Finding Your Hidden Audience: Advice from a Book Marketer

Ellen Goodlett has a kind of secret weapon that any author would value.  By day, she works in the marketing department at a publishing house.  From her perch inside the walls of Big Publishing, she is privy to those discussions about cover art, publicity, and the allocation of those precious marketing dollars.  When Ellen--also a writer--is ready to launch her own book, she'll be well ahead of the game. She'll be her editor's dream come true.  Ellen has agreed to share here on Blurb a little of what she's learned inside the Inner Sanctum.  Take it away, Ellen!
—Sarah P.

By Ellen Goodlett

First, a disclaimer. I market non-fiction, super-stodgy cutting-edge, boring informative science books (*bats eyes at boss-man*). The handy thing about marketing non-fiction is that you have a built-in audience:

What is the book about? If it's about trees, sell to foresters. If it's about fish, sell to aqua culturists, zoologists, marine enthusiasts, etc. You get the idea.

But I'm betting most of you, like me, write fiction (or creative non-fiction). And you're probably thinking "Audience? I WISH."

I feel your pain. You have maybe a couple hundred Twitter followers if you're lucky, and barely over 100 blog followers (COUGH). You probably have more Facebook friends, but they're all, you know, actual friends who you don't want to spam with promotions.

BUT. I guarantee your book still has a super-specific audience.

FOR EXAMPLE. Amazon is the best illustration of this.  (Sigh. I know, they are taking over the world. But they're just so damn GOOD at it). When you buy, say, the Hunger Games on Amazon, you are added to this mysterious ethereal list. The list says "HEY. This person likes to read dystopian fiction."

So when a big publishing house buys a new dystopian, like, say, Glow , the pub house can pay Amazon $$$ to send a mass email to all the people on that list of dystopian-readers. Wooo, targeted emails! Best thing evar.

How can you make this strategy work for you, you ask? First, think about WHO your audience would be. Is your book a fantasy for teens? Is your book about prom queens? Is your book about college computer nerds?

Once you have a set audience in mind, think about where your audience hangs out. For example, college computer nerds are probably all over the internet. They probably keep a blog. Or maybe hanging out on forums like 4chan?

Google is your friend. Comment on blogs related to your audience, or run by members of your audience. Talk to them, ask about what their interests are, before you jump right in with your pitch. Ask if you can work WITH them -- maybe in exchange for a small fee they'd host an advertisement about your book on their site. Or maybe you can send them free copies to review, if they keep a book review blog. Contact administrators of the forums where they hang out to ask about advertising opportunities.

Smaller forums and blogs probably won't charge as much as the huge sites like Amazon and Google for ads. Plus, they'll reach a selected, targeted audience. 

Or you can ask the forum owners if they'd be willing to sell you their member list. Ask bloggers if they have a newsletter, and if they could mention your book in it, or rent you their email list. Targeted email lists are a great thing to collect. Don't spam it, obviously, but sending one or two emails a year about your new book can generate some huge results.

You can also look for book clubs ads in your area. Try to find one that reads books in your genre. Contact them and ask if they'd like you to give an author interview. Ask book clubs outside your area about Skype interviews. If you start off with free interviews and speaking arrangements, you can work your way up to paid deals.

Be creative with it. Have fun. Don't think of it as a chore -- think of it as connecting to new readers. New friends, even. Your publishing house (if you have one) is going to do its best to help your book succeed, but at the end of the day, nobody loves your book more than you do. So spread that love around!

Ellen Goodlett writes because otherwise she would spend her days plotting to take over the world. She figures that the former would benefit humanity ever so slightly more than the latter (which would be disastrous and involve a lot of cats in government positions). She blogs about marketing, publishing and writing over at Word Thief, and you can also find her on Twitter: @egoodlett.


  1. I agree it's difficult to find one's target audience - particularly for literary fiction. However, the problem with Amazon's computer-generated algorithms is that they don't take into account why you've bought a particular book. I've banned them from sending me emails with 'recommendations' because 1. It does occur to me that if I've read one novel by a particular author and liked it, I might like some of their other work; 2. I buy books for research and as gifts - making recommendations based on my buying patterns results in wildly inaccurate guesses; and 3. I don't, by any means, buy all the books I read, nor do I buy all of them from Amazon - I buy from authors, get them free from authors, publishers and libraries, borrow from friends, and buy them in bricks and mortar stores.

    The bottom line is that finding a book's target audience - especially if it's literary fiction rather than genre fiction - continues to be a labour-intensive, one-book-at-a-time process for most authors - and for most publicists.

  2. Excellent blog post. I have been thinking about how difficult it is to find the audience for literary fiction. People who are interested in literary fiction don't blog as much as those who have write in other genres.