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« Lesson 11: Pitch University Ultimate Challenge (“Prepare to Die!”) | Main | Lesson 9: How Not To Pitch Your Book To An Agent, Editor, or Dragon »
Thursday
Jan132011

Lesson 10: Don't Pitch to Everyone (3 Ways to Use Your Book to Find Your Audience)

**This Lesson is part of the January series “30 Pitch Lessons – 30 Days.”  Pitch University Pitchfest weeks and Expert-In-Residence weeks kick off the 1st full week in February.**

You met Catherine Caine a few days ago, when you read her Pitch U Lesson Where's The Beef?  and discovered her 6 steps to finding the beef in your pitch.  

Well, she's at it again.  And this time, she shares a wonderful method for using your own book to identify the people (agents, editors, readers) most likely to buy (accept, sign you up) your book.

And here's the best part.  You'll accidentally create the back cover copy for your book.  Bonus!

So, once again, here is Catherine, helping you be awesome.

The Power of Extremely Specific Audiences

I have some terrible news for you: not everyone is going to be interested in buying your book.

In fact, the vast majority of people won't be interested in your book.

I know. It's a hard truth to absorb. I mean, why wouldn't people be interested in your story about the politics of a small- town fire station? It's AWESOME. And since you've spent the last two years writing this story, it's now the most important thing in the entire world.

But there's one overwhelmingly good reason to abandon the delightful daydreams of selling a copy of this book to every single resident of Minnesota. (Or Northern America. Or hey, the world.)

This is the reason:

If you know who your audience is, you can talk to them more intimately.

So instead of trying to talk to every single person in the world, you can exclude

the people who never ever buy books - Philistines! - and

the people who are really looking for something on baking bread at home, and

the people who only ever buy military histories, and talk only to the people who would actually buy your book without being held at gunpoint.

Okay, so why does that matter?

Take a moment and remember the last advertisement that really ticked you off.

For me it was a disposable nappy (diaper, for North Americans) ad in which the father is clueless and dumb, and the mother rescues him from the scary work of putting a bit of plastic on his son's butt. I was ticked off by the idea "Hur hur, men are so bad at raising kids". To me, it's a dreadfully overworked cliché and one that makes the world just a little bit worse every time it's repeated.

If you plotted the audience for this ad on a bell curve, I'm in the small group at one side who thinks that ad is infuriating and pretty damn sexist, too.

There will be a much larger group of people in the middle (the vast majority of them) to whom that ad is invisible, forgotten within ten seconds of being watched.

And then there's another small group to whom that ad is delightful. It reminds them of how their husband panicked the first time the baby threw up and how powerful and wise they felt as they made it all okay again. Those people will remember and buy that brand as a result.

The problem with mass media like those ads is they waste an awful lot of energy: they bore or infuriate 90% of people to reach the 10% that really care.  Your pitching might do the same.

But we can be much much smarter...

... and only pitch to the 10% who care and would be interested in buying our books.

(Of course, it's not really 10%, it's probably more like 0.1%. But if your audience is 400 million people or so, that's still 400,000 people who would really love your book.)

It's much easier to find your 10% and get them madly excited about buying your book than it is to convince a big homogenous mass of people to get interested in your book.  (And think of time you'll save.)

Publishers know this.

Agents know this.

And if you prove that you know this - and have some intelligent thoughts on who your ideal readers are and how they can be found - then you'll instantly get a thousand times more respect than the guy who's planning to sell a copy to every adult aged 22-45 in his hometown (but, of course, who won't, because 90% aren't interested).

So how do you get specific about your audience?

Your book has characteristics, which will appeal to different people. Here are three big ones...

#1 The Situation

Sometimes the topic makes it clear who would be most interested in your story.

Your tale of small-town fire station politics would be interesting to

  • the workers, families and friends of small-town fire stations. (Of course.) 
  • the people who want to know more behind the scenes of those groups... the same people who watch TV specials about emergency wards, because they're fascinated by the actions of people in high-stress situations. 
  • the people who always wanted to BE a firefighter but couldn't, and still fantasizes about it.

Who would be interested in the situations of your book?

#2 The Theme

Let's look at theme.  Here's an example, there's a theme that links a LOT of sci-fi and fantasy, and possibly justifies so many different stories being lumped together under one heading.

That theme is: what does it mean to be human?

Different writers explore that theme with stories of cybertronics (Are we still human if our minds are in computers?), fantasy utopias (Can humanity reach its potential without the need to strive?) and magic (What do humans do when given overwhelming power?).

And the same readers will enjoy all of these wildly divergent stories because they enjoy exploring the theme under them.

Who would be interested in the theme of your book?

