Angela: That’s true.

Stephanie: And a lot of times I enjoy it a lot more than if the book were written to try to appeal to a very wide audience.

Angela: That’s true because it kind of almost pulls you in and makes you feel a part of something that you, I guess, wouldn’t normally try to be a part of. Like if you-

Stephanie: Exactly and if-

Angela: Go ahead.

Stephanie: Go ahead.

Angela: I was thinking of say fantasy books. So if you’re just vehemently anti-fantasy books and then maybe you watch Lord of the Rings and you’re thinking, “That might be interesting to read.” They didn’t specifically target it to people who hated fantasy books, but it ended up being good enough that pulls you in any way.

Stephanie: Well, I always like to think you know sometimes that just starts me on a whole new area of interest. For example, I talk all the time about William Zinsser and he mentions in one of his books, and I think it’s the one about memoir, but I really can’t remember, that a really good book, if the author has done their job, he is going to become interested in the topic. Even if he didn’t think he was going to be interested in it before because he catches on to the author’s enthusiasm.

Angela: That’s right. Yeah.

Stephanie: And that’s what really does it. I always think of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. Always, because they’re written for children. Very specifically for children and yet how many adults just love them.

Angela: That’s very true and I actually, this is gonna be a total geek moment for me, but that actually happened to me when I was reading about Arctic adventures. I got interested in scurvy because the author was such an incredibly good writer and made it sound so interesting that I ended up going out and researching it. It’s completely geeky, but my point is that I understand what you’re saying.

Stephanie: See, I do that all the time. I will see something in a book … I always like to say that you can learn from fiction as well as non-fiction. Because authors who have really done their research to make sure their fiction is as believable as possible, not, oh well, nobody remembers the 17th century, so I can just fudge this.

Angela: Well I think that’s one of the-

Stephanie: Because when they’ve done their research, you actually learn.

Angela: Exactly. Well and that’s one of the cool things about e-readers now, that they have the function where you can highlight terms and it will take you to an explanation via Wikipedia or a dictionary. So you could actually learn as you go. So you don’t have to be so intimidated by books that you normally maybe wouldn’t have picked up because you wouldn’t have expected to understand them.

Stephanie: Right.

Angela: So how do we figure out our target audience? I think that’s kind of the big question. Like you have this book idea and you’re very passionate about it, you want to write it, but you’re not really sure, I guess, who your audience is going to be and how you’re going to target them.

Stephanie: Yeah, that is always a challenge. And I liked your suggestion research, obviously, but there are a million ways to do research. If you don’t want to go out there and look on the internet, find other books on the topic. See who they seem to be written to, or written for, and do all your internet research. But you can even go out and talk to people.

Angela: Oh yes, that lost art.

Stephanie: You know, “Hey, I’ve got this book idea.” So that’s not really maybe efficient, but it might also help you have conversations with people and if somebody says, “Yeah, that sounds really interesting.” Then you can even talk to them more about it and maybe even start to develop, I don’t know, a beta reader or a relationship there, right?

Angela: Exactly. Well and I think too, I guess the beta readers are really good because you can ask them open-ended questions about things and especially if you found a beta reader that is part of your target audience, you’re going to get, I guess, a deeper amount of help than if you kind of go to general friends and family, which is something we typically recommended. But I would think, for especially non-fiction or specialized topics, you want beta readers to be the people who are going to end up reading your book, hopefully, in the long run.

Stephanie: Right.

Angela: So, I guess too one thing I wanted to talk about with researching about books on topics, is what to do if you can’t find a market for the topic of the book. And I keep thinking that … I guess it really depends. If you want to become a nationwide bestseller, then you have to kind of pick a topic that a lot of people will either be interested in or be pulled into. I mean I’ve bought a lot of science books that are these little kind of engine that could type of books that maybe have a small audience, but they sell well within that small audience because those people are so underrepresented there just aren’t that many books for them.

