2: Who are you writing your book for?
In episode 2 of The Right Book Project podcast, we examine why it’s so important to think about WHO you’re writing your book for, who’s going to read your book and why they’ll want to – before you even begin writing!
Discover reader personas; how to use your knowledge of your existing business to identify your target market; and how taking time to get the ‘who’ question right, right from the start, will help you craft a better, more authentic and much more successful book that really connects with your readers.
with thanks to Dave Harries of CommunicateTV: www.communicatetv.co.uk
Dave Harries: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Right Book Project, a Right Book Company radio production. My name is Dave Harries and I’m here with my co-presenter, Sue Richardson, to explore the whys and wherefores of book publishing and how writing a book can enhance your business and personal profile. Sue is a publishing expert who’s been in the book business for many years and has written her own book – The Authority Guide to Publishing Your Business Book. She’s the director of SRA Books and The Right Book Company and has helped hundreds of professionals, entrepreneurs, experts and thought leaders boost their businesses and profiles with game-changing books. This podcast is all about you and your journey to writing a book. So, please get involved by joining our Facebook group, The Right Book Project, or tweet @therightbookco. You’ll find notes, links, recordings and transcripts of these podcasts on therightbookcompany.com. So, on today’s podcast we’re going to explore ‘who’. In other words, who you’re writing for. That, Sue, on the face of it, might seem like an odd question because to those of us who haven’t published a book yet, we might think: Well, anybody can read my book. It’s a marvellous book. I want the whole world to read it. And what’s wrong with that?
Sue Richardson: [00:01:15] Yes, it’s very tempting to feel that you’re writing a book for absolutely everybody. But the truth is that, that makes for potentially a difficult project for you. It’s difficult to write a book for everybody. It’s difficult in terms of marketing the book, for a start, because everybody doesn’t know who they are. So, like with any product that you have to sell, that needs to find a market, you need to know what that market is, you need to know who you are writing your book for. So that they recognise themselves in whatever positioning you give it. So, when you start to actually put the book out in the world,”Where is it going to land?” Is a very, very good question. And who is it that you need to be helping? Who do you need to be serving? There are two bits to this question, I think, Dave. One is, who does the book serve? And are they the same as your target customer for your business? That’s an important thing. Quite often you will find they will be. But again, like we always say, everybody’s different; and when you create your strategy for writing and publishing a book, it’s important to really think about how this fits with the ‘why’ that we talked about before. So, who is it that you need to be serving? Who is it you need to be influencing? Is a very important key decision, a key thing that you need to decide. If you, for instance, were, as an expert, deciding you wanted to really grow your profile as a speaker, you might decide that you want that book to be landing on the desks of very important people in big organisations, who you feel you can help as a speaker. So, who do you need to influence with your book and who do you need to serve with your book? Those are the two things that you need to think about.
Dave Harries: [00:03:41] Okay, so, again, as we talked about in our previous episode, where we were talking about the ‘why’, there are great parallels with business here and if you’re, sort of, in business or you run a business, that’s potentially helpful because you cannot just sell your product or service to everybody. And it’s the same with a book. That’s what you’re saying, you’ve got to identify some sort of segment, some sort of market, if you like, if I can put it that way. It’s not the best way to put it, but that’s important. And that, in the end, will help you to write a better and probably more focused book as well, I would imagine. So, let’s talk a little bit about that then and how we go about identifying the ‘who’. You know, is there a process we can go through that is helpful with that; or should we just know?
Sue Richardson: [00:04:35] One of the things that you need to do, is you need to identify this business of whether the reader is the same person as your customer in your business. And quite often, I think we can assume that that will be the case. So, if that is the case, what do you know about your customers? What is it that you do for your customers? What are the kinds of questions that people ask you? All of this is so helpful in terms of knowing what to put in your book. So, if you have…and actually in some ways it’s almost true to say that you can exploit a particular niche, in this instance, very nicely. So, some people say to me, for instance, the market for my book is huge. I want to be a massive best seller on Amazon and I want the book to sell millions of copies all over the world. Well, that’s great. It’s a very tall order. The most successful people that I’ve come across have been people who’ve done almost the opposite of that. They may have even brought it down to a shortlist of 10 CEOs, or a very specific industry or somewhere where they want to be able to move their business in to, order to solve the problems of that particular group of people.
Dave Harries: [00:06:23] Okay, so before we…I’m going to, again, get you to give me an example in a minute of how that works in practice from your experience. But before we do that, could I just ask you about something called a reader persona which I read about in your book, and which kind of made sense to me. So, would you mind talking us through that aspect of it and how that can help in identifying reader persona and the things that you can do which will help you build up that picture, if you like, build up this ideal reader.
