There are three cringe-worthy statements when authors explain “who” will read their book:
“My book will appeal to both men and women, ages 10—100. Everyone will love it!”
“It’s the next [insert mega-selling international franchise here].”
“My book is completely unique. There’s absolutely nothing like it out there, there never has been, and there never will be.”
The fact is, the book that “everyone” loves does not exist, and never will. The only book that ages 10-100 are even potentially cracking open in the United States is the Bible (if that)—not exactly a great comp title for a new thriller. The misconception that everyone will love a book (or that it’s so unique that it’s completely dissimilar from books that are being read right now) can actually damage how authors understand and approach readers, and ultimately it can damage their sales.
The good news is that you do have a readership out there, and you can reach them if you identify them correctly. Here are some steps authors can take to understand and reach their real readers:
Identify your target demographic—really identify them. When I worked as an editor and wanted to acquire a book for my publishing house, I had to be very specific in identifying the book’s readership if I wanted to “sell” it to our team. For example, if I wanted to acquire a book about healthy living, explaining to the team that it will appeal to “women aged 18-50” isn’t realistic or useful. Saying it’s perfect for women aged 22-35, urban, physically active, interested in fitness and healthy eating habits, who probably shop organic is more accurate; we can research what these women read, and strategize how best to reach them. Your readers are out there, and the more you understand them, the better you’ll be able to approach them.
Choose good—and realistic—comp titles. Comparative or “comp” titles can do a lot of the heavy lifting when you’re pitching your book to an agent or publisher, writing a synopsis, or just trying to explain the premise to a friend. Publishers do it all the time when writing sales copy: “Fans of The Lunar Chronicles will love [this new book]” and “It’s the next read for fans of Eleanor and Park and The Spectacular Now.”
Be realistic when choosing three or four comp titles. Just because your novel has magic in it doesn’t mean it’s the next Harry Potter. Just because it’s a nonfiction memoir about a teen with cancer doesn’t mean it will appeal to fans of The Fault in Our Stars. While it would be amazing if your book really was the next literary phenomenon, picking comp titles just because they’re popular or have a thin connection to your book isn’t realistic—and can actually lead you to overlook books that are truly similar to yours, and are already garnering fans who would pick up your book when it hits shelves.
Also, if the comp title or franchise is older than three years, it’s outdated. With over three million books coming out every year, there’s always something new on the market. Once you’ve successfully identified your demographic, do some research and find out what they’re reading right now, and choose titles that accurately compare to yours.
With a little brainstorming and research, authors can more accurately identify and approach their target market, which can truly make all the difference in how a book is sold, read, and enjoyed!