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Don’t Have Time Right Now?

You can absolutely write a book without caring who your audience is. But don’t expect it to do well.

In fact, there’s a name for a book that is written without an audience in mind—it’s called a diary.

If you want your book to be successful and reach the objectives you set out for it, you need an audience, and you need to think about and define that audience beforehand.

Let’s start with a definition of what an audience is (for the purposes of a book):

An audience is a single group of people that share the specific problem your book solves.

Why does this matter? Because the key to writing a good book is actually narrowing your audience down as much as possible to only the people your book is intended to help.

Audience Mistakes

Authors make two big mistakes when thinking about their audience:

Mistake #1: Going broad instead of niche

Some authors start by thinking their book can potentially reach everyone. They dream about the millions of people that “could possibly” find their book appealing.

Don’t do that. There is literally no book ever written with an audience of everyone.

Not the Bible. Not the Koran. Not the Torah. Not 50 Shades, or Harry Potter, or any other book.

If you think your book is for everyone, you are flat wrong.

In fact, even thinking that your book appeals to a wide audience is probably wrong. There are very few nonfiction books published each year that have an audience of more than even a hundred thousand.

The fact is, the large majority of books are completely unappealing to most people.

And that’s perfectly okay.

Better Frame: The riches are in the niches

Imagine you’re searching for oil. Do you want to dig down only one foot, over ten miles wide? Or do you want to go down ten miles deep into the earth?

Which approach is going to strike oil?

Of course you go ten miles deep and a foot wide with your digging.

A book gives you the same choice, and almost all authors are better off putting their book into the “foot wide, miles deep” category.

Why go niche with your audience instead of broad?

First, it’s very hard to write a book with wide appeal. Even professional writers who sell books for a living don’t try and write overly broad books. They define a clear audience and then go after that audience.

The second reason is that attracting a wide audience doesn’t help you. If you’re like most nonfiction authors (and all of our clients), your goal is to use your book to establish your legacy, impact others, increase your authority, raise your visibility, drive new leads and clients, and possibly get you speaking engagements or other opportunities.

Your book is a marketing tool of sorts, not the product or service you care about selling.

You can absolutely appeal to multiple audiences, but generally speaking, the more audiences you try to reach, the worse your book will perform.

A focused book that appeals to a small audience is much more valuable than a broad subject book that is only marginally appealing to many audiences. This is because broad subjects, like general life advice, tend to not only be well-covered already, but also tend to not be very actionable for people.

Most people read non-fiction because they expect it to provide a positive impact or ROI in their lives. They know it’s specifically for them, and directly actionable for their lives.

Compare this to a book about a broad, general topic, like “how to be happy.” You might think everyone cares about being happy, and that is true to some extent, but unless you are really knowledgeable and already an expert about this subject AND you have an angle that has never been explored, it will be very hard to convince people that your book about happiness—as opposed to the thousands already out there by experts—is the one to read.

Mistake #2: The author doesn’t know why their audience will care

Here’s the most important thing you must remember about your book:

Your audience doesn’t care about your book; they only care what your book GETS THEM.

Readers won’t care about your book if you cannot compellingly explain why it provides value to them.

Think about yourself when you decide whether or not to buy a book. Do you ever care about the author’s goals as a reason for buying the book?

Of course not. You only buy a book if you think that buying this book will help you.

Well, that’s precisely what your audience is going to do when they see your book on a shelf or on Amazon or on their friend’s Facebook page. So you had better be able to answer that question:

Why does your book matter to them?

Better Frame: Imagine teaching someone that pays for your help

If you aren’t sure why your book matters to your audience, then chances are very high you have made your book about you, and have not spent any time thinking about who would read it. It’s a common mistake that many authors make.

So instead, get back to the roots of why this book matters to you, what we talked about in the introduction: how can your knowledge help alleviate the pain and suffering of someone else?

Picture the exact person who you can help most. What would you say to them? How would you teach them what you know? How would that help them? Where would they be after they learned what you knew and applied it?

If you can picture that, then dialing in your audience should be fairly simple.

Mistake #3: Mixing Up Psychographics & Demographics

One of the common mistakes that authors make in targeting their audience is they focus too much on demographics, and not enough on psychographics.

