You can absolutely write a book without caring who your audience is.
But don’t expect it to do well.
In fact, there’s a name for a book that doesn’t have an audience—it’s called a diary.
If you want your book to be successful with a real audience, then you need to think about and define that audience – before you ever start writing for them. Without understanding who your book’s audience is, you can’t take the three necessary steps to make your book successful:
- Write a book your audience will care about.
- Position the book so your audience will know about it.
- Ensure the audience takes the action you want after they read the book.
Before I explain exactly how to identify and target your audience properly, let’s go over the wrong way to do it. There are two major mistakes authors make when thinking about their audience.
Audience Mistake #1: They go broad instead of niche
Some authors start by thinking their book can potentially reach everyone. They dream about the millions of people that “could possibly” find their book appealing.
Don’t do that. There is literally no book ever written with an audience of everyone.
Not the Bible. Not the Koran. Not the Torah. Not 50 Shades, or Harry Potter, or any other book.
If you think your book is for everyone, you are flat wrong.
In fact, even thinking that your book appeals to a wide audience is probably wrong. There are very few nonfiction books published each year that have an audience of more than even a hundred thousand.
The majority of books are completely unappealing to most people.
And that’s perfectly OK.
Better Frame: The riches are in the niches
The better way to approach identifying an audience is by looking for a group as niche and focused as possible.
How does this make sense? Why go niche instead of broad?
The main reason is because it is very hard to write a book that is appealing to a lot of people. Even professional writers who sell books for a living don’t try and write overly broad books. They define a clear audience and then go after that audience.
But the second reason is that attracting a wide audience doesn’t help you. What does help you is getting your book in front of a very specific audience of people who want what you are selling.
If you’re like most nonfiction authors, and all of our clients, your goal is to use your book to help increase your authority, raise your visibility, drive new leads and clients, and possibly get you speaking engagements or other opportunities.
In essence, the book is a marketing tool, not the product or service you care about selling.
Audience Mistake #2: The author doesn’t know why their audience will care
Here’s the most important thing you must remember about your book:
Your audience doesn’t care about your book; they only care what your book gets them.
If you cannot compellingly explain why your book gives your reader value, that means they won’t care.
Think about yourself when you’re deciding whether to buy a book. Do you ever care about the author’s goals as a reason for buying the book?
Of course you don’t. You only buy a book if you think that buying this book will help you.
Well, that’s precisely what your audience is going to do when they see your book on a shelf or on Amazon or on their friend’s Facebook page. So you had better be able to answer that question:
Why does your book matter to them?
Better Frame: “The cocktail party pitch”
There are a lot of ways to understand how your audience will see your book, but the one we have found incredibly effective is what we call “the cocktail party pitch.”
It’s very simple to do:
Picture your ideal reader in your head—the exact person your book was written for. Now, imagine they’re at a cocktail party and they’re recommending your book to their friends. What do they say?
It’s not about what you want them to say, it’s about what a real person would actually say to their friends. This forces you to understand the book from the audience’s perspective, not yours.
How to properly write for an audience
The good news is that it’s actually very easy to zero in on your audience, as long as you shed the fantasies of writing a book for everyone and focus exclusively on who your book can help the most.
Step 1. Define the primary audience—the micro-tribe you must reach to achieve your goals.
The first step is to start with the smallest possible audience you must reach to make your book successful. The smaller the better, like I said above.
When I say small and niche, I mean literally asking, “Who are the 1,000 or 5,000 or 10,000 people that my book is specifically designed to reach and influence?”
By starting small, you can ensure that your book will definitely reach someone. This niche focus ensures that you know for a fact that this audience will get excited about your ideas, they will implement your ideas, and they will share your ideas with their peers. Anyone who doesn’t meet those criteria is not in your micro-tribe.
The audience you need to reach is directly tied to the results you want your book to get you, and you can reverse engineer precisely who your audience is by understanding who literally needs to know about your book to make your results happen.
This process is no more complicated than asking yourself a very basic question:
“Who must know about my book in order for it to get the results I want?”
For example, if you want to speak at a major oil and gas conference, then your audience is the people who book the speakers for that specific conference (and the attendees).
If you want clients for your CTO coaching business, then chief technology officers (and the people who know them) are your audience.
If you want your book to establish your authority in the online gambling space so you can start consulting clients, then your audience is the people who care about online gambling and wagering.
Step 2. Identify the potential secondary audience you’d like to reach.
Once you’ve identified your primary audience, you can then think about a larger secondary audience that it might reach.
This is kind of like a “wish” audience. Identifying a secondary audience not only helps you focus on your niche audience, it also helps you see the path from small to larger for your book, and will help you with the next exercise—identifying your ideal reader and envisioning how your book will help them.
Step 3. Describe the profile of someone in your primary audience. Who is this person?
The next step is to describe someone specific in your primary audience (your micro-tribe). It can be a person you know or it can be a composite of several people, whichever works for you.
