WriteSex Publicity Column: Targeting Your True Audience
Some authors don’t put much thought into who their target reader is—and it’s one of the most important questions in the publishing game! In some cases, authors slave away for years on a genre where the audience is so miniscule that so much time and effort spent writing a novel for that reader is simply bad business. But ultimately, no matter what genre or niche you prefer to focus on, every book will benefit from a good understanding of who will ultimately buy it. Researching your book’s audience(s) is definitely a step you can’t afford to skip.
As important as it is to research your book’s target audience before writing, it’s just as important to research your audience before embarking on a publicity campaign, so you don’t end up wasting time chasing consumers who will never buy your product.
Be Realistic About Your Audience
Too many authors start publicity campaigns with an unhelpful combination of vagueness and overconfidence, imagining a giant throng of people clamoring to buy their books. Most have some nebulous audience profile in mind that includes millions of potential consumers—with erotica writers, this profile is often built on the assumption that any and all erotica is perfect for “people who like sex.” Don’t we all like sex? I think most of us like sex.
Yet, how many male readers “like sex” with a cock in their bum? That’s a subset of the population of “people who like sex”. And while male/male anal sex does not only relate to gay male readers, trying to entice most heterosexual men into buying gay erotica is going to be a fruitless waste of time and money (time and money better spent targeting the many heterosexual women often found flocking to m/m erotica and erotic romance … but more on that later).
The same can be said of authors who specialize in high-end, literary erotica. The type of novels with a fair amount of fetish elements and/or elaborate storytelling involved in the sex scenes … that’s a very specific genre, appreciated by an equally specific audience. Even people who “like sex” may be turned off by long passages describing the room in the scene in excruciating detail.
Hit the Right Target the First Time
Whatever type of sex you portray in your books, you probably have a particular vocabulary with which you like to illustrate it—words that not only describe the physical action in a scene, but which also set a specific tone and mood. So take advantage of that insight when creating press releases, cover art, synopses and blurbs, as well as in your social media and any other forum you use to market your books.
How you word the copy of all your publicity, and your overall image branding, will help your target audience decide whether your books will suit their taste—and you can use this to your advantage in your press releases and other publicity activities. Pay enough attention to the connotative qualities of your verbal and visual language, and your target readers will not only know your book is for them, but will start getting excited about it long before they open it up or click “Look Inside!”
If you are writing “fuck books”, for example, your press releases should contain words that arouse the interest of a hardcore just-get-to-the-sex reader (suck, fuck, cunt, slut …). Remember that those words tend to attract entirely different consumers than those looking for, say, literary or romantic erotica—writers of the latter, on the other hand, should give potential readers an idea that their story contains “sensual explorations of Sapphic desire, embellished with the heated ecstasy of erotic foot worship.” Sure, there’s some language overlap within the books themselves—literary erotica might talk about cunts and sucking; fuck books will describe something as sensual, etc. As a writer, you want to keep your word choice open and interesting. But as a publicist, you want to remember the tone and mood you’re trying to convey at first glance, so stick to the terms that really get to the heart of your genre (or subgenre, or sub-sub …).
The description of the Sapphic desire/foot worship book appeals to a very targeted audience—one who is now aware that this book contains their favorite dynamics and kinks, but who is also aware that your writing style will tend to avoid blunt, fuck-book-esque terms like girl-on-girl sex and foot fetish and, instead, describe things as sensual/ecstatic/erotic. Using the right “keywords” helps you to relate to the person you most expect to pay money for your books. After all, if you have created your stories around your personal likes, you already have a connection to the ultimate buyer for what you are selling. Use that to your advantage, and seek your target consumer where you like to spend your time, using words that you like to see when looking for your own “smut”.
So How Do I Target My Audience?
You can begin to narrow your audience down by asking yourself the following questions:
Which gender(s) am I writing for?
Like it or not, almost all sex novels are marketed—and purchased—at the furthest ends of the gender spectrum: For Women. For Men. If you are presenting an idealized version of sex and romance with sentences like “he approached her jade step, pausing to gently fondle her glistening pearl”, your target audience is probably women. You may be able to sell that book to men, but your target audience is certainly women—and a very wistful, romantic kind of woman at that. Alternately, if you write books that feature rough treatment of sex partners who lack much characterization … “the whore gobbled my jizz like a good cum-dumpster should”, you should probably target male readers. While it’s true some women like rough sex and dirty talk, the male demographic for that type of sexual depiction is still much larger.