Demographics explain “who” your buyer is, while psychographics explain “why” they buy. To summarize:

Demographics = Who people Are

  • Sex
  • Age
  • Race
  • Marital Status
  • Social Class
  • Income

Example Demographic Information:

  • Female
  • Aged 45-65
  • Married, with children
  • Dealing with issues of weight gain, diabetes, lack of energy or hormonal imbalance
  • Household income $100K+

Psychographics = How people think

  • Emotions
  • Values/Beliefs
  • Attitudes
  • Interests
  • Opinions
  • Tribal/group affiliation

Example Psychographic Information:

  • Concerned with health and appearance
  • Wants a healthy lifestyle, but doesn’t have much time
  • Enjoys going online in the evenings, big fan of Pinterest
  • Tends to favor quality over economy
  • Finds fulfillment in her career and family
  • Values time with a small group of friends

Understanding the difference is important in modern marketing. The reality is that demographic data used to be all you needed to target and understand audiences, because so much of the market fell into predictable patterns based on demographics.

Digital media has exploded consumer options, and made demographics less predictive of human behavior. Now, psychographics work better.

The differences between how people think are now more important in (most) marketing than who they appear to be.

Better Frame: Use Psychographics To Understand Exactly Who You Are Targeting, and Why They Care

When you focus more on psychographics, what you are doing is deeply focusing on the emotions and values and problems of the people you envision your book targeting. Psychographics force you to understand your audience, to “walk a mile in their shoes” metaphorically.

The best authors use both to deeply understand who their audience is, what they want, and why, and once they understand that, they write a book for a small group of people.

This is true even if you want to write a big book that appeals to a bunch of people. To do that, you must start with a small, specific audience. Every book that sells lots of copies starts with Kevin Kelly’s idea of the “1,000 true fans” which is the microtribe that believes in the idea and champions it to others. That small group of people is the launching pad for all famous books.

This is why we always tell authors to focus on the microtribe first.

There’s a famous concept in innovation called “crossing the chasm.” It’s where a product tilts into the mass market. It cannot cross the chasm unless you start with your microtribe of “innovators” and “early adopters.”

The people who believe in your idea and spread it to others are all you should be concerned about at the beginning, because they are the ones who will push your idea into the mainstream. If you truly want to change the world and reach tons of people, this is how you do it.


I’ll give you two examples:

The first one is my own #1 New York Times bestselling book, I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell. That book started as emails to my nine friends from law school. The first half of that book is literally cleaned up emails I sent to my friends. I only cared about making them laugh. It turned out that my friends represented a large group of people, and by making them laugh, I was able to make millions more laugh.

Or how about the Tim Ferriss story of how he launched 4HWW at SXSW. He didn’t try to reach every white-collar worker sitting at home watching the news. He started with the tech crowd that would get super excited and actually implement his ideas. The ones who send hundreds of emails per day. They started using his email signature system he described in the book, and the book caught like wildfire. But he started with a microtribe.

And he did the same thing with defining his audience that we recommended above: define your primary audience as tightly as possible.

He false-started the 4HWW twice because he couldn’t get the tone and voice right (and threw away many draft chapters). He finally decided to write it as an email to two 29-year-old friends of his—exactly the kind of people he thought would benefit from it. He actually opened an email and started typing the book to really hammer home that this book was aimed directly at that very explicit audience.

He believes the discipline of creating a super-specific avatar is what made the book so powerful. It made it authentic and legitimate.

Like I said above, many authors object to this idea, saying, “But I want to write a book for a broad audience.”

Well, Tim goes on to explain that, “The target is not the market.”

It’s a pithier way of explaining that you have to succeed with a core group before you have a chance at a larger audience. Before you can help them get clear on what they are doing and for whom.

This is why it’s so important to not only nail your audience, but to make that audience very tight and specific.

Determine Your Audience

Audience Question #1: Who Is Your Primary Audience?

We recommend starting with the smallest possible audience you must reach to make your book successful. For most authors, the smaller the better. Your total audience is a series of concentric circles; the primary audience is the bullseye.

When I say small and niche, I mean literally ask yourself, “Who makes up the smallest group of people that my book is specifically designed to reach and influence?”

