When you approach agents about your book idea, they might ask some version of, “Why this book now, why you, and who cares?”
A book proposal must answer those questions immediately. Last week I posted tips about defining your target audience for a blog. Now let’s look at the target audience for a book, which is not necessarily the same.
When it comes to writing a book, one of my agent’s favorite questions is, “Who is going to pay $25 for it?” That is different than reading a free blog. You need to identify that person in as much detail as possible, and make a cogent argument for why she (women buy the most books) would spend the money.
Some cookbooks, such as those for vegans and gluten-free cooks, have potential audiences that are easy to identify, compared with general cookbooks. Other books, particularly memoir, have elusive readerships. Still, identifying readership can have benefits far beyond completing that section of a book proposal. Knowing who will read your book gives you clues about how to focus it and what to include.
Here are 5 tips on establishing an audience for your book:
1. Your book is not for everyone. “Everyone” is not a market. It is too vague. When Craig and I wrote Grilled Pizzas & Piadinas, we wanted readers to become familiar with kind of equipment we used. We showed photos of kitchen tools, pans, and grills in a chapter at the front of the book. Because of that decision, Craig sold the most books at Williams-Sonoma stores, which displayed the book with grilling equipment and pizza tools. Our target reader shops there.
(Publishers always like to see creative ways to sell to your target audience. To do so you must know what would interest them.)
2.You might already have built-in ways to reach readers. If you teach, have a blog, write freelance articles or produce a newsletter on the subject of your book, you have an audience. The people within these list will give you lots of clues about who constitutes your most enthusiastic readers.
3. Build a list of characteristics. Think about the people you already reach and build a profile of a target reader. Include age, education, how often they’re in the kitchen, how often they go to restaurants, whether they’re interested in trendy foods, whether they travel, have kids, take classes, etc. Doing so will help you focus your book. If you’re just getting started and have no audience, try to find one by teaching, blogging, etc. on the subject of your book.
4. Think nationally. If you are known only to your community, a regional publisher will be the easiest sell. National publishers want a national audience. We considered geography and lifestyles in our book on grilled pizza. Our agent suggested we show people how to make a grilled pizza in a pan on the stove, not just outdoors, as a way of attracting those who lived in apartments.
5. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. If you’re writing to beginning cooks or those who like quick meals, don’t ask them to make a gastrique, debone a chicken, or soak beans overnight when you know they will open a can. It’s one thing to challenge your readers and other to make them turn the page. Knowing your audience — or making decisions about who they are — helps you write a book that’s appropriate and relevant.
If you are writing memoir, these tips might seem nebulous, but you still must complete a section on target audience in your book proposal. Look at other factors: have readers had a similar experience (growing up in a food-obsessed family) or do they fantasize about doing something you did (ex. going to cooking school in Paris)? Figure out why they should care about your story.
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