Whether you choose to play along with these expectations is up to you, but know the risks and do not expect that your groundbreaking, stereotype-smashing stories of gothic heroines who curse and carouse like sailors will support your writing full-time or enlighten the masses in one glorious fell swoop—if you play your cards right, however, you will find the small-but-enthusiastic segment of readers who love your work and hunger for as much of it as you can write.
It’s also worth considering who your viewpoint characters are. In a hetero story, does the male or female lead end up doing most of the speaking and thinking? In whose head do we spend the most time (though, if the answer is “no one’s”, it’s probably a marketed-to-men kind of story) and which characters are secondary and viewed from outside? Roughly speaking, books marketed to women have primarily female viewpoint characters and vice versa.
Is my writing of interest to a particular orientation, kink or lifestyle?
There are many, many ways to be sexual—and thus many, many erotic genres. From homo- and bisexuals, to swingers, to the myriad kinds of fetishists, to bikers, to bisexual swingers with a biker fetish … and that’s only the tip of the iceberg to consider. Think about the way your target audience spends their time, their typical philosophical or political outlooks, the words they would use in their daily life and any specific sexual activities they would practice. Think about how your stories fit within different groups and eliminate the groups that your writing tone, style and plot don’t fit well with. Once you have the exact reader profile your writing style fits best with, you’ve found your target reader.
You may have the potential to narrow down your reader to lesbians over 50 years of age, with a penchant for leather and Harleys. Good for you! That’s a very specific audience that you can appeal to in a very focused way.
What words “turn on” my target audience?
Fetishists look for words that describe what they are into: feet, shoes, stockings, smoking, masks … the list goes on, but it consists of very specific objects and characteristics. Men who like to read about women being dominated often look for words like humiliated, broken and whore. Gay leather men often look for words like military, rugged and stud. You get the idea. Figure out what words work to get the attention of your target buyer.
How does my target reader describe the way they have sex?
Unless your target audience is very similar to you, spend some time with the type of consumer that you are looking for, learn what words and terms they use for sexual acts. Also pay attention to how they describe themselves by sexual orientation or culture. It will give you a wealth of insider information that will not only make your books more plausible and exciting, but will help you create keywords that you can use to make your product more appealing to a particular consumer. It’s obvious to say “gay sex”, but is that the way a gay person actually describes their sex life to a “breeder”? You won’t be able to answer that unless you do your research.
Is my reader of a specific age?
Some storylines, plots and language will appeal to younger adults, some to a more mature audience. Memories of a World War II fly-boy getting laid in France may get some younger readers, but the majority will be well over 30 and most likely male, depending on what wording is used to describe the ins-and-outs of the story.
Do I have a sub-segment of consumers?
Every type of novel has a main audience, but sometimes there will be cross-over segments and you may want to do two different publicity campaigns, one for the target and one for others that will have an interest, but who but aren’t your main consumer audience. As we’ve stated, for example, gay male erotica sells with both gay men and straight women. So consider using words that attract both audiences in press releases, book covers and book synopses. If you are selling a book titled Billy Kidd and the Long Gun of the Law, using words like rugged, dominant and fisting will more likely appeal to gay men. Using words like romantic, surrender and pursued will likely play better with females. If you do so skillfully, you can combine these terms in a way that appeal to both audiences.
Use Those Questions as a Springboard
Keep asking the above questions (and adding your own!) until you find the perfect reader for whatever genre of literature you are selling. The more details you can attribute to your target consumer, what they are looking for in a a “good read” and what will convince them your books will be better than what is already available, the better. Then you can work on making your publicity campaign much more attractive to that specific buyer.
So Why Am I Doing This Question Thing?
A targeted publicity campaign should be focused on making sure your publicity activities are taking place where the largest concentration of your target audience gathers. For your publicity to be successful in reaching your perfect reader, you have to identify their haunts and learn their habits! I’ll share some secrets on how to find those places—and how to work within them to your advantage—in my next Write-Sex publicity column. Stay tuned!