By starting small, you can ensure that your book will definitely reach SOMEONE. This niche focus ensures that your audience will get excited about your ideas, they will implement your ideas, and they will share your ideas with their peers. Anyone who doesn’t meet those criteria is not in your microtribe.

The audience you need to reach is directly tied to the results you want, and you can reverse engineer precisely who your audience is by understanding who needs to know about your book to make your results happen.

This process is no more complicated than asking yourself a very basic question:

“Who MUST know about my book in order for it to get the results I want?”

This is results for the reader and for you.

For example, if your objective is to help oil and gas executives make better decisions about where to drill, and you want to speak at a major oil and gas conferences and become the expert in this space, then your audience is the people who book the speakers for that specific conference (and the executives who attend).

If your objective is to help CTO’s recruit engineers better, and raise your authority in the CTO space to get clients for your CTO recruiting business that caters to small-to-midsize companies, then chief technology officers from SMBs are your primary audience.

If you want to help people deal with their back pain and get visibility in your community to drive clients to your chiropractic practice, then your audience are the people in your community with the health problems that you can address.

Pretty simple.

“Chiropractors who own their own practices, looking for better ways to market their business.”
“Accredited investors looking for how to get into wine as an investment.”
“Women executives, aged 30-45, who want to have kids but don’t want to compromise their career.”

“Women 20-70, suffering, that want to feel better.”
“Any executive who wants to be a better leader.”
“Young men and women looking for something more in life.”

How Can You Talk To Different Audiences With One Book?

You can do this, but it’s complicated. Basically, the only way you can talk to multiple audiences is if:

  1. They tightly overlap. For example, nurses who want to be entrepreneurs, and nurses who want to start a medical practice are different audiences, but they overlap very much.
  2. They have the same concern or problem you are solving. For example, people with sleep problems and people with energy issues are different audiences, but if they are both caused by the same thing (a thyroid issue, for example), then they are very different audiences who have the same problem.

You can have a few different sets of primary audiences, just make sure if you do, they connect in a very obvious way.

Audience Question #2: Describe a typical person in your Primary Audience (an avatar). What are they like?

This person is literally who you’re writing the book for. They are your perfect reader.

This should be a description of a specific person in your primary audience. It can be a real person who is representative of your audience, or it can be a made-up composite of several different people.

It’s essential that you describe a specific person, as it makes positioning your book more real. Don’t describe a group or a type or a set of characteristics: create an individual with a name and a story.

The point of doing it this way is to set you up for the next two questions, which are about digging into your audience’s pain and the benefits they will get from reading your book. Clearly understanding both serves as a yardstick against which you can measure the value of your content when you begin writing.

If possible, pick someone who energizes you—either a real person or a composite of real people. Someone you really want to help, maybe someone who reminds you of yourself before you knew everything you know now (the “younger you” can be a great ideal reader). The more you envision a real person who you can help, the more excited you will be about writing this book for them.

Audience Question #3: What pain is this person experiencing because they have not read your book?

This step is about expressing your reader’s pain. How are they suffering, what are they missing out on, what do they not have that they want? They are depressed and suffering—how, specifically, and why?

Your answer should only be about the problems they currently have, not the solutions. Your book is the cure, but we first have to know what ails them.

Sometimes Questions 3 and 4 overlap a little, that is fine. In fact, you might have written the pain in the description of the person, if so, just cut and paste and move it here.

Audience Question #4: What benefit will they get because they read and implement your book?

Once this person reads your book and implements your ideas, what happens? Do they only stop experiencing the pain described above, do they get more benefits, or both? What good things will happen as a result of reading your book and implementing your ideas?

Most important, what changes or transformation occurs in their life? What is their new life like?

Examples (all from real books)

Example 1: Jennifer, Advance Practice Nurse

Who Is Your Primary Audience? (the microtribe your book must reach to achieve its objectives)
Advanced practice nurses interested in starting a healthcare practice
Describe a typical person in your Primary Audience (an avatar). What are they like?
Jennifer is an advanced practice nurse who currently works for a physician, hospital, or large practice. She doesn’t make as much money as she feels that she should, and she works long hours that take her away from her family.

