Target audience: 3 simple categories for a successful book proposal

Book proposals are hard. And the book proposal target audience section might even be the hardest of all. Because how do you define them? And how do you make this section of your proposal stand out to make your proposal as effective as possible? I’ll make it easy for you with my three book audience types.

In this blog post series, I teach you how to write a good book proposal that agents and publishers will love. We discuss what to include in a book proposal, and how to make every element in your book proposal stand out. (If you want to start from the beginning, follow this link to the first post in the series.) 

This time, we’ll talk about your target audience book proposal section. So let’s dive right in! Let me show you how to make your book proposal target audience section a success, by using 3 book audience types. 

The unwritten rules of the Target Audience section

Very simply: the purpose of the book proposal Target Audience section is to convince the publisher that your book will sell. They want to see that if they invest in you, people will buy your book. And they want to know exactly what kind of people these buyers are, so they can figure out how hard (and expensive) it will be to market your book to them. That’s what all experts might tell you, if you ask nicely. But there’s two unwritten rules for the book target audience that I would add here, before we go into the book audience types.



Rule 1: Never say “everyone” in your book proposal Target Audience section

In the book proposal target audience section, you describe the kind of person most likely to buy your book.

Now, I know that you feel that everyone who will read your book will love it. The agent or publisher knows this as well. And that means that there’s no need to tell them that, “Everyone on the planet will love it”. They don’t want to know whether, if they tie someone to a chair and force them to read it, this person will like your book. 

To put it very crudely, the publisher doesn’t care whether people will actually read your book.

The publisher doesn’t care whether your readers enjoy reading your book. They want to know who will BUY it. 

And truly, not everyone in the world will buy your book. Not everyone in the world will even have bought the current bestselling book. Be honest: do you own every book on the current New York Time bestseller list?

So, get rid of the word “everyone” as soon as possible. It has no place in a serious book proposal. Instead, you need to be precise when you define your book target audience.



Rule 2: Think instead: who’s ready to buy?

I know it might feel strange to be very specific about what kinds of people will buy your book. It seems like by making your book target audience narrow, you’re saying your book’s not good enough. Intuitively, you want to tell your publisher that it will sell like hotcakes, that it will be an instant bestseller! You want to tell them it’s the best book that’s ever been written! 

Here, a mindset shift might be helpful.

To narrowly define your book target audience – to identify the specific groups that are most likely to buy your book – is not to say that only those people will buy it. What you need to do, is to really think about who will be MOST LIKELY to buy it.

And the easiest way to achieve that mindset shift is to split your book proposal target audience section into three book audience types: primary audience, secondary audience and organizations.

Primary audience

The first of the book audience types is the primary audience. This consists of those people most likely to buy your book. When they see your book in a bookstore, they will be drawn to it. You wrote your book to help THIS reader find the answers they’re looking for; or to make exactly this kind of person feel something. This is your book’s ideal reader. 

A fun way to define this ideal reader, is to treat them like a character. When you create an “ideal reader” avatar, it becomes a lot easier to do research and define your book target audience.



Questions to ask and research

To nail the first of the book audience types, start asking yourself questions like: What is your ideal reader’s gender, educational background, ethnic identity, geographical location etc? When and how do they read? Where do they buy their books? These are important questions to answer, not only to show that there’s an audience, but also, in a later stage, to help the publisher’s marketing team develop a marketing campaign that will appeal to your book target audience. To make it fun for yourself, give them a name and a face. That way, you are no longer describing a vague “ideal reader,” but you’re introducing your publisher to Bill. 

(If you need more inspiration for questions you can answer in this part of your book target audience research, you can find a nice list on the Self-publishingschool’s website.)

When you have defined your primary book target audience, which consists of your ideal readers, it’s time to do some research. You can start looking online to see how large this group is. And, very importantly, find out whether this group of people actually buys books! Based on this, you can start suggesting to the publisher or literary agent that by marketing your book to this particular book target audience, they can make some serious money. (And let’s be honest, that’s what they want to hear in every element of your book proposal!)

Secondary audiences

The second of the book audience types is your secondary book target audience. That’s easy to remember, no?

The process for your secondary audience is practically the same as it is with your primary audience so I’ll spend the least time on this second of the book audience types.

This is book target audience is a group of people that will be slightly less likely to buy your book. For example: if you wrote a self-help book for black women, you could think that because of the way you wrote it, other women of color might be interested as well. Or maybe black men might similarly be attracted to your book.

Your secondary audience does not consist of your absolute ideal reader, but these people WILL buy your book.

Once you have identified this audience, you can ask the same questions and do the same research I described above for the primary audience. The main difference: whereas you really want to define as few primary audiences as possible (ideally: only one), you can have more categories here for the secondary audience. 

Special target audience: Organizations

And then there’s the third of the book audience types:  organizations.

This is probably something you’ve spent less time thinking about before now. However, they can significantly influence your book sales!

Bulk purchases can lift your target audience section to new heights!

If you wrote a business manual, then large organizations might want to buy a copy of your book for all their managers. They might buy your book in bulk. And that means that with one transaction, you can sell hundreds of books!

The same is true for book clubs, NGOs, conference gift bags etc. So spend some time figuring out what organizations might be interested in bulk purchasing your book. And THEN figure out how you are going to contact them, how you are going to make them aware of your book and entice them to indeed buy your book in bulk.

So what should I mention?

Put all of this information in your book proposal target audience section. Tell your agent or publisher exactly what organizations might want to purchase in bulk, how many they might purchase, and how and when you, yourself, are going to reach out to them to make this happen. As you see, the last of the 3 book audience types can be incredibly powerful!

Now, I can hear you objecting in my head: “But Susanne, the reason I want to find a publisher is that I don’t want to do the marketing myself!” If that’s what you’re thinking, you should probably check out this post on the Promotion Opportunities section of your book proposal, before you come back.

Final points on Target Audience

And that’s it, my 3 book audience types to make writing a successful book proposal target audience section a lot less scary! Define a primary audience, a secondary audience, and a list of organizations – and you’ll create a proposal that agents and publishers will love.

Just remember: “never say everyone!”

If all these tips have not made the proposal any less overwhelming for you, just know you don’t have to do it yourself! Head over to my book proposal page to learn how I can help you. I offer a whole suite of book proposal services, ranging from final checks, to book proposal coaching, to writing the proposal for you. 

Or, if you want to learn about more elements of a successful book proposal, you can click on the blocks below or go to all posts in the book proposal series.

I’m hoping to talk to you soon!

– Susanne