Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

storm moving across a field
April 26, 2024

Writers: Do You Know Your Audience?

by Eldred Bird

Woman reading in a bookstore

I thought I had a pretty good idea who my readers are, but I was surprised to learn I have some fans I never considered. I recently received an email about a segment of the population who were enjoying my books and asking for more. They are what you might call a captive audience. It seems my James McCarthy books have found their way into a local prison.

The emailer told how she had ordered my books for her son through an approved vendor, as required by the prison rules. After reading and enjoying them, he shared the books with others on his unit and they became fans as well. I was told they loved the relatable characters, familiar locations, and the way I described local law enforcement agencies. The books were something they could connect to, something that took them outside the walls for a while.

She also said they were asking when the next book would come out. I guess I need to get to work…

When I first started writing, I didn’t think much about who my audience would be. Like many new authors, I pretty much wrote for myself. As time went on and the dream of actually publishing began to take shape, things changed. Suddenly, I was faced with figuring out who would buy my books and how I could reach them.

Whether you’re an independent author like me, or traditionally published, knowing your audience is crucial if you want to have any chance at success. Different audiences have different expectations. These may depend on location, genre, or age, just to name a few. There’s also format (print, eBook, audio, etc…) and distribution to consider.

Let’s take a look at some of these things that might help you find and reach your audience.

One of the most important things to consider when trying to determine who will be interested in your books is genre. You really need to know what you’re writing. There are a couple of reasons for this. 

Knowing your genre is going to help you narrow down the landscape and help you to target your readers more accurately. One of the first things any distributor is going to ask for is the genre your book will be listed under. If your book qualifies for more than one genre (most do), pick the one that is more prominent through the manuscript. Many services will let you list a second category as well. My James McCarthy books are listed under both Mystery and Adventure, with Adventure as the primary genre.

Another reason to know your genre is reader expectations.

Fans of some genres have very clear expectations of what beats the story must hit. If you disappoint them, they won’t come back for more. Worse yet, they might leave negative reviews and cost you future sales.

One example is readers of cozy mysteries. While they love a good murder mystery, they don’t want to see the blood or violence. They’re more interested in how the amateur sleuth at the center of the story follows the clues and ultimately corners the killer. Throw in a curmudgeonly old police detective as their sideman and you’re golden.

Do your research and get to know what specific genre readers want. It will pay off in the end.

Like genres, the age group you’re targeting is a big consideration. General Fiction, which is what the bulk of us probably write, is typically targeted toward more mature audiences. Think high school age and up. If your target audience is below that age, things get a little more complicated.

The breakdown is generally as follows:

  • Newborn to age 4: Picture books in the form of board and soft books
  • Ages 2–5: Early picture books
  • Ages 5–8: Picture books, coloring, activity and novelty books
  • Ages 4–8: Early (easy) readers
  • Ages 6-9: First chapter books and graphic novels
  • Ages 8–12: Middle-grade novels and graphic novels
  • Ages 12-18: Young adult (YA) novels and graphic novels

The ages on this list aren’t carved in stone, as some kids may read far above their age level. Don’t worry about them, they read everything!

Learn what is expected for the general age range you are targeting and write for them.

Back in the day, book choices were pretty much limited to two options—hardcover or paperback. Sure, there were different cover size options, and font choices, but that was about it. 

Times changed and so have readers. Not only do we have the classic format choices, but also eBooks and audio books. Add to that the different types of eBook file options and things start to get complicated. It’s all based on which eReader the files are to be read on.

The most popular formats for eBooks are MOBI (Amazon’s primary format), EPUB, and PDF, but there are a host of others as well. Your book can be formatted as HTML, RTF, iBook, and a handful of more obscure formats. 

The format you choose is going to be highly dependent on what device your target audience primarily uses for reading, and who you choose for distribution. You may also want to make your books available in multiple formats.

Audio book production is a whole other can of worms that is probably best left for a future article. Suffice it to say that there are also many file formats to consider, but the most involved process is the recording and audio production. 

There are choices to be made like who will read for the performance? Will you hire a voice actor or read it yourself? Will you use an established studio or record it yourself at home?

