Inside a Book, Part 1: Audience

There are many ways to describe the audience of a book. For example, you can describe the appeal of the main theme or story.

“My book is for people who care about the environment.”

Or you can place it within a category or genre to show the large group of readers it aims to please.

“Historical fiction fans will enjoy this book.”

You can also compare it to a successful or well-known title that is similar to it in terms of content and genre.

“If you liked Fun Home, you’ll love this book.”

For an author thinking about promoting her book, trying to describe the book’s audience can be a challenge. She might wonder, How specific do I need to be? If I’m too narrow in thinking about my audience, will I leave out a lot of potential readers and buyers? And why do I need to define my audience anyway?

Let’s start with that last question first: Authors need to define their audience in order to give their book the best chance of success. The shape of the book, including the organization, the writing style, and the format, should be influenced by the audience. How the book is presented publicly—in advertisements, on book retailer websites, in catalogs, at events—should be defined by the audience. If you don’t know who your audience is, your book will risk having an unclear focus or will appear internally or even externally inconsistent.

It can be difficult to determine the bounds of a book’s audience. If your book is literary fiction, for example, you might be tempted to describe your audience as “literary fiction readers.” But that category is too broad to be useful—it represents a wide range of tastes, interests, and demographics. You’ll need to drill down and think about what subcategories your book fits into and what particular themes might appeal to a certain segment of audience. This is where comparing your book to other titles you’re familiar with can be helpful.

Something else to keep in mind: sometimes the obvious audience isn’t the only one.

Cover of Under the Bridge BackwardsHere’s an example. Trio client Barbara Roy is the author of Under the Bridge Backwards: My Marriage, My Family, and Alzheimer’s. This memoir of her experience as a caregiver to her husband, who had Alzheimer’s, includes her reflections on her relationships with her adult children, her friends, and her elderly mother. She writes honestly about the emotional and physical stresses she went through as a caregiver and how they affected her life at many different levels.

Perhaps the most obvious audience for Barbara’s book is caregivers—in particular, caregivers of spouses and significant others. But thinking through her story and the themes that arise in it brought up another audience: adult children of caregivers and people with dementia. Her book offers many insights into how an illness like Alzheimer’s affects a marriage and a family. Readers learn about the miscommunications and misunderstandings, the emotional ups and downs, and the changes to daily life that affect how partners relate to each other.

Barbara’s book gives those of us outside of the caregiving circle a window into the life of a caregiver. For adult children whose parents are dealing with a diagnosis of dementia, for extended family members of someone confronting the caregiving challenge, for friends who want to support each other through the hardship of Alzheimer’s, Barbara’s book is a gift and a resource.

So here’s how we might describe the audience(s) for Barbara’s book:

  • caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia
  • adult children of caregivers and people with dementia
  • those who support caregivers: extended family, friends, therapists, clergy, medical professionals, respite care providers

In Part 2 I discuss the process of designing a book, including how defining the audience contributes to design decisions.

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