In order to meet volume quotas and stay on schedule, Jennifer isn’t able to spend much time with her patients. This makes her feel rushed and stressed. She worries that she may be missing things or not providing the quality of care that would be possible if she had more time. Further, she’s not able to practice the type of preventative, relationship-based care that fuels her soul.

She is afraid of leaving the security of her current position, but isn’t sure she wants to keep practicing nursing if she doesn’t make a change. She wants to start her own practice, but doesn’t know where to start or what to do. She is looking for guidance and permission, but hasn’t found a book, resource, or mentor to help her.
What pain are they experiencing because they've not read your book?
Jennifer feels stressed and rushed at her current job. She is unhappy, unfulfilled, and has considered leaving nursing completely.

She is afraid of starting her own practice because she doesn’t know where to start or what to do. She’s afraid she’ll fail. She’s afraid she won’t make any money. She’s a nurse, not an entrepreneur! She isn’t sure if she’s doing things right, which is scary because she likes to follow the rules. All of this uncertainty means it’s taking Jennifer a lot longer than it should to start her practice, leaving her in her current job where she is unhappy.
What benefit will they get because they read and implement your book?
Jennifer will get a step-by-step guide to start her own practice. The process is no longer mysterious. It now seems achievable. She now knows the applicable laws and regulations, so she has peace of mind knowing she won’t be breaking any rules.

With a roadmap and examples of other APNs who have succeeded, Jennifer now has the confidence and permission to start her own practice.

Jennifer is less afraid of failure by she has strategies to mitigate the risk of starting a business.

Jennifer is now fast-tracked to get what she really wants—a better lifestyle (more time to take care of herself, flexibility to be available for family and/or friends); the freedom and autonomy to practice the type of medicine she loves, the ability to benefit from the fruits of her hard labor, and recognition as a leader in her community.

Example 2: Harold, CMO

Who Is Your Primary Audience? (the microtribe your book must reach to achieve its objectives)
Small to medium business owners (approx. $2 million to $100 million in revenue), or marketing leadership (Directors, CMOs, etc.) in large organizations who are tired of paying out too much for bad results from conventional digital marketing agencies.
Describe a typical person in your Primary Audience (an avatar). What are they like?
Harold is 50 years old and the CMO of his large regional insurance company. He has always relied on outsourcing his digital marketing and advertising because, “This is how we’ve always done things.”
What pain are they experiencing because they've not read your book?
The agencies he’s hired in the past consistently overcharged and under-delivered. Though this worked a decade ago, with competition increasing, it no longer cuts it. He has tried most of the agencies he can find, and they all do about the same. He wants to find an alternative, but has no idea where to look. He’s also heard much about AI and automation and the uncertainty about a changing agency landscape. Declining revenues are creating a significant amount of stress in his life.
What benefit will they get because they read and implement your book?
After reading this book, he will know exactly how to evaluate and assess all the different digital agencies and options, and better understand and negotiate with them for their services. He will learn how to change, adapt, and innovate his marketing strategy by learning the right ways to invest in digital marketing, which will help him grow the other areas of his business as well. He will now also know of a new option where he can take his business: political digital agencies.

Example 3: Victoria, Senior Executive

Who Is Your Primary Audience? (the microtribe your book must reach to achieve its objectives)
C-Suite and high-level executives in Fortune 500 companies that are responsible for and/or anxious about digital transformation and technology strategy for their companies, and who are seeking guidance, input, and inspiration.
Describe a typical person in your Primary Audience (an avatar). What are they like?
Victoria is a high-flying senior executive for a global financial services organization and she has been tasked with leading her company’s multimillion dollar digital transformation strategy.

She cannot afford to fail. She knows the company well and has worked hard to achieve success over her 25-year career, and she is both excited and nervous by this new responsibility.

She has been a rising star throughout her career, always having great success with the roles and projects that she has been given, and she jumped at the chance to take on this new responsibility six months ago, but it now feels like a bit of a poisoned chalice.

Every day, she reads about new companies coming into the market and disrupting it, and she feels enormous pressure to make progress with her plan, but doesn’t know where to start or what to do.
What pain are they experiencing because they've not read your book?
Victoria feels exposed and lonely, because there is no one in her organization that she can turn to, but she knows that she needs to make some changes.