#3 The Writing Style

I know a LOT of twenty-something men who read Bridget Jones' Diary. Because they enjoyed the writing style.

This is the basis of some of the accurate "If you liked Jane Austen, you'll love this..." recommendations.

Your book might be about a group of deep-sea fishermen chasing their own Moby Dick, but if it's written with a critical examination of human behaviour and a large dollop of amusement at their follies, then it might well appeal to the same people who like Jane Austen. Some of them, anyway.

Who would be interested in the writing style of your book?

Why only those three?

There are many more I could talk about, but those three are always elements of the back cover explanation of a book. (I've read some that gave no hint to the theme, but they were really bad blurbs.)

Therefore, they are as much information as most people have when they pick up a book and decide whether it's for them. If you nail those three, your pitch will be magnificent.

So how do I nail it then?

You say something like...

"This story will appeal to people who are fascinated by human behaviour in times of stress, especially workers and families of emergency services. It is a look into what firefighters are like when no-one's looking, and how heroism can co-exist with pettiness and grabbing for power. It will really appeal to people who like documentary-style narration, where it all feels far too real to be fiction."

Does that sound a lot like a blurb already? It does. It always helps to make it easier for the person you're pitching to, to already imagine the book in print. (And easier for the agents and editors to realize it matches what they're looking for!)

Who's your target audience? Tell us in the comments!

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Reader Comments (9)

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January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

I'm so excited about this article, because it's a really different way to come at pitching, and it's absolutely right. You start by caring if you're talking to the right person to begin with. And what a neat way to discover your audience.

The same goes for novels, even though it doesn't seem as intuitive at first. Genre is really a huge narrowing of audience, which is why publishers must decide carefully where a book is shelved in a brick-and-mortar shop or library... or the label used in the virtual world.

But within that window, it's the details of your story that dictate if it will appeal to a specific reader of that genre.

And here at Pitch U, when you pitch to an editor or agent... that's your audience, your "window." Of course, we're an educational forum, so pitching for feedback isn't the same as pitching for a YES, and you might just be interested in learning. However, there is a huge opportunity when you pitch here as well, because the agent or editor actually might say,"YES, send me pages!" At that point, you really are concerned with "your right audience."

Can't wait to see the results! And I'll try it out, too, later today.

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

Thanks Diane!

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine Caine

This was really fun! Okay, I'm doing this for a novel, which is slightly different than a NF book, because this wouldn't actually end up on the back cover. But, one of the things it helped clarify beyond pitching is how to present this book in marketing materials. :)

"This story will appeal to people who are fascinated by deciphering secret codes and dream of following treasure maps. It will delight fans of Indiana Jones and National Treasure, and everyone who wishes great quests didn't just happen hundreds of years ago... They wish that they, too, could heed the call of the Holy Grail, right now in 2011. And it will especially appeal to people who enjoy magical romance and true love, all told with a comical touch of “knight in shining armor.”

January 13, 2011 | Registered CommenterDiane

This is a really interesting idea of making it more intimate- because you're ONLY wanting to talk to the few who are going to be interested. I have never thought of it that way and it seems so much less terrifying and manageable when presented like this. My book would appeal to folks who like thrillers, exotic places and romance...hmmmmm, I'll have to think about it for awhile. Thanks for the jumping off spot! This makes it easier.

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStacey Purcell

Stacey: you're very welcome. Feel free to post your results here for some feedback!

Diane: LOVE this. :)

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine Caine

Sweet Catherine was brave enough to come back for more! Wow. At least we know we didn't scare her away.
And again with such a great post. Love targeting like this. It really made me focus on who would enjoy reading my story.

Diane? How the heck did you hammer yours out so quick? And well done btw!

Here's a go for mine,

This story will appeal to mid to late teens and early adults who enjoy escaping to a 'what could be' world. It will captivate those interested in the future, and our/nature's impact on the world. Thrill seekers who like danger, the excitement of the unknown or using your instincts to survive in situations beyond our normal lives will enjoy the ride. With a dash of romance and the brutal pressure of doing what is right, those who enjoy human strength and frailty in its incredible variations, will savor the characters poignant journey.

Hmmmmm, I'm a big girl. Let me know your thoughts. :)

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCandi Wall

Well, I'd buy it!!! Sounds really intriguing.

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStacey Purcell

Candi: Hi again! This has been a lot of fun. :)

Do the audience HAVE to be late teens/early adults? Or are you using that as code for another attribute... like open-mindedness about environmental issues?

"Thrill seekers who like danger, the excitement of the unknown or using your instincts to survive in situations beyond our normal lives will enjoy the ride." - I have the feeling this is a bit large. Could you be more specific?

"those who enjoy human strength and frailty in its incredible variations" <--- LOVE this.

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine Caine

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