If we accept that a major part of successful marketing has to do with understanding your target audience, then there are questions writers need to ask themselves, including the following:
What type of reader are you trying to reach?
What is the size of the genre preferred by this ideal reader?
Where is this ideal reader located (both geographically and online)?
What are they missing in the material they read already that you provide in your fiction?
How will you know if they are missing it?
What is the demographic of the ideal reader? For example, consider age, gender, income range, and hobbies.
Is your ideal reader going to be a more ‘traditional’ kind of person? Or are they going to lean towards being ‘unconventional’?
How often do they buy books? And how many books do they buy?
If you can answer these questions, you will be able to create a sound foundation for your organic marketing strategy.
If you cannot answer them, or feel that you shouldn’t have to even ask them, please consider this: Who would be interested in handing over their hard-earned money for a piece of fiction that you have created from your head?
But how on earth do you go about answering these questions?
It’s not actually as hard as it might look at first glance. You already know a great deal about at least one ideal reader: You. If you’re writing for your own pleasure, and doing even a reasonable job of it, then when you put your pen down or step away from a screen at the end of a piece of your own writing, there is at least one person who you have at least to some degree satisfied: yourself.
Chances are that your ideal reader is a lot like yourself — similar age, similar tastes, similar leanings. But you can expand from that without a great deal of effort by looking at the genre in which you tend to write. Are you a romance writer? A science fiction writer? A writer of Westerns?
What if you can’t quite pin your writing down to a genre (as I know many of the writers with whose work I am familiar would struggle to do)? Then you probably have literary leanings. ‘Literary’ fiction isn’t just another genre — it’s the kind of fiction that defies categorisation and steps outside of genre altogether.
But whether you are a ‘literary’ author or not, you can define more or less the kind of writing you tend to do. Your next question follows from that: how big is that genre? Science fiction and fantasy are huge genres, full of millions of books, flowing with many sub-genres like ‘science fantasy’ or ‘hard science fiction’; similarly, romance fiction is immense in size. Thriller fiction is also gigantic. Your own genre may be much smaller — perhaps it’s ‘British detective fiction’ or ‘historical romantic comedy’. If you see yourself as literary, of course, that’s probably the biggest group of all, as literary works often tend to disguise themselves with the trappings of genre in order to make their point: think of Fahrenheit 451 or Animal Farm.
The probability is that, unless you are writing something very obscure like ‘zebra-orientated Westerns with a female lead’, your particular type of writing will have a sizeable field. So now your task is to try to establish where the readers of such material ‘hang out’. Readers of American ‘noir’ novels are likely to be American, English, Australian, Canadian or European; those who prefer Australian comedies are probably Down Under themselves; tales of anti-colonial African conflict probably find their main readership on that continent. You can narrow this down further if you work at it: those who read ‘Northern British kitchen-sink dramas featuring strong dialect’ tend to be located in Northern Britain, or at least in England; horror stories set in the rainy streets of Seattle might find that most of their readers are native to that city.
And so on. But almost more importantly than locating them geographically is finding out where they interact on social media. Due to the wonders of modern technology, chances are that there exist specific groups relating to the genre you’re in: vast numbers of groups support science fiction for example; there may even be a ‘zebra-orientated Western’ group. The likelihood is that many of your readers are members of more than one of these groups, and similar groups: avid absorbers of vampire fiction, for instance, may also be found roaming around in Goth shopping groups, and so forth.
Tendencies to stereotype and categorise creep into all human thinking, and this is no exception. You can probably think of all kinds of exceptions — the biker who is also a member of a kitten-fancying group; the reader of gloomy Russian existential fiction who likes hang-gliding, etc. Diversity, exceptions, variety, is what makes us all human. For the purposes of organic marketing, we don’t need to ‘pin people down’, just get a broad sense of who and where they are. To continue with the organic farming analogy, we're looking for the most fertile soil(s) in which to sow our seed(s).
Do we then bombard them with paid ads? You can if you wish. It’s more interesting — and in the long term, more fruitful — to continue to try to glean answers to the above questions.
That’s what we’ll do next.