When you write a letter or email to somebody, you always know who you’re writing to and why. But you’d be surprised how many people write a book without considering these questions. It’s a big reason 10%-35% of books get returned to the publisher unsold and unread. If you want your book to be read, before you write it, you should have clear answers to the questions:

  • Who am I writing to?
  • Why would they want to read what I write instead of doing something else with their time?

You can answer both questions at once if you realize that the reason people will read your book is if you’re offering something they need. When you factor this in, you can answer both questions at once using this formula:

I am writing to people who need X.

But how do you find what X is? And where do you find people who need X?

Finding Your Audience

To answer these questions, it helps to bear in mind how you’re going to be promoting your book later. The channels you’ll be using to promote your book will determine who will be reading it–who your prospects are. This in turn will determine what those prospects need.

Promotion is a separate topic covered in more detail elsewhere on this site and in our book Publishing for Publicity, but for now let’s consider it as it impacts marketing. Where are you going to find prospects who will want to read your book? There are various possible sources, including:

  • Your existing and past customers.
  • Customers of your joint venture partners.
  • Customers of your competitors.
  • Readers of traditional and online publications and information products in your field, such as articles, newsletters, books, audios, and videos.
  • Attendees of your speeches, seminars, and training programs.
  • Listeners to your interviews.
  • Audiences exposed to your community relations activity.
  • Audiences exposed to your direct mail campaigns.
  • Audiences exposed to your traditional or online ads.
  • Internet users searching on a target keyword or visiting a target website.
  • Mobile phone users.

Which of these prospect sources will be the primary target of your promotional campaign? Focus your market research on the type of source that best represents the audience you will be trying to reach later.

So if you’re looking for more customers similar to your current customers, you might focus your market research on surveying your current customers.

But if you’re planning to promote your book in a traditional or online publication, you should study that publication to understand your market.

If you’re planning to promote your book at your seminars, you might survey your seminar attendees.

If you’re planning to run a direct-mail or ad campaign, you should do some test mailings or ad testing.

If you’re planning to promote yourself online, you might put up a blog and survey visitors.

These illustrate just a few of the ways you can identify your audience by identifying the promotional channels where you intend to contact them.

Finding What Your Audience Needs

Once you’ve found your audience, how do you find out what they need? The best way is to ask.

How you ask them depends again on how you intend to contact them. For instance:

  • If they’re existing customers, you might interview them personally or mail out surveys, ideally with some incentive to encourage their participation.
  • If they’re readers of publications, you can study these publications for clues, such as which article topics are most popular, which ads run most often, and what subjects occupy letters to the editor.
  • If they’re attendees of speaking events, you can ask for a show of hands or pass out surveys.
  • If they’re to be contacted through direct-mail or ads, you can use low-cost methods such as postcards and classified ads to test response.
  • If they’re online, blog surveys work well, and blog and forum comments and frequently asked questions are also informative.

However you contact your audience, you goal is to ask them what they need. A good way to do this is to present a list of up to ten potential book topics and ask them what they’d most like to see covered. If possible, when they answer, follow up by asking them why that topic is important to them and what they would hope to get out of a book about it.

Once you know what your audience needs, you’re in a position to offer to meet that need. But first you should check out what your competition is already doing to meet that need. For more tips on how to do this and see your book through to publication, read the other articles on this site and go to Amazon to check out our book Publishing for Publicity.

Most writers get into the profession because they enjoy reading fiction and writing creatively, but picking up the additional business skill set needed to write for a living can be challenging. Here are seven tips to help you improve the business side of your writing.

Cultivate a Business Writing Mindset

If you’re going to write for a living, you need to start thinking of writing as a business rather than a hobby or a creative art. Think of yourself as a professional providing a skilled service, not an artist. (You can still be an artist on your own time, but when you’re writing for an employer or a client, you’re a hired pen.) Approach writing with a sense of urgency in the realization that it’s a job tied to your livelihood. Pursue your writing goals with the same discipline you would apply to a regular job.

Practice Professional Habits

Writing professionally means practicing professional habits. Set a routine writing schedule with time set aside just as it was work on the clock at a regular job. If you’re a freelancer, you will also need to schedule a certain amount of time per week to promote yourself. Similarly, if you’re looking for a full-time writing job, you can set aside time for job hunting. When prospecting or job hunting, you will meet the greatest success if you set target numbers for how many people you contact per day.

Develop a Business Plan for Your Writing Career

In addition to setting short-term job hunting goals, you can advance your writing career over the long term by developing a business plan for your writing career. Think about what type of writing you’d like to do, how many hours you’d like to work per week, and how much you’d like to make. Develop a plan to build the skills and make the connections and sales you’ll need to achieve your goals. To help you work towards your goals step-by-step, break them down into plans for shorter intervals such as ten years, five years, two years, one year, one quarter, one month, and one week.

Set Profitable Rates

In order to achieve your earnings goals as a writer, you must set your rates high enough to hit your targets. To estimate your target rates, take the amount you’d like to earn per year, convert it into a per-week equivalent, set how many hours you plan to work per week, and use these figures as a basis to calculate what you’ll need to earn per hour to earn as much as you want. This will help you determine what types of jobs you need to target and how much work you’ll need. Determining this will in turn help you estimate how much promotion you’ll need to do to get enough business.

Target Professional Markets

You will earn more revenue per hour if you target the right types of markets. Low-paying jobs for start-up blogs and the like are plentiful, but do not pay very much. You will earn more by focusing on professional markets requiring more specialized skill sets like business correspondence, copywriting, public relations writing, journalism, medical writing, technical writing, educational writing, or writing for government agencies.

Position Yourself in Your Market

Once you’ve picked one or more markets to target, you should think about how to position yourself in your market. What is your specialty? What services do you offer? What industries do you serve? What geographic locations do you serve? What makes you stand out from your competition? Asking these types of questions will help you pinpoint what you should emphasize in your promotional efforts.

Promote Yourself

After you’ve verbalized your promotional message, the next step is to start promoting yourself. You can use many promotional tools, both traditional and online, including word-of-mouth, referrals, public speaking, networking, blogging, social media, email marketing, and direct mail, among others. Whatever methods you use, you should focus on targeting the right market, building a contact list, engaging in promotional activity on a regular basis, and following up with hot leads.

Learn Sales Skills

Once you connect with a potential client, the key to capitalizing on the opportunity pivots on your sales skills. The key to effective sales is not so much being a born salesman but following the steps in the sales process. Two big steps to work on are how you set an appointment to discuss a writing project and how you conduct the appointment. These steps work best over the phone or in person, but can also be done by email or through other media.

It’s important to keep these steps separate so you don’t try to close a sale prematurely before you know what the person needs. Focus on scheduling the appointment first. Agree on a date and time, and follow up with a reminder.

Then during the appointment, focus on asking questions to determine what the person needs and what their project requires. You will find it much easier to close sales if you keep your focus on how you can help the other person with their writing project instead of getting distracted by your own sales anxiety. If you cultivate the mindset that your goal as a professional writer is to serve other people through your writing skills, your sales closing rate will increase significantly, and your writing business will grow.