Stephanie: Right and so maybe are you thinking … Sorry, I’m going back to thinking of the things I’ve learned about as an entrepreneur. You know if you have a niche market, you basically … If you think that there’s this group that wants to know more about a topic, but you’re not sure … Say you want to write about a topic, but you’re not sure what to write about the topic, this is kind of reverse engineering where you already have your audience in mind and you go talk to them and say, “Okay, what do you need to know?” But then you can also use that to say, “Okay, who else do you think would be interested in this?” Because it can help you expand because sometimes there’s overlap. If this person that you’re talking to is only interested in this aspect of your topic, but they know people who are interested in a related aspect, then you might be able to expand it just a little bit, if you think that it will fit that audience. I’m not sure if I’m explaining myself clearly.

Angela: Yeah, you are and I actually am thinking of, as an example, a children’s book, say … Just a children’s book on self-esteem. So a parent might tell you how awesome that would be for them to have it, but then a private therapist might be able to use it or a school counselor might be able to use it or a coach might be able to use it. So you have that core audience of, okay, I want to target parents, but there’s all these kind of little niche markets that can also be extremely successful for marketing your book.

Stephanie: That’s right and of course, again, you don’t want to make your audience too large. But yeah, if you have questions like you said, a therapist, or a coach, you might have, say, discussion questions at the end of each chapter that are for each group that you think might use it to slightly different effect. That’s a really good example.

Angela: Well, thank you very much. That’s probably going to be the extent of my genius today, but we’ll go from there.

Stephanie: Well, I’m so glad that you understand my ramblings-

Angela: Yes, I did.

Stephanie: … because I start with a clear idea-

Angela: It did.

Stephanie: … and then it just kind of dissolves.

Angela: It painted a very clear picture in my mind, so something must be working today.

Stephanie: Angela speaks Stephanie so good.

Angela: It’s like an alien language from like, yes … So we always end up talking when we’re talking about audiences, I think authors are really afraid that if they target a specific audience, they’re going to lose their author voice. I guess the tone that they write in that makes them unique. Like so Stephen King writes completely different from Tolkien, who writes different from Oscar Wilde, or whatever. But I think one of the great things about knowing your audience is that you don’t actually have to … You modify your voice, but you don’t ever stop being you. It’s almost like if you were talking to your kid and then explaining the same thing to your grandma, it’s still you explaining it. You’re still using your own words, your own experiences, but you’re just kind of modifying your language a little bit.

Stephanie: Absolutely. I kind of think a lot of people get overwhelmed in that respect because they have the fear of papers, term papers, and how you have to speak. If you have to either speak or write, then it has to be formal and blah, blah, blah. And I think that carries over for a lot of people, having that fear, “Well, if I write like that, it’s not gonna be me.” And I think sometimes authors are also then leery about editing, because if you say, “Well, let’s make this a little more formal.” And then they kind of resist that all together instead of, no, no, you can still maintain your voice, but we’re gonna change some words. But it’s still you. Or we’re going to rearrange some things. But it’s still … There is a totally a feel for every author and maybe your audience won’t notice that they’re noticing it, but they’ll notice. They will respond to it.

Angela: I can’t imagine that if you … I know like … So some writers write with a kind of quippy kind of humorous style and even if they go and they have to write more formally, I still think that shines through and it kind of keeps their voice. Then I’ve actually read children’s books that are a little bit dryer because that’s just how the author writes. That’s their voice. So I don’t think it really matters who you’re writing for as much as just kind of modifying it and still getting out what you want to say.

That definitely takes us into … Figuring out your audience is going to help you decide things like word choices. So do you curse in a children’s book? Yeah, probably not. But in like an adult romance, or adult science fiction, it’s probably perfectly fine. Medical text, if you’re writing say a treatise on scurvy, let’s bring it back to that, you’re gonna have to have citations and evidence-based, and more formal language, then you would if you were just kind of maybe writing it for a general audience in, let’s say, National Geographic magazine. So the audience definitely effects your word choices. The tone of how you’re writing. Whether you can use industry-specific words.