Sue Richardson: [00:06:59] Yeah, I think the reader persona is a very useful tool in two ways. One is because of this business of understanding. Going back to our premise that there is no point in creating a book for your business without having created the strategy, the understanding of what it is that you want to achieve and how you’re going to do it, is incredibly important in the first place. So, this understanding of your target market becomes a part of that. Literally, who’s going to buy the book becomes very important. Who is going to be influenced by the book? Where do you want the book to land? All of those things. But also, this is something that you can use as a guide, as a help, to help you write the book. So, there are two things the reader persona does these two things. It helps you to know what to put in your book. And it helps you to know how to sell your book to the people that you want to serve. So, those two things. And the what to put in your book is really helped by being very clear in your mind about who it is that needs it.
Dave Harries: [00:08:17] And how you’re going to help them.
Sue Richardson: [00:08:18] And how you’re going to help them.
Dave Harries: [00:08:19] So, what are their, you mentioned before, what their questions are, but what are their pain points, if you like? Same rules as business, of course, identifying that pain and how you can help them solve it.
Sue Richardson: [00:08:29] Exactly. What are the questions they have? What are the problems that need solving? How can you solve it? And you can go as far as going and asking them. But I recommend creating this reader persona. It might be based on a client; quite often when I’ve done this work, I’ve done it very much with real clients in mind. Real authors that I’ve worked with. I might even have, perhaps, two or three of them kind of merge into one persona. And I’ve gone into quite a lot of detail. So, you know, where do they live? How many kids do they have? What kind of car do they drive? What kind of newspaper do they read? Do they read a newspaper? What age are they? Obviously, all of those things. But what are…you know, it’s, in a way, it’s a bit of fun because I’m creating a character. So, I’ve got this character and then I then can say: So, what are their challenges in business? What is it that’s going on for them that’s really tricky, that I know I can help them with? And then I can put the things in the book that I know that, they’re going to serve them. But also, while I’m writing, I can sit them down next to me and I can hear them saying: Oh, you know, I’ve had this happen and that happen, and this is what is going on in my mind. What do I do about this? What do I do about that? It helps me to create an engaging style, a tone, that, again that wonderful word that you use a lot, Dave, and it’s very important; an authentic place to be. A place where I am genuinely wanting to help somebody. I’m not just pontificating or announcing my philosophy. I’m actually in the room with someone, albeit that they’re my imaginary friend at that stage, but even so, I know who they are. I know what they need from me and I can talk to them as if they’re really in the room.
Dave Harries: [00:10:30] And I’m really interested that you mention tone and style there, because that business of engaging your reader is obviously going to be important isn’t it? And because you’ve got to, there’s no point in writing a sort of academic tome if it’s aimed at people who simply don’t talk that way; or speak that way; or read that sort of thing, because they’re going to be turned off by that, presumably. So, I suppose…but I mean, in a sense, you’ve got to write what you are; you’ve got to write authentically; to use my favourite word again. But so, you can’t pretend to be something you’re not, to write in a cockney accent as it were, if you’re from deepest Sussex. But at the same time, having identified the reader you’ve got to be presumably aware of the way they communicate and the way they’re going to expect to be communicated to. Or am I over-egging it there?
Sue Richardson: [00:11:27] I think that’s right. Although you know, I think you need to be a little bit careful because I think there’s a point where you might, if you’re trying to please too much a very specific person, there is potentially a danger that you might exclude others. So, although I’m very keen on us getting very clear about who it is that we’re writing for, I think the reader persona is a very useful tool, but I think one needs to also remember, that you need to, kind of almost, back off a little bit at the level of…okay, I might create Gloria who is 52 and has just become a grandmother and drives a Porsche and I don’t know…
Dave Harries: [00:12:22] I know her.
Sue Richardson: [00:12:22] You do? Right, yes, she lives just near you. So, all of those things that you might create, now that reader persona might be perfect because you are a company that’s selling, I don’t know, skincare products, for instance. And Gloria is someone who’s going to pop into the spa and see your beautiful, illustrated book on the shelf and want it. And that, you see, that’s an example of where a reader persona can be really spot-on, because Gloria is perfect. But if you were, say, a leadership coach, you may have a fairly tight niche of particular people that you work with. Maybe you specialise in some industry, some sector of industry. But actually that, for instance, maybe they’re in the food business or you know whatever it is. But actually, is everything that you want to do in your strategy connected to the food business? And does it have to be directed at those specific people? Or is it actually more that you create the reader persona, which helps you see a typical leader, helps you engage with somebody who you feel that you know while you’re writing the book, but actually will be relevant to a slightly wider market? These are the things that need to come out of the strategy work that you do; that need to come out of the ‘why’ work that you do; so, all of this comes back to where are you going, what do you want to achieve? What is the destination? What is the outcome for the business that you want in order to really then get specific about the ‘who’?