Do you have specific questions concerning how to generate publicity for your books? Please email questions and comments to Sherry; answers will appear as future WriteSex blog topics.
Sherry Ziegelmeyer is a professional publicist and public relations representative, who happens to specialize in adult entertainment (in all its various forms). She resides in Chatsworth, California, affectionately known as “ground zero of the adult entertainment industry.” When not working on writing press releases, arranging interviews and putting together review kits for her clients (among dozens of other career related activities), she reads a LOT, loves cooking, appreciates beefcake eye-candy, spending time with friends, family and with her assortment of furred and feathered “kids”.
When to Write for Free
Once upon a time, the market for erotic fiction was limited to one or two book publishers, occasional anthologies looking for new material, and the odd newsstand porn magazine. These days, a writer looking to publish has an incredible number of venues to choose from, both online and in hard copy formats. Back in the bad old days, no one had heard of an ebook; now, no one has heard of anything else. Not so long ago, a straightforward, contemporary BDSM novel was a rough sell. Nowadays, you can self-publish multi-volume space operas or sword-and-sorcery sagas in which power exchange is a central theme. Oh, and you can make all your characters anthropomorphic animals, if you want.
But some things never change, even in publishing. Hopeful writers—even in erotica, which is a notably hungry market—are still faced with dozens of new anthologies and zines that supposedly offer terrific exposure…but can’t afford to pay for stories. They’re just starting out, you see. As a matter of fact, they can’t actually afford even to send you a free copy of the issue or book that your story will appear in, should they finally accept it. But the exposure you’ll get by publishing with them is absolutely amazing. It’ll get you noticed by all those editors looking to fill slots in their Years’ Best Anthologies. Besides, a lot of their writers actually refuse payment, insisting on letting them print their work for free…and for exposure.
A friend of mine once responded to a call for materials from one such penniless venture with a hand firmly clasped on a not-to-be-mentioned portion of his anatomy and the growled words, “I got your exposure right here!”
But all kidding aside, it’s a serious question, one that in my opinion doesn’t come up often enough: should a writer, at any level of experience, produce copy for free?
In most cases, the answer is no. Not because there’s a million dollars waiting for that story just around the corner (there probably isn’t) and not because these people are running scams (at least, not necessarily). No, you shouldn’t give these people your stories for free for the same reason you don’t go home, cook a gourmet meal, and then serve it up on card-tables in the middle of your city’s business district. True, there might be some folks down there who could use a free gourmet meal, and might well be grateful for it. More likely, though, your prize-winning bouef bourignon will end up congealed and drawing flies, if not jostled by careless passersby and spilled onto the cold, cold ground.
As far as “exposure” goes, that is, to quote a certain old Kansas gentleman, a very overrated commodity. True, in the early days of the e-publishing boom, editors were cherrypicking writers off of Literotica and other free sites like nobody’s business. Today, not so much.
There are cases in which publishing with a “for copies” venue might actually make sense. The big one is if the publisher in question has a reputation. I’m talking specifically about a reputation for putting out quality material, of course, but a reputation for controversy might actually work in your favor as well—always assuming it’s not the kind of controversy that gets your windows broken. I’m sure I don’t need to point out that researching a publisher’s reputation isn’t particularly difficult. Even if they’ve only put out one issue, or a very few books, there may be some reviews and other material about them that you can check out online. Remember that Google is your friend in these cases.
If the publisher’s project regularly includes well-known writers on its Table of Contents, that’s another big plus. Such a publisher is going to draw readers much more readily than your average “We don’t have any money now, gang, but boy oh boy, just you wait…” outfit. Those readers will then have a chance to read your story as well as the work of the more famous guys.
But let’s say this really is a small-time operation, with plenty of dreams and moxie, but not much mileage yet. No famous writers in their stable, no juicy scandals, no hip street-cred. Is there any reason at all to write for them?
I can think of one: if they’re excited about an unconventional story that you really believe in and want to see published, but which hasn’t lit any fires with other editors. And if all indications are that they’ll publish it well and respectfully.
If, on the other hand, they’re not exciting any comments or (apparently) garnering any readers; if they look like they’re just sitting there, then it’s probably safe to give them a pass. And if all this advice sounds self-serving and a little cold-blooded, well, you’re not the one trying to get people to give you perfectly good copy for free, now are you?