So like if I’m using acronyms and things, is the normal person out there, the layperson, gonna understand these or are these things I’m going to have to explain. And then, I guess too, how much detail you’re going to have to go into for your explanations, because if you’re writing for an audience that already knows about your topic like if you’re writing to entomologists about beetles, they probably already know a lot of the basics. You’re not gonna have to do a lot of defining and explaining. But if you’re writing to six graders about the same topic, it just totally changes what you are going to have to put down on paper.

Stephanie: Absolutely.

Angela: And now it’s your turn. That’s my treatise.

Stephanie: Yeah, and I was just … Right. I was just thinking that really that’s the key. I was just thinking of the beauty that I started reading … Last night I started reading a Michael Crighton novel that I had not read before and I was just marveling and I kept stopping my reading to comment to my husband on how marvelous it was because of the way he wrote scenes and explained things. So it’s Airframe, that’s the novel, and so he has this character who is a new assistant who has a background in law, but who is an assistant to someone who works for a large aircraft manufacturer. So he explains everything to the reader by having this character who knows nothing about the industry.

So you’re learning … There’s this meeting going on, this industry meeting, about this aircraft that failed. So you have the woman he works for explaining to him as the meeting is going on, all of these terms. And it was just brilliant because you have all of these industry-specific terms that Crichton has shown and explained to the audience from someone who has absolutely no background in that knowledge. And I was marveling the whole time at that and many other things.

Angela: I had never thought about that, but you’re exactly right because even in a lot of the crime novels, they don’t assume that you’re going to know everything about police procedure. But there’s always that kind of one character who just doesn’t know much about what’s going on and they use that character to kind of explain it so you’re learning along with the character.

Stephanie: Right and that’s, I think, a really good way to do it in fiction. We’ve talked a lot about non-fiction, but fiction it’s also important and that’s a great way to do that. Or using multiple characters, so someone who wasn’t in one scene gets a summary from another character about something that happened that the reader doesn’t know about either.

Angela: That’s kind of brilliant actually. I’ve seen it done, but I never actually thought about it in any deep way before. So yeah, you’re exactly right.

Stephanie: So you take that writing your text for your audience and then remember that knowing your audience is also important for marketing your book. As we talked about, you’re gonna appeal to a different group, but it affects your marketing in the same way that effects your text, your word choices. It’s gonna affect your cover art. I mean I can’t even think of all the things. It’s gonna effect where you decide to run ads if you’re going to advertise your book. It affects absolutely everything, so you really do have to give thought to who your audience is going to be and who you really want to target toward because if you … You should have an advertising budget, a marketing budget, and you’re gonna have to decide exactly where to put your dollars for the most effect. Otherwise, you might as well just go on the street and start throwing money around.

Angela: So on a billboard it says, “Buy my book, please.”

Stephanie: Yes. “Here’s a dollar and remember here’s my name. Read my book.”

Angela: And it’s so much easier to figure it out before you start writing, or at least in the beginning stages, then to have to go back and revise it. I mean we do edit a lot of books that they just aren’t quite geared toward the audience that’s going to be reading it and you have to go out, take out scenes, reword things, and it starts getting into a lot of work to do the revisions.

Stephanie: Well, and you’re even thinking, you know you mention these are scenes that aren’t appropriate for the intended audience. But think about people who don’t even have an audience in mind. They’ve written an entire novel, or an entire book, and don’t really have an audience in mind. I mean typically with non-fiction they do because they already know that there’s a need out there, most likely. They didn’t know about this and they wanted to learn more, for example. But if someone has written a book without an audience in mind, probably it’s gonna be confusing. It’s gonna be all over the place. It’s gonna have tons of information that it doesn’t need. Or it’s gonna leave the reader completely confused because there is no explanation of anything.

Angela: Right. They assume too much. They assume too much that the readers are going to know as much as they do. And I’ve seen it too where critical scenes that kind of make the whole novel, those scenes aren’t going to work for the audience that’s going to read the book. And then what do you do if that’s what you’ve built your entire novel around? It can be incredibly frustrating.

