I spent the weekend at the Digital Author and Self-Publishing Conference. It was great, and I’ll have a lot to say about the sessions I attended, but one issue stuck out for me during the “Building Your Platform as an Author” panel. It’s something I’ve heard writers say too many times and it’s so wrong. It almost guarantees your book will never find its audience.
The panelists — moderator Beth Barany, editor Marla Markman and author Lin Robinson — were discussing how to find the groups of people who will most want to read your book and how to define your market (that is several blog posts or a whole book chapter in itself). Then one attendee raised her hand and said those terrible words: “But my book is for everyone!”
I can tell you right now that her book is not for everyone, because she described what it was about and it was a topic that I could not care less about. It didn’t matter how passionate this woman was about it, or how many other people might like it, I was just not one of them. The panelists tried to show her the error of her thinking, and I hope she took some of it to heart because there is an audience for her book out there, but she’ll never find it if she keeps trying to find readers by searching for that deceptively numerous yet ever-elusive “everyone.”
There is no such thing as a book that’s for everyone. The Harry Potter books aren’t for everyone. Stephen King isn’t for everyone. Eat, Pray Love isn’t for everyone. Even the Bible isn’t for everyone (try selling it in a Buddhist monastery or at a mosque). Each one of these books and authors has a huge audience, and they all started out the same way: appealing to a small group of people who became passionate about the author, book or topic. These passionate readers spread the word to other people who also became enthusiastic fans. Eventually people outside of the original niche read the book (no doubt because their friends from the original niche kept going on about it), and they got excited about it too. And it built from there. But the momentum would never have gotten started if the author had been trying to get the book into everyone’s hands.
Beth Barany gave a great example of finding her niche and spreading out from there. She enjoyed writing fiction about heroic young women who would make great role models for her youthful, female audience. Because she made a conscious decision to keep her book clean (she did not care about appealing to the edgier YA group), her books also began to resonate with the Christian audience — something she had not considered before. But once she knew it was there, she began to think seriously about how to promote to them. That is how to grow your book’s audience.
No matter what you are writing about, you have a small group of people who are very passionate about your topic. They would probably love to know about your book. Those are the people you want to find first, both on the internet and in person. Get your book in those people’s hands. Hang out with them as much as possible. Hear what they have to say — they will give you clues on other places to promote your book. Keep working on it and other groups of readers will start to make themselves known. Eventually you will have a real audience, many of them big fans of your work. “Everyone” may not be buying your book, but it will be everyone who matters — and that number may be larger than you think.