February 25, 2022

How to Identify Your Distinct Audience

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There are four defining features of bestselling self-help/personal development books:

  1. They are written for a distinct audience.
  2. They solve a sticky problem that is a constant source of pain in their readers’ lives.
  3. They propose a novel approach to solving that problem.
  4. They cut through the clutter with simple genius.

Today we’re talking about the first, most foundational piece of a bestselling book idea: Knowing who you’re writing for. All personal development books are written to help a specific reader make a change in their life.

But first, why can’t your book be for everyone? Maybe you think, “But my topic literally applies to everyone! If everyone read my book, the world would be a better place!” And that might be true. But the reality is that not everyone will read your book—in fact, most people will not. That’s true even for the all-time bestselling books of the world.

PSA: Your Book Cannot Be for Everyone!

Our job is to form our bestselling book idea to attract the people who will be advocates for your book, the people who will be your champions and cheerleaders. These people will be the apostles for your book, sharing it with their friends and creating a chain reaction of people who buy and read your book. That is how you’ll maximize sales for your book.

But those people will not love your book if it doesn’t speak directly to them. They need to feel like you’ve come down from the heavens to solve their problem or give them a life-changing gift. And everyone has different opinions and priorities about what they need, what problems they’re encountering, and what would ultimately make a difference in their lives.

If you try to write a book that will feel like a gift to every person on the planet, it’s not going to have the focus it needs to cut through the noise and achieve a great impact. It’s going to be so general and vague that no one will even know what it’s about. You cannot solve all problems for all people.

This is good news.

You don’t have to try to meet everyone’s needs in all the world. You can actually have a greater impact by focusing on meeting very specific needs that people are facing.

Author and biology teacher Leslie Samuel talks about the formula for impact being force divided by the area that you’re applying that force to. Imagine that you’re building something, and you want to attach two pieces of wood together. If you hammer on the top piece of wood—you might make a few indents in the board, but it’s not going to stick to the bottom board. But if you take a hammer to a nail on that piece of wood, and apply the same amount of force to that much smaller area, the nail is going to pierce through the wood with precision, and it’s going to be much more effective for building something.

That’s what we’re doing with audience, too. There are millions of books published in the U.S. every year, and they’re all competing for the same readers. That’s a lot of noise that your book has to cut through with precision. So by targeting your book to a smaller subset of people, and getting really precise about how you can help those people, you’ll be able to stand out and your work will have a much bigger impact. And you’ll actually be able to reach more people than you would if you tried to write for everybody.

So how do we get more precise about our audience?

Defining Your Distinct Audience

There are lots of ways to go about identifying your distinct audience. You probably already have a good idea of the topic you want to write about. So the biggest question to keep asking yourself is “Who can I serve best?” Not “how many people can I serve,” but who would benefit most from what I have to say?

Some people to think about might be:

  • Your clients, if you’re a business owner.
  • The people who read your newsletter and have already given you their email addresses.
  • The people you spend the most time helping or who ask you lots of questions.
  • Someone like you, who is facing a problem that you once had.

Take a minute and brainstorm all of the people who might benefit from reading your book. It’s completely possible that all of these people would derive some benefit from your book—but, we keep in mind that we can’t solve all problems for all people, and we keep asking, “Who can I serve best?” So we probably still need to narrow in our focus a bit.

Let’s say you want to write a book about yoga. You’ve got your general topic nailed down, but there are a lot of possible audiences for a book about yoga! You might have…

  • Beginner yogis
  • Advanced yogis
  • Yoga teachers, just to name a few possibilities.

As you can imagine, all of these audiences have very different needs. An advanced yogi might not need the in-depth descriptions or demonstrations that a beginner yogi needs. And someone who is just learning yoga isn’t going to be looking for how to teach yoga to other people. They all have different problems and they need different solutions. So right there, you’ve got three possible distinct audiences to choose from, and there are probably many more you could think of.

From here, you should ask yourself:

  • What am I most passionate about?
  • Who do I want to do more work with?
  • What would be my easiest win?
  • Where do I have the most expertise?
  • Which of these audiences will introduce the broadest number of people to my work?

So if you’re writing a book about yoga, and especially if this is your first book, then you might decide to write for beginner yogis, for a few reasons. If you’re an experienced yoga teacher, then you probably feel like you could teach beginners in your sleep—that’s definitely going to be your easiest win. You might also pick beginners because you want to draw in the widest number of people possible and introduce them to your yoga practice. Hopefully, a lot of those beginners will later become advanced yogis and then yoga teachers themselves, and they will always look to you as a mentor and someone they can learn from. If you get them as beginners, you might just get them for life.

Now, if you’re a highly experienced yoga teacher running yoga teacher training programs and retreats, then maybe you feel like you already have the customer base you want and your expertise is in helping good yogis become great yogis—so you decide based on your passion that you want to write for advanced yoga practitioners.

Whatever you decide is fine, and it might take some soul-searching and reflection. Don’t rush this, because this is the MOST foundational decision that you’ll make for your book.

Books with Broad Appeal

It is true that sometimes great books have broad appeal. This is often the case with bestselling trade books, like Mindset by Carol Dweck or Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. The way that these books narrow down their distinct audience is by focusing on a very specific problem that they solve.

For example, Carol Dweck’s book answers the question, “Why do some people thrive in the face of challenge, and other people give up?” That’s an incredibly specific problem, but all of us know people who seem to persevere and even get better when they’re challenged, while others seem to crumple under the pressure. This book promises to help us all find the secret to getting better.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande is about what happens at the end of our lives, and how American society in many ways fails to take care of the elderly, especially those who are suffering with disease and illness. Most people have an elderly person in our lives whom we care about, many have experienced the pain of seeing a loved elderly person suffering, and all of us will one day (God willing) be elderly ourselves. By zeroing in on the problem he’s addressing, Gawande has actually found a universally relatable topic.

And that’s the irony of defining your audience and the problem you solve: By getting more specific, you’ll attract even more readers.