Stephanie: Right. So again, I always like to … We do want to drive home that fact, if you haven’t started your novel yet, or if you’re in the early stages, stop and make sure that you know who your audience is. Please.

Angela: Exactly.

Stephanie: It’s gonna save you so much effort. I mean even if you feel like it’s stalled out because you’ve got all these wonderful ideas and you want to get them written down. That’s great, but don’t waste your effort. Make sure that you know what your purpose and your purpose and your audience always go hand in hand. Always go hand in hand.

Angela: Well, it’s like having a map or directions to where you’re trying to get to. It just makes it that much easier instead of having to kind of make pit stops and ask where you’re supposed to be heading.

Stephanie: Right. Exactly, because you don’t get to stop halfway through your novel. You don’t get to go, “Hey, wait a minute. Where should I go next?”

Angela: Well, you won’t want to, right?

Stephanie: No.

Angela: I mean if you’re ongoing, you don’t want to pull the car over. You want to get to where you’re supposed to be and get there at the quickest time possible, because it’s exhausting. I mean writing a novel, non-fiction, whatever, it takes a lot of work.

Stephanie: Oh, yes. Much, much, much effort.

Angela: Yeah. More than people probably think or books would never get written. If you knew the work that went into it ahead of time, yeah we would be novelists and this podcast wouldn’t even exist. So it’s probably better people don’t know before they get into it.

Stephanie: Before they do the first one, of course, and then you learn and you get better each time, we hope.

Angela: Exactly.

Stephanie: That’s our goal, right?

Angela: Yeah, exactly. So should we read this Stephen King quote to kind of wrap things up? I think it pretty much sums up the entire idea of audience and writing.

Stephanie: Yes, absolutely.

Angela: All right, so the quote comes from Stephen King’s book On Writing, which if you haven’t read it, it is … We quote it a lot just because it kind of covers everything. So check it out, see what you think. But the quote says, “You can’t please all of the readers all of the time. You can’t please even some of the readers all of the time. But you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.”

Stephanie: That is absolutely true and like most wisdom, you can sit there and unravel it all day. ‘Cause you know it makes so much sense on the surface, but you can really examine it and go a lot deeper. But we’re not going to. You can do that on your own, dear listener.

Angela: We’re done for this podcast.

Stephanie: Yes, we are done today. But if you do have questions, feel free to contact me at stephanies@dogearpublishing.net and even if you have a question for Angela, I can pass it along. And join us next time when we will be discussing verb tenses and the importance of choosing one and sticking with it through most of your book. Until then, keep writing.

Stephanie Stringham
Stephanie Stringham

As a child, I read everything I could get my hands on, and I dreamed of getting paid to read books and of helping people. With this dream, I propelled myself through college to earn bachelor’s degrees in English (minor in Writing and Publishing) and Business Administration while working as a peer tutor in the university writing lab and interning with a publishing company in college. After graduation, I stayed on with the publishing company, where I fell in love with book publishing. Editing is my avocation. I began freelancing right after college, while earning a master’s degree in Health Communication and then working as an editor for Eli Lilly and Company and for the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. I have edited everything from class materials and newsletters to master’s theses, scholastic imprints, professional journals, and books in all genres. I feel my calling as an editor is not only to improve text but also to teach those with whom I work so they can constantly improve their writing. When I’m not editing books, I’m planting and growing things on a small homestead in Indiana with my husband and two children.

Angela Wade
Angela Wade

I have one goal: to create and shape cohesive, fluid, accessible copy that shifts perspective and makes a connection. With more than twelve years of experience in the writing and editing industry, I accomplish that goal through a passion for brainstorming, researching, planning, writing, and editing everything from grants to novels to marketing materials to websites. My articles, interviews, poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in various print and online publications, including Calyx Journal, Inkwell Magazine, Mindful Homeschooler, and Home Education Magazine.