Dave Harries: [00:14:21] Okay, so just to just to recap; the reader persona is extremely useful. It’s something that…it’s an exercise that’s worth doing. You can get very specific with the reader persona, but you might have to back off a bit, because there’s a danger that, if you get too specific, you might start to exclude some of what would be a natural target audience for you. So, you kind of have to take it with a pinch of salt, I suppose.
Sue Richardson: [00:14:45] I think, again, it comes back to it being different for everybody. It depends on you; it depends on your business; it depends on your target market; it depends on where you’re trying to go with this.
Dave Harries: [00:14:57] All right. So, let’s…sorry I interrupted you there. Let’s talk about real examples, real life examples of where a person has identified a target and successfully written a book for that target, and it’s worked, so that we can see it in action. So, give me an example of that.
Sue Richardson: [00:15:18] Yeah, there’s a great example of this actually which is a very, very fast-growing technology company led by the wonderful Fiona Hudson-Kelly. Her company is, they are in the education sector and they’re a tech company, and they’ve gone in a very short space of time…they’ve grown, she’s grown that company very quickly. And she told me that, without any doubt, she said that the book has been the greatest lead-generator that she has ever known. It’s been the most effective tool for sales and marketing. Now, interestingly, we distribute that book to the book trade, and I’d say, we’ve sold a handful. So, how has that happened? You know, people assume that a successful book must be one that you’ve sold squillions of them. Very nice, if you do. But actually, the truth is that book was very specifically and strategically written. It’s a very good book. It’s called Survival of the Smartest: Entrepreneurial strategies for today’s college leaders. Therein lies the clue. She wrote it very specifically for heads of FE colleges.
Dave Harries: [00:16:47] And there can’t be that many of them. It’s not a huge audience.
Sue Richardson: [00:16:51] Indeed. Now, and it has had massive success, huge impact on her business. You know, it’s an amazing thing to see that, by clearly picking out the needs of one tiny group of people, you can exponentially grow a business.
Dave Harries: [00:17:11] And I suppose the point there is that Fiona kind of knew she could help these people. She had the confidence, the passion, the sort of belief that she could make a difference these people. Of course, doing that by just say tweeting about it, or blogging it, or going and knocking on doors, or networking, whatever it is; that’s really hard. It’s an accepted route and it does work, but it’s really hard. Whereas with the book, it’s almost, I was going to say a shortcut, that makes it sound trivial – I don’t mean it to sound trivial – but the book kind of fast-tracked her into the eyeline of these people that she was aiming at, presumably.
Sue Richardson: [00:17:48] Absolutely, absolutely. And the way she did it was actually…again, I mean it’s fantastic how she chose to do it. You know, these big trade shows that people go to and they spend a lot of money on, you know, big stands and that kind of thing? So, she and her company attend one of these big trade shows, at least one of them, there is probably more, but there’s one specific one that I remember we had to get the book out in time for this particular show. And what they do is, she and her team, they have this big stand and they get the organisers of the trade show to put a little coupon in the goodie bags that people get as they walk in to the show. And on this little…and the difficulty that people have at these trade shows is getting people onto the stands. You know, how do you compete with everything that people have to see in a day? So, there’s this little coupon, and it says if you come by stand XYZ to visit Smart Apprentices, we will not only give you a copy of the book, but Fiona will sign it and you will meet her personally. And she has queues of people waiting to get onto the stand, to come and see her, meet her, hear about her products, get a book. Phenomenal. It’s quite a simple strategy; for her, it has been world-changing.
Dave Harries: [00:19:26] And that has got to be one of the tiniest niches that you could almost think of. You know, the college niche. I’m fascinated by that because it is such a minute audience by comparison with what we think of as a book’s audience; the Amazon best seller and all that sort of stuff. And I mean, I don’t know how many colleges leaders there are in this country or indeed, in the world. But it can’t be many. I mean, it must be a few thousand maybe. So, as you say, it wasn’t about selling millions of books, but it was about having a book that was very influential and would therefore drive these people towards her, because she was an expert. That’s a fascinating example. Can you talk a little bit about the issue of geography and where…because I touched on it briefly there, how many college leaders are there in the world, and whether you’re writing your book for an audience, do you have to think about or should we…is it wise to think about it in terms of the worldwide potential? Or is it more sensible and more rational to just think about it in terms of your own local market, because that’s the market you know? That’s the reader persona you know.
