Learning How Your Fans Think

Success in writing fiction is all about delighting your target audience. (I define your target audience as the readers you are trying to delight. So success just means that you actually are delighting them.)

When I first got published, my publishers would send me long questionnaires about who my target audience was. Age. Gender. Socio-economic status. That sort of thing. This is what marketers call demographics.

And I didn’t have any idea on the demographics of my target audience. I didn’t think it mattered. I still don’t think it matters, at least not very much. If I thought demographics was important, then I’d believe that the first Harry Potter book was targeted to eleven-year-old boys. But the great majority of fans of that first book weren’t eleven-year-old boys.

The Harry Potter series wasn’t targeted to a demographic. It was targeted to a psychographic—a mindset for an ideal reader. There is a particular kind of person who likes the series. There is a particular kind of person who doesn’t like it.

How To Choose Your Target Audience

I recommend that you choose your target audience by defining its pschographics, not its demographics—“the kind of person who would like my book thinks like this….”

Once you’ve chosen your target audience, your marketing simplifies. You can focus all your marketing on attracting people inside your target audience and scaring away people far outside it.

Why would you want to scare away people far outside your target audience? Because you don’t want them reading your book. If they read your book, they’ll almost certainly write bad reviews. Better that they don’t read your book in the first place. And, ethically speaking, better that you don’t take money from people who will hate your book.

This is a very freeing attitude. You don’t have to please every possible reader. You only have to please the people in your target audience.

What If Your Target Audience Doesn’t Like Your Book?

It’s a problem if your target audience doesn’t like your book. It’s a big problem. I believe that your main goal as a writer is to delight your target audience. If you’re not delighting them, then something is very wrong.

I can think of two reasons why you might not be delighting your target audience:

  1. You didn’t understand your target audience to begin with. You didn’t know what would delight them.

  2. You knew what would delight them, but for some reason, you failed to do it.

#1 is a front-end problem. It happened before you set out to write your book.

#2 is a back-end problem. It happened after you set out to write your book.

How to Diagnose the Problem

So how do you figure out if either of these is a problem? And if it is, how do you figure out how to fix it?

The only way I can think of is to actually ask your fans. But you need to do it in a non-threatening way. One of the least-threatening ways I can think of is to create an anonymous survey. Then your fans can tell you what they really think.

There are two kinds of surveys that are very useful for understanding your target audience:

  1. The “tell me about you” survey. In this survey, you’re focused on learning what really delights your target audience. And why.

  2. The “what did you think of my book” survey. In this survey, you’re focused on learning what your readers liked in your book and what they didn’t like. And why.

Running a Survey

There are many tools available on the web that let you run an anonymous survey. I spent some time looking into about ten of these tools last summer, and finally settled on SurveyMonkey.com. It’s a classic tool that’s been around for a long time. It had all the features I wanted.

Recently, I put up a survey on the home page of my website. This is a “tell me about you” kind of survey. My goal is to find out more about people who visit my website—what problems they face.

This is important to me because I write books to help writers solve problems. The better I understand their problems, the better I can help them, and the more books I’ll sell. This is a win-win situation.

Note that I’m still learning how to do surveys. As I learn more, I’ll create better surveys in the future.

Here’s a link to my anonymous survey, which should take you about 3 minutes. https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/KF35NSD

If you take my survey, I’ll be delighted. You’ll help me understand you better, and in good time, I’ll find ways to help you better.

Thank you!

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

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