The point of this is to set you up for the next two questions, which are about digging specifically into your audience’s pain and your solution, and the benefits they get from reading your book (which helps you clearly articulate exactly what should be in your book).
We recommend this because by envisioning a real person, the answers to these questions become much more specific and realistic.
Step 4. Identify what pain this person is experiencing because they haven’t read your book.
This step is about clearly articulating what exact pain they are in that your book addresses. How are they suffering, what are they missing out on, what do they not have that they want, etc. This should only be about the issues they have, not the solutions.
Step 5. Explain what benefit this person will get from reading your book.
Once they read your book and implement your ideas, what happens then? Do they only stop experiencing the pain described above, or do they get more benefits? What’s everything good that can happen as a result of reading your book?
Step 6. Describe exactly what you want your avatar to do after they read your book.
The purpose of this exercise is to check to make sure everything in the book is aligning to this point. Generally speaking, your audience’s first step is to implement the ideas in the book. The second and third steps would lead your audience to achieving the objectives you laid out above.
This is real audience targeting for an author of ours, Phillip Stutts, for his excellent book, Fire Them Now: The 7 Lies Digital Marketers Sell…And the Truth about Political Strategies that Help Businesses Win:
1. Primary audience (micro-tribe you must reach):
Small to medium business owners (approx. $2 million to $100 million in revenue), or marketing leadership (Directors, CMOs, etc.) in large organizations who are tired of paying out too much for bad results from conventional digital marketing agencies.
2. Secondary audience (group you’d like to reach):
Any leader who is unable (due to lack of skill, knowledge, or resources) but willing to innovate their marketing strategies in order to stay ahead of their competition.
3. Describe the avatar of your primary audience. Who is this person?
Harold is 50 years old and the CMO of his large regional insurance company. He has always relied on outsourcing his digital marketing and advertising because, “This is how we’ve always done things.”
4. Describe what pain this person is experiencing because they haven’t read your book:
The agencies he’s hired in the past consistently overcharged and under-delivered. Though this worked a decade ago, with competition increasing, it no longer cuts it. He has tried most of the agencies he can find, and they all do about the same. He wants to find an alternative, but has no idea where to look. He’s also heard much about AI and automation and the uncertainty about a changing agency landscape. Declining revenues are creating a significant amount of stress in his life.
5. Explain what benefit this person will get from reading your book:
After reading this book, he will know exactly how to evaluate and assess all the different digital agencies and options, and better understand and negotiate with them for their services. He will learn how to change, adapt, and innovate his marketing strategy by learning the right ways to invest in digital marketing, which will help him grow the other areas of his business as well. He will now also know of a new option where he can take his business: political digital agencies.
See how this is completely focused on the reader, articulates a clear problem that is painful to the reader, and then directly connects it to how the book solves the problem?
After reading this, you know exactly who this book is for. That is how you position your book for success.
“But I have a bigger vision! What if I want to sell millions of copies and change the world?”
First off, the odds that your book will sell a million copies are basically zero.
But even if it has a chance to sell a lot of copies, every book that sells a million copies starts with “1,000 true fans.” The micro-tribe that believes in the idea and champions it to others is the launching pad for all famous books.
This is why we always tell authors to focus on the micro-tribe first.
There’s a famous concept in innovation called “crossing the chasm.” It’s where a product tilts into the mass market. It cannot cross the chasm unless you start with your micro-tribe of “innovators” and “early adopters.”
The people who believe in your idea and spread it to others are all you should be concerned about at the beginning, because they are the ones who will push your idea into mainstream. If you truly want to change the world and reach tons of people, this is how you do it.
Let’s use an example that should drive all of this home:
Take the Tim Ferriss story of how he launched 4HWW at SXSW. He didn’t try to reach every white-collar worker sitting at home watching the news. He started with the tech crowd that would get super excited and actually implement his ideas. The ones who send hundreds of emails per day. They started using his email signature, and the book caught like wildfire. But he started with a micro-tribe.
And he did the same thing with defining his audience that we recommended above: define your primary audience as tightly as possible.
In this podcast, he describes how he false-started the 4HWW twice because he couldn’t get the tone and voice right (and threw away many draft chapters). He finally decided to write it as an email to two 29-year-old friends of his—exactly the kind of people he thought would benefit from it. He actually opened an email and started typing the book to really hammer home that this book was aimed directly at that very explicit audience.
He believes the discipline of creating a super-specific avatar is what made the book so powerful. It made it authentic and legitimate.
Like I said above, many authors object to this idea, saying, “But I want to write a book for a broad audience.” Well, Tim goes on to explain that, “The target is not the market.”
It’s a pithier way of explaining that you have to succeed with a core group before you have a chance at a larger audience. Before you can help them get clear on what they are doing and for whom.
This is why it’s so important to not only nail your audience, but to make that audience very tight and specific.