This is one area where I highly recommend professional help and advice.

If you’re traditionally published, distribution of your books is something that will be taken care of for the most part. The publisher will already have their distribution chain in place. They will take care of things like obtaining ISBNs and getting your books into the wholesale catalogs so bookstores and libraries will have access to them. 

For those who choose the independent path, you will need to handle these things yourself.

Many independent authors choose to go straight to Amazon for production and distribution of their work. It’s fast and easy, and the first place most readers think to go for new material. That’s all good, but Amazon has its limits.

If you choose to publish exclusively through Amazon, you’re going to miss the opportunity for wider distribution. Bookstores and libraries will not have access to your work, and that limits your ability to reach your audience.

Many dedicated readers still prefer walking into a bookstore and holding the actual book in their hands before buying. They may also like supporting their local independent shop by ordering through them. That can’t happen if you’re not listed in the wholesale catalogs. 

If I hadn’t opted for the wider distribution, I never would have captured my new fanbase.

By creating my own publishing imprint (Burro Creek Press), I was able to obtain my own ISBNs and get more reach in the marketplace. Producing my books through IngramSpark puts my work in the Ingram catalog, one of the primary sources for bookstores and libraries.

Final Thoughts

No matter what you write or how you plan to publish, knowing your audience will make a big difference in your chances for success. Knowledge of your reader base will inform not only your writing process, but how and where you market your work. Do your research. Find out who your potential readers are, what they value in a story, and how they prefer to consume it. 

Oh, and keep your eyes open and an ear to the ground. You never know when and where you may find your own captive audience…

Who are your readers and how do you reach them? Do you have a section of readers you did not expect? Please share them with us in the comments.

* * * * * *

About Bob

Eldred "Bob" Bird

Eldred Bird writes contemporary fiction, short stories, and personal essays. He has spent a great deal of time exploring the deserts, forests, and deep canyons inside his home state of Arizona. His James McCarthy adventures, Killing KarmaCatching Karma, and Cold Karma, reflect this love of the Grand Canyon State even as his character solves mysteries amidst danger. Eldred explores the boundaries of short fiction in his stories, The Waking RoomTreble in Paradise: A Tale of Sax and Violins, and The Smell of Fear.

When he’s not writing, Eldred spends time cycling, hiking, and juggling (yes, juggling…bowling balls and 21-inch knives).

His passion for photography allows him to record his travels. He can be found on Twitter or Facebook, or at his website.

Top photo from Depositphotos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

17 comments on “Writers: Do You Know Your Audience?”

  1. I know who some of my audience demographic groups are - and find them incredibly difficult to access.

    For example, some of my best reviews have come (for mainstream fiction) from - older men. Older men who read a lot (although a lot of these reviews, which I receive after persuading someone to read, include the phrase, "I don't normally read this kind of book, but..."), who are educated and literate and include mainstream and literary fiction in their favorite categories.

    But the one place I find many of their reviews of other fiction seriously discourages authors from approaching them there! So I have to be VERY careful, often finding them outside of GR by their websites, or on FB, so I don't break the GR rules.

    I know why we have rules, but the protective barriers are challenging and time-consuming to find ways around.

    I check out certain kinds of best-sellers - locate the positive and negative reviews which are lengthy and well-written (and make me drool), and then spend days of my scarce and irreplaceable time to find a way to approach someone I'm pretty sure will like my books. When successful (about 50% of the time), the reviews are wonderful. My unsuccessful ones are not misidentified - they usually don't review any more, or are not reviewing now.

    Chronic illness makes these little side excursions very costly - the writing has to be on hold while I vet and approach a potential member of my audience.

    But I love the reviews, and many of these readers have become encouraging friends who are waiting for the next volume.

    I have the usual problems of a disabled writer: spending limited resources carefully. I'm well known on several social media sites - but attracting more readers is slow there.

    The demographic I would really like to locate and access is people like me: huge readers as kids, still reading (though in adulthood they often settle into specific genres), who also write about what they read. Whale readers, by a certain rubric.

