I think this may be an unanswerable question. Creating strict rules of knowledge concerning who will and who will not buy your book is something best not done if you’re new to selling books. If you’ve sold enough to develop an understanding of the types of people who are interested in buying, reading, and reviewing books then the characteristics of your readers can be valuable in having a picture of ‘who’ and ‘why’. This picture will never be complete and it can only give you guidelines. Surprise readers wait behind every corner.
As a result, all I have is my experience and case studies of selling my books, which has informed me and given me a basis for understanding my target audience. Still, most of this basis is assumption.
Case study #1 – science fiction
When I sold The Antpod Faction at the Leeds Steampunk Market I was struck by the type of people who were interested in it, having given it no prior thought. I suppose I must have subconsciously assumed my ideal readers would be a similar age and the same gender, with interests firmly in Asperger Syndrome, science fiction, and politics, which had inspired the story. Of course, seeing people’s faces doesn’t always give you all the information about their interests and people choose to divulge what they think is important or what they want to.
I really had no idea, and using myself as the basis for my ideal readers didn’t necessarily work. It turned out that a variety of people were interested in my story: old people who liked books and were looking for something different, fellow authors of either gender, husbands or wives in their thirties or forties or fifties who had families, young people in their mid-twenties interested in science fiction or in getting into writing, and creative stallholders.
Away from the Leeds Steampunk Market, different people were interested in The Antpod Faction: book-loving female reviewers, people who worked with or knew about autism, teachers, people who identified as being wired differently, and people kind enough to just try it because I had spoken to them.
There are already a few of what we call ‘demographics’ in the above three paragraphs, but do you see how my picture of my target readers has changed when comparing specific observed readers in Leeds Steampunk Market as opposed to people I found elsewhere; usually at craft events or through online reviews.
The number of times I was asked if I would make it a series made me wonder if series fiction is what readers want …
Case study #2 – fantasy
Young men and older men were interested in my Roc Isle series. Some wanted to read something more fast-paced than The Antpod Faction or were interested in it because they liked fantasy table top gaming, and these were similar genres.
I ‘suspect’ some readers wanted to try it because they wanted to get stuck into a series, and while The Antpod Faction was ‘my science fiction’ book, Roc Isle: The Descent (book 1) became ‘my fantasy book’.
How do you know who will buy your book before publishing a new or different book?
This is where research may come in, if past assumptions about past sales are not giving you a definitive picture. It can be of value to know something about your ideal readers before publishing because then when branding or marketing your book you can target it appropriately.
The question is how to go about this research and I believe this completely depends on the author.
- Maybe you have friends you can ask in person, or online.
- You could have specific questions you need answers to or a specific group of people you need answers about; and a survey, group discussion, or interview could benefit your research.
- You could go to a book event or other event and ask stallholders and any customers you talk to questions about which books they prefer.
- I can’t see any reason why you wouldn’t ask an author in person or online, even ones you don’t know and who you think can give you an interesting point of view.