Knowing Your Audience Makes Everything Better

Since I’ve started the Ooligan program, I’ve looked at my bookshelf with new eyes. What now stands out to me is the exploitation of a target audience (i.e., myself via fantasy books). In fact, anyone in book publishing would tell you that unless you know who your consumers are, you probably won’t sell many of your books to the readers who would actually appreciate it. Using Joe Biel’s book A People’s Guide to Publishing as our guide, let’s briefly discuss the publishing departments a book passes through on its way from the author’s hands into the consumer’s and how each department benefits from understanding the book’s target audience.

Acquisitions: When an acquisitions editor is reading book proposals for a publishing house, she is evaluating several factors. Among the most important is if it matches the mission statement and submission guidelines of the publishing house. Even if a manuscript is intriguing, acquisition editors should “ignore these pitches or refer them to appropriate publishers” if the content is not supported by the audience of the publishing house (Biel 238). The acquisitions editor may be looking for new authors to advocate for, but she must still search for those books that fit the ideas/genre of the publishing house and what they want to represent.

Editing: Once a book proposal is accepted, the editor then begins to delve deeper into the manuscript in search of any need for editing, including “developmental, line editing, copy editing, proofing, and fact checking” (253). Again, the editor must know the target audience. While the audience of the new book may be a more specific one than the audience of the publicist’s mission, the editor must ensure that the book fits into a niche that the publisher knows “how to speak respectfully to” (55). In this way, authors, readers, and publishers can all be understood.

Design: The front cover, spine, trim size, flaps, title, interior format, and font are just a few design elements that “convey subconscious information about the credibility of the book that informs a potential reader’s decision” of whether to buy it (61). The design of the physical book needs to create joy in the consumer, persuading him to open the front cover, read the summary on the back, or carry it around for a few minutes—anything to make sure that a sale will ultimately occur. Designers are well aware of these challenges and welcome them, researching the “existing books in [the] niche and genre,” as well as “defining the benefits of [the] book to the reader,” in order to increase their chances of consumer buy-in and appreciation through the book’s design (68).

Marketing: At this point in the process, the publicity and marketing of the upcoming book have been in the works for some time, criss-crossing along until suddenly there’s no more editing—just a looming launch date. In order for a book to experience successful sales, the author should be embedded “into the communities that would be interested in buying their book—or better yet, communities where you or the author are already invested”(303). If this means the author has a good social media platform, then the book should be promoted there, or if a book is about a zookeeper, then it should be promoted at zoos, etc. The marketing connection between a book’s subject matter and invested audience should be an “organic” one (303).

Publication: The actual printing and launching of a book will (hopefully) provide notoriety to the publishing house. The book’s audience has now been introduced to the house itself, making it “easier for them to latch onto” other frontlist and backlist titles, since it’s likely they’d be interested (16). In addition, this book will become a backlist title itself and provide “sustained sales” for financing new acquisitions (356).

All in all, knowing your audience ultimately means being successful. From there, it’s an ongoing circle of acquiring, editing, designing, marketing, printing, and then attracting new authors to acquire new books from. See? It makes everything better.

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