She is also overwhelmed by the huge volume of material in the marketplace that warns companies that they have to engage in digital transformation or risk being wiped out, but which provides very little tangible help in doing so.

She has nightmares that her company will be the next ‘“Blockbuster,” wiped out by the Financial Services equivalent of Netflix and that it will happen on her watch and that she will be considered a failure.

Some of her peers within the company are pushing back hard on the changes that she is proposing, and waging a political war against her to keep her off their turf. The ideas that she has developed about new products and experiences for customers are being shot down by the Head of Marketing and the Head of Retail Banking, both of whom think that they should be driving the digital agenda. They are actively trying to undermine her and make her look bad and it is starting to feel like Game of Thrones.

In the industry, people are not sharing knowledge because they are all feeling under pressure and it adds to her sense of isolation and paranoia. Some of her best people are leaving to join new companies, and she would be tempted to do the same, but these startups don’t want someone as old as her.

In her last presentation to the board, the directors didn’t seem to understand or support the approach that she proposed, and it feels to her like resistance is crystallizing. She was asked to lead the digital transformation for the organization, but now she isn’t given the resources or the support that she needs.

She is starting to feel like she is in a lose-lose situation that could threaten her future with the company, and her career—she feels like she is working with dinosaurs.

She is starting to feel that her team are losing faith in her because they are getting a strong, clear strategy from her. She knows that this is a great opportunity for her, but she just cannot quite come up with a path to success.

Because she doesn’t want to talk too widely about it, she is starting to withdraw from the rest of the organization, and it’s exacerbating her situation.

What benefit will they get because they read and implement your book?
When reading my book, she will immediately recognize her situation and feel a sense of relief that the things that she is experiencing are not specific or personal to her, but something that many executives are going through.

The case studies and examples of other organizations and executives that have been through similar journeys will highlight their successes and failures, and draw out lessons that are useful to her.

It also will provide her with some tools and techniques for handling the issues that she is facing, including a “six-point roadmap” for creating a strategy and plan that will be successful.

Example 4: Example 4: Jenny, Independent Entrepreneur

Describe a typical person in your Primary Audience (an avatar). What are they like?
Jenny works every single day as a consultant in her independent business. In between taking care of her children, she is taking care of her clients.

She is staying up late at night to make sure the work gets done, waking up exhausted each morning, and can’t seem to increase her income no matter what she does.

When something happens in the family, she is the only one holding it all together.

She feels guilty because she loves her business and she loves her children and her husband, but two always seems to suffer when she spends time with the other. She feels like she not only can’t get ahead, she can’t even get balanced.
What pain are they experiencing because they've not read your book?
Nothing is working. She is frustrated, physically tired, she’s in the worst shape of life, and she avoids looking in the mirror and wears bigger clothes to avoid seeing this fact. Her marriage is crumbling, she hasn’t had sex in months, and she feels unsupported, unseen and unloved. Her children are acting out at school and home, which only adds to her physical toll and frustration/fear.

She’s exhausted, she’s frustrated, she’s resentful, she’s angry, and she feels guilty because she can’t be present with her children and family—although that is WHY she decided to start her business to begin with.

She feels like she is completely failing everyone around her, and they are failing her.

She’s afraid to try something different because she is afraid of people not understanding, judging her and abandoning her, leaving her feeling more alone than she already does now.

What benefit will they get because they read and implement your book?
Jenny receives the tool-kit to overcome her fears, frustration, guilt, shame, and anger.

She understands who she is on a genetic level, which gets her self-awareness, self-acceptance, and then love of self.

She will understand how crucial her happiness is to the happiness of everyone around her, and how her suffering contributes to the suffering of those around her.

She will understand how to center herself, how to make herself the priority, how to take care of herself physically, and why having amazing sex and allowing herself TO BE supported actually strengthens her relationships.

And even in the moments it does not feel like it, she can look around and recognize how everything has brought her to this moment and she knows she can handle it and that she’s never truly alone.

Most importantly she realizes suffering does not equal love.

She will also understand her children and husband on a genetic level, and help them do the same. She will love and accept and them for exactly who they are, not who she thinks they can/should be, which releases the tyranny of expectation. This allows her to build a partnership with her children and husband, and release herself from the pressure of PARENTING—which is true freedom as a Mother.