Perfectionism holding you back: photo of Katherine Morgan Schafler and her book The Perfectionists Guide to Losing Control

Identifying Your Book’s Audience: 3 Authors Show You How

I wake up early this time of year and spend my Sunday mornings catching up on friends’ newsletters. This Sunday, I read Catherine Baab-Muguira’s “Why You Should Start Promoting Your Writing Before You’re “Ready“” and knew I had to share it with you. 

Cat’s article addresses the two-ton elephant sitting next to you: your author platform and it’s sidekick your book’s audience.

Unless they have a big one, this is a word most authors hate—and I’ll be the first to say it sucks to learn that being a creative comes with a side gig as traveling salesmen.

Most of us want to deny this reality, so we hunker down in our revision caves and beautify our sentences or pore over webinars and articles with claims like “become a bestseller without an author platform.”

But here’s the reality: what they mean by no author platform is no impressive social media stats. Some of these authors don’t even have social media accounts. While it IS POSSIBLE to successfully sell your book without social media, if you’re a memoirist or narrative nonfiction writer seeking traditional publication, your success depends on your ability to reach readers.

That means two things: you need to know who your readers are and where they hang out.

Most writers—especially when they’re hating on author platforms—end up courting other writers as their default audience. But unless you’re writing a craft book, relying on them is the safety-school version of this work. Sure, they’ll read your book, but do they NEED it?

Once you know who needs your book, it’s time to figure out where these readers hang out. This will help you develop what Tia Levings calls your author platform channels, or the places where you’ll show up. For many of us, it’s a relief to know that social media apps are JUST A FEW of the channels out there. Others include some of the things Cat talks about in her article, like having a website and newsletter, in addition to bylines or speaking engagements. But if these things aren’t your jam, there are other things you can do.

So, let’s explore three examples of successful writers who are reaching their readers WITHOUT being Instagram superstars.

Identifying Your Book’s Audience Study # 1: Laura Cathcart Robbins

Laura Cathcart Robbins’s memoir Stash: My Life in Hiding debuted in March, and has since been featured in the New York Times and O Magazine. Her audience includes Black women, Black people who struggle with addiction, and those who feel like they’re the only ones going through something. While Laura’s a fantastic essayist, the essays she writes aren’t literary gems. Instead, she crafts voicy pieces with strong opinions on addiction, life as a Black woman in America, and issues like Critical Race Theory. Each one is geared toward her target audiences, and they appear in publications that have the greatest chance of attracting them. She follows all of this up with the work she does on her award-winning podcast, The Only One in the Room.

Identifying Your Book’s Audience Study # 2: Karen Fine

While her podcast, which has over 10,000 monthly listeners, puts her in the big-platform category, she only has 7,753 Instagram Followers and 1,396 Twitter Followers. Karen Fine, author of The Other Family Doctor: A Veterinarian Explores What Animals Can Teach Us About Love, Life, and Mortality  has a social media footprint that’s even smaller (No Twitter and only 420 Instagram followers). Yet her book is a New York Times bestseller.

Wondering how she did this? Karen has some author platform gold: She’s a subject-matter expert who runs a business where she has regular contact with her primary readers (pet owners). She’s also on veterinary listservs with thousands of her colleagues, who happen to be her secondary readers (veterinarians). Those secondary readers serve her primary readers, so courting them has a trickle-down effect. Then checkout her bylines. While her book launch list includes appearances on CNN and in Psychology Today, she’s also written for Bark Magazine and appeared on Dog Talk Radio, places that cater to pet owners.

Identifying Your Book’s Audience Study # 3: Karen DeBonis

Another Karen—Karen DeBonis, author of the debut memoir Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived—has shown a similar level of platform savvy. While some of her publications were in places like the Brevity BlogLiterary Mama, and The Hudson Valley Writers Guild, she’s also written for Brain & Life, the official publication of the American Academy of Neurology.

I know that sharing these examples will energize some of you, while others will begin to panic list all the things you must do. 

But guess what, ?

You don’t need to do all the things.

Instead, you just need to do THE RIGHT THINGS.

That requires the right research and the right plan—something I’m excited to help people do as a part of Camp Proposal.

Those who join me will leave this class with a clear understanding of what they’re writing, who they’re writing to, and how they’re going to bridge the gap between author and audience.

And as Cat Baab-Muguira says, the time to do this isn’t when you’re ready to query, it’s right now. 

As we wrap up, I’d love to know who your audience is. More importantly, how are you reaching them?

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