Finding Your Book's Perfect Audience
Who is the audience for your books? Who should be reading them? Buying them?
I often do what I call grassroots marketing, marketing aimed at the audience I think should be reading my books.
My strongest books are science and nature related. For those books, I need to reach science teachers, nature centers, conservations activists, and so on. Adults who are passionate about teaching kids science or nature related topics are often the strongest advocates for my books.
EROSION: How Hugh Bennett Saved America’s Soil and Stopped the Dust Bowl is about the soil scientist who helped create the Soil Conservation Service. It launched in June, 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, possible the worst launch timing ever.
Many schools had gone virtual, but even in-person schools were scrambling to stay safe, and keep the kids relatively calm. Science teachers who once would have been interested in a book such as EROSION were distracted.
I asked myself, “Who should be reading this book?”
Hugh Bennett’s Soil Conservation Service is still a government agency today, renamed the Natural Resources Conservation Service. During the 1930s and 1940s, the conservation efforts were aimed at planting crops in rotation, contour tilling, and other measures to build up the soil to make it more fertile.
For example, the backmatter of the book tells the story of a Georgia farm. On May 12, 1948, over 700 people came to work on a 168-acre hilly farm near Winder, Georgia, that belonged to Marion H. Carlyle and his nephew, Ernest C. Blakey. The Soil Conservation Service planned to give the farm a face-lift through a Master Conservation Field Day. The motto of the day was "working together."
As the sun rose at 5:00 a.m. the project began. Everyone worked together to build fences, clear, fertilize, and plant land for pastures, and create a dam for a two-acre fish pond that was stocked that day with fish. Bulldozers filled in a 50-foot gully (two-stories deep) and planted the new pasture with Bermuda grass. Workers created winding terraces and interplanted them with crops to hold the soil. They thinned woodland areas and planted steep land with ground covers. Other workers built a new metal barn and painted the farm house. Everything was directed by Big Hugh’s men from the Soil Conservation Service.
By sunset, the Carlyle-Blakely farm had been transformed, while 60,000 people watched. It was a day of cooperation, education, and publicity for the "Good Earth." Between 1947 and 1949, many farms were face-lifted across America. The Carlyle-Blakely farm was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service has extended their work to water, animals, and much more. I’ve talked with a couple people who work for the service and they all knew the story of Hugh Bennett. Clearly this was an unusual, but important audience!
I researched the contact information for NRCS offices throughout the US and sent emails to the education director (or person in charge of outreach and education, with various job titles). The email included information on the book and how to order it. As a result, I received several large book orders. Those kept me going through the pandemic.
This type of grassroots effort is usually a type of cold-calling. That’s when you send emails to people you don’t know and you don’t expect them to have heard of you. This is a cold audience. A warm audience would be someone who has heard of you or your book. A hot audience is made up of your customers, those who have bought from you already.
Cold-audiences are the hardest because response rates are notoriously low. A 1% to 3% response rate would be considered good. That is if you send out 100 emails, you may only hear back from 1 to 3 people. Hear back from doesn’t necessarily mean an order! It might mean that they just clicked through and read your book’s description page.
So, why do I do this type of marketing? Because these are the people who SHOULD be reading this book. I’m looking for an audience outside the normal channels, looking for ways to expand my reach. I hope that if they like THIS book, they’ll also like the next books from Mims House. If I reach the right people, they’ll also be the ones who will tell others, generating a nice word-of-mouth.
And often, the people to whom I reach out are in influential positions, with authority to instigate book sales. That’s why I call it grassroots marketing, because if you find the right people, the results should multiple among their community.
It’s not my first line of marketing! But sometimes, it surprises me with a great return of book sales, nominations for specialized book awards, and great customers.
In the email, I include a quick intro explaining why this book will interest them, a photo of the book cover, a book synopsis, and ordering information. When the person represents the possibility of large book orders, I’ll offer review copies, either a paperback or a digital copy. Usually, I’ll offer a small discount for the first orders. If they respond with a big book order, I can negotiate a price.
So, my call-to-action (CTA) may vary. Sometimes, it’s “Here’s how to get your review copy.” But sometimes, it’s “ORDER NOW for a 10% DISCOUNT.” The right CTA varies depending on who I’m contacting.
Finding YOUR Grassroots Audience
So, where do you find YOUR grassroots audience? Start with the subject matter of your story. If you’re telling a social-emotional learning (SEL) story, you could contact elementary school counselors, parent-teacher organizations, Girl Scout leaders, religious education leaders, and so on. You’re likely targeting parents and teachers in your advertising anyway, so I’m usually looking for a slightly different audience, one that may not regularly take notice of a children’s book.
If you’ve just published a book on unicorns, it’s more difficult! For that, I may try to reach reading specialists, emphasizing the Lexile level is perfect for a certain type reader. Or try a Girl Scout audience.
In other words, your grassroots audience will be unique to you and your book. It’s great if you can go back to this audience book after book. But you publish a range of books, you can also build audiences for each book or book series.
Think outside the box to create the audience. Organizations, topics, main characters. emotions. locations, and so on can all be the basis of a new list.