    I would also love more like my beta reader: young, highly educated, and literate, and used to reading classics. And have no idea how to find them.

    My largest failure has been approaching the bloggers who review books like mine, but confine themselves to those put out by the traditional publishers. Many have taken a blanket approach: no self-published books.

    And I've had no success with the indie newsletters - their readers usually want genre indie fiction - or with systems designed for search engines on Amazon and the like, because mainstream readers don't search (except for historical fiction) for 'more of the same.'

    I know a lot of approaches which haven't worked for me - hope I'll find one which does, one of these days.

    1. I have found approaching bloggers is largely a waste of time. Many charge for the privilege or reading and reviewing an ARC copy, which I can't afford, or else they have closed their list due to so many requests and a huge backlog.
      I like the idea of approaching people who have reviewed other books in one's genre, though. Something I haven't thought about.
      By the way, what is GR? I've not come across this abbreviation before.

    2. It can be a tough road when you have a very specific audience you're trying to reach. With the rise of social media, there are more places to find those niche groups if you know where to look.
      You may want to explore outside of GoodReads and Facebook. Your audience might be on some of the other platforms. Go on a few others and search terms related to your specific target. You might find groups you can join that will help to get the word out.

      1. It's a possibility. I've tried a bunch of those - and continue to do so - but they take even more energy to explore than the obvious ones.

        None of these places (and they shouldn't - it's rude) take kindly to those who join with obvious marketing in mind, and don't stay - or seem to always be trumpeting their wares.

        Do - and you're obvious.

        Don't - and nobody even notices your books exist.

        Grow the contacts slowly and personally, and it's not worth the slow sales.

        Some luck and some smitten readers and some influencers - maybe. I've been burned by advertising too many times to be able to say I know what I'm doing.

        Not saying it's impossible, just that it has NOT taken off.

        Without expensive hype, it may just not be all that successful until the story is finished, and readers don't worry that it might not be. I'll find out in about another five years, when LIMBO rings the bell. Good thing I'm stubborn.

  2. Hi Bob,
    Congratulations on your new readers!

    Since the Adventures of Charlie Chameleon series is for the early grades, I communicated with teachers and school librarians. The sales made there don't count towards Amazon totals, but it is wonderful to see the books in schools.

    I discovered that the books were most often taken out by the students who met me while I attended for author visits, which I find interesting.

    1. Ellen, the sales from school visits are pretty astonishing in terms of totals. I asked about this when authors came to our schools and I was blown away to find out they were pre-selling 50+ books for the visit.

    2. Good stuff, Ellen. I've heard before that the best way to build interest in children's books is to get in front of the kids, be it school or library visits. Your experience totally reflects that.

  3. Hi Bob,

    Thanks for the overview on how important knowing your audience is in publishing. Your discovery of a 'captive' audience is hilarious, btw. 🙂

    My audience ranges many ages as I tend to write YA level stories,including teens as a key audience for me. But I write to the general adult population as well.

    Nice post!

    1. Targeting multiple audiences can be a tough road. Shooting for both the YA crowd and adults, it sounds like you almost need two different marketing plans for the same work. I'd love to hear how you accomplish that!

  4. It would be easy to say the romance genre is pretty loyal, but the readers themselves are from all walks of life, and they have certain preferences, too. Nothing is safe and secure.

    1. Yes, you can publish on both platforms. When you set your book up on InrgamSpark, you can check a box that tells them not to distribute to Amazon. Then go ahead and do your setup on Amazon as usual. You can use the same ISBN for both as log as the files are the same in both places.
      You can also choose whether you want your eBooks distributed by Ingram or not. That way you can give the exclusive to Amazon if you want to so you can make them available on KDP Unlimited. Just be aware that they will not be available to libraries who do eBook checkout.

  5. Great topic!

    However, other than the opening anecdote and a tiny bit of very generic info, this essay mostly covers publishing options, not actually how to find your audience. It summarizes saying “do your research,” but without really offering any incisive tips how.

    The discussion of publishing options, while not fresh, is very clear and helpful, though.

Subscribe to WITS

Recent Posts





Copyright © 2024 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved