From the Archives: Who buys your books?

I DON’T KNOW about you, but every time someone—agent, publisher, marketer, has asked me the question—who would my audience be—I’d stare blankly at them and mumble, “I don’t have a bloody clue.” If you write in a strict genre, it’s much more straightforward. But for all the rest of us who either cross genre lines or are forced by the conformist needs of marketers to check off the only remaining box—literary fiction, it’s tough. Seth Godin in a recent blog gives us a much more useful approach to this question of who would buy my books. Here is his take:

Answering, “anyone who pays us money,” is a cop out.

Almost as bad is describing your customers by demographics. It’s only a little interesting to know that they are, on average, 32 year old, white, male, lacrosse fans.

No, what we need to know is:

What do they believe?

Who do they trust?

What are they afraid of and who do they love?

What are they seeking?

Who are their friends?

What do they talk about?

Christina Carson

When I read through that list, I could answer every one of those questions because regardless of the backdrop I choose, historic or contemporary or the particular aspect of the human condition I explore, there is a group of people out there for whom I can easily answer those questions.

  • What do they believe? There’s got to be a better way to live than how they are presently doing so.
  • Who do they trust? People who have the courage to tell them the truth.
  • What are they afraid of? Reaching the end of their lives without experiencing what they sense is possible.
  • Who do they love? A person who inspires them and encourages them toward what they know is true for themselves.
  • What are they seeking? Some way to live that offers substantive purpose and meaning.
  • Who are their friends? Those who understand their longing and respect it.
  • What do they talk about? If they talk at all, they share an intimate vision of a stimulating life unencumbered by the mundane and open to exploration and possibility.

With Seth’s approach, it becomes possible for authors to help readers FIND THEM—to find the writers who speak directly to what they want to hear, talk about and be part of. It pulls from a much larger segment of society than simple demographics, because it respects the multifaceted nature of human beings. Maybe the reader wants to start with a genre but within it wants something more, perhaps a pulp fiction philosopher like John D. MacDonald. Or maybe the reader prefers to hang out directly with those who share his or her values, the ones identified in the above questions, less needful of a particular setting or nature of a story.

I am one of those writers that falls readily into that second group, the one that’s difficult to pinpoint any other way. If you wonder about the human condition, the explanation for why our lives so often disappoint us, coupled with an alternative, then I’m your lady. All I need do is take one of the hundreds of stories we already live and create characters capable of showing another way for that story to end.

And without Seth Godin’s insights I wouldn’t have thought to tell you, and you might never have known.

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