Sue Richardson: [00:20:41] Yeah. I think, again it’s difficult. You know, if you are intending to take your business into a global space and you want to use a book to do that. Say you want to go global with your business and you want to use a book to do that, then obviously you’ve got to write a book that’s going to make sense in more places than your local area. And it may be that it’s easier…one of the things that we have to think about, I guess, is how you’re going to do that as well. Because the market…it may be that getting discovered in a particular market might be the best thing to do first; write your book for your local market and look for, maybe, somebody to sell the rights to your book in another country, is one of the ways you could do that. I’m just working at the moment with a Russian publisher, for instance, who’s taken a great interest in one of our authors because he is an expert in advising family businesses. Now, he is already an international business. He’s based in Dubai. He does business in the UK, but he also does business in America and he also does business in the Middle East. But he would love to get into Russia to do some work there. This publisher has definitely recognised that what he talks about and what he writes about is something that’s really key and topical in Russia at the moment. So, we’re hoping that they might do a deal. So, that’s come about because of the book. It’s difficult, isn’t it? There’s an element, I suppose of, there’s a limit to how much you can do. Maybe the way to think about this is to look at the stages of your business and where you’re going with it. If you’re thinking of writing a book that’s all about a market that you don’t know yet, I think that might be a step too far. But on the other hand, if you know that it’s part of your strategy that you want to be in that market in three years’ time, then write a book that you think, maybe, you can sell to a publisher in that market. Just a thought.
Dave Harries: [00:23:02] And presumably there’s issues with translation and things like that. And as you say, getting local book deals and, well, I know you’re off to China soon to a book fair out there in Beijing, I think. So, that could be an interesting thing to do. But I suppose, if I could sum up what I think you’ve been saying, is you’ve got to be realistic about where your book is likely to appeal, and then it may be that you find out well, actually, the Russians are interested in this and maybe somebody will pay for it to be translated and sold over there.
Sue Richardson: [00:23:34] Indeed. So, I think this is the magic of books, Dave, is that as you know, as I bang on and on about; the more strategic you are, the more of a business case you make for doing a book, the better the results will be. But then magic happens on top; unexpected things happen with books. I didn’t expect, even six months ago, that I would be going out to Beijing to sell rights to my books out there. That just wasn’t on my radar. But here I am, you know, doing that very thing. And it is extraordinary. It’s a very…it’s a lovely world, the world of books, because it opens doors and it might, it could be that we know which way we’re going, and we know which doors we want to push on and we know that the book will help us to open those doors. But the other bit of magic is that, if we do it right, we will suddenly come across doors that are opened for us that we didn’t even know were there.
Dave Harries: [00:24:37] Yeah, and that’s fantastic isn’t it? Before we finish today, I’d really like to just touch on how we reach the ‘who’s that we’ve identified. You have alluded to this already with your example of Fiona Hudson-Kelly and being at an exhibition and that sort of thing. But, in general, once you’ve identified that reader persona and your target audience, presumably then you do have to think a little bit about, well, where are they, how do I get to them or what’s the marketing strategy, once the book’s written and sort of thing?
Sue Richardson: [00:25:09] Absolutely and it’s really important. The whole part, the section of reaching the right readers, [is] just as important as any other aspect of creating a book; the writing the book, the publishing the book, the reaching the right readers – all very important. And that third piece is, make a marketing plan, create your marketing plan as soon as you can with your book, and go to where they hang out, go to where your readers hang out. It’s the same as any other product in that way. But also, don’t be shy. I always think that this whole business about who could be influenced by reading your book, don’t be shy, give copies away. When you do your sums at the beginning, and you work out, make sure that you earmark a hundred copies or so or whatever is right for your business. Maybe more. You know, Fiona gives away most of her books and they have had this massive impact. So, think of where to give it to, who to give it to, literally, pop a book in the post to the people on a list that you want to influence. But also, where do the people that are going to purchase your book hang out? You know, are they on social media? And if so, where? Do you need to create a community around your book on Facebook or on LinkedIn? Or have a website for your book? You know, I think almost always, it’s recommended to have a dedicated website for your book. And have a book launch; invite the press; invite your friends; create some noise around your book so that you can alert everybody to the fact that it’s come out or that it’s on its way. So, create a marketing plan – and there is more information in my book on this, and we are blogging about these things as well – so please keep in touch and we will come back to this Dave. We will, there’s no doubt about it. In this episode we’ve barely scratched the surface of the marketing of the book. But there’s a start anyway.
Dave Harries: [00:27:18] Unfortunately that’s all we’ve got time for. We will, as Sue just be returning to this subject and we will be looking at all these things in much more detail over coming episodes. You’ve been listening to the ‘who’ of publishing today. In our previous episode, we talked about the ‘why’ of publishing, so do go back and listen to that if you can, because that’s [a] very important issue, the ‘why’. So, my thanks to my expert co-presenter, Sue Richardson. I’m Dave Harries. And you can get lots more help and advice on writing and publishing your book by joining our Facebook group, The Right Book Project, where you can also leave a comment, ask Sue your questions or give us your ideas for future shows. We’d love to hear from you. You can also visit the website therightbookcompany.com to sign up for Sue’s popular webinars or read her blog. We’ll be back in a fortnight’s time with our next episode. So, please join us then. In the meantime, keep writing.