Book Proposals

Proposals: Know Your Audience

I … Love … Coffee …

Love going into coffee shops, love ordering the perfect brew, love the ambiance of Starbuck’s and Caribou coffee and Seattle’s Best and Coffee People, and you name it! When my hubby wants to do something special for me, he’ll let me drag him to a coffee shop. Of course, when I’m done ordering, he bellys up the bar, stares the barista in the eye, and says, “Coffee. Black.” My man is a purist. What can I say?

And I love that, in my little valley, we have drive-up coffee stands on almost every corner! They’re everywhere. And they all usually have long lines.

Well…almost all.

There is one little coffee stand that hasn’t ever made a go of it. It sits in what might seem an ideal location, on one of main streets going through an industrial area that leads to any number of shopping destinations, as well as to one of the main highways heading north. Oddly enough, though, that poor little stand, which has changed hands more times than I can count, seldom had a car at the window. I actually stopped a couple of times just because I felt bad for them. No surprise, then, when a month or so ago it shut down. Again.

Last week, though, as I drove past the stand, I was amazed to see a line of cars at the window. Not only that, but they’d set up rustic picnic tables, all of which were full. And there were people standing around the full tables, too. I looked to see what kind of coffee had worked this miracle, and this sign greeted me: Bob’s BBQ.

That’s when it hit me.

Most of the coffee stands around town are located where coffee lovers dwell, near shopping areas, downtown, near the university, and so on. THIS coffee stand was in an industrial area. And as I looked closer at the tables I saw that those sitting there were mostly men. Workers from the surrounding businesses. Men, I’m willing to bet, who are like my hubby. Who figure a buck is too much to pay for coffee, no matter how fancy a name you give it. Meat-and-potatoes guys who were chowing down, talking and laughing, and having a great time. Whoever bought that failure of a coffee stand did what no one else had done: they got to know their audience. And offered them what they wanted.

What does this have to do with writers? Simple. When you write in your proposal about your audience, it’s not enough to just say something like, “my audience is women ages 18-80 who love historical fiction.” You need to do what the new owners of that stand did. Figure out who your audience really is. What are the concerns on their minds and hearts? What consumes their days? What brings them joy? What authors do they read? What movies or TV shows do they watch? What does faith mean to them? What are they willing to spend money on? Get to know them!

What’s more, you have several audiences: a primary audience, a secondary audience, and sometimes even a tertiary audience.

Your primary audience is the sweet spot. These are the readers who are champing at the bit to get a book like yours. It’s the core reader you write for, that woman or man you picture as you craft your words on the page. Describe that person. Don’t make the age range too wide. Go for a 30- to 40-year spread at most.

Your secondary audience is the bookend ages. So if your primary audience is women in their 20s to 50s, then your secondary could be readers from 15 to 20, and over 50. What do these readers get from your books?

The tertiary audience can be a specific focus group, such as homeschooler, teachers, youth group leaders, and so on.

The beauty of getting to know your reader so well is that it will not only help you position those readers in the agent’s/editor’s minds, but it will help you refine your focus as you write. You can hone your message, whether in fiction or nonfiction, to speak right to the heart of your core reader. And that will only make your work stronger.

Have fun!


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