Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Hey Writer, Who’s Your Target Audience?

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Hey Writer, Who’s Your Target Audience?

Marketing meetings. Sponsorship confabs. Who doesn’t love them? Outside of providing opportunities for you to figure out some new ways to spread the good word about your product (i.e. book) and generate revenue, these gatherings should also be treated like a point blank opportunity to advance your career pursuits as an author. Outside of most prospective clients asking me, the author of a Drake biography, what the heck he meant when he rapped that he “started from the bottom, now I’m here,” as if solidly middle class kids shouldn’t ever want to ascend to one-percent status (hey, “the bottom” is all relative my friends, especially when one percent of the globe’s population controls almost nearly one half of the planet’s wealth).

The other main line of questioning that usually comes my way revolves around who I think my target audience is. Is it the screaming college-aged girls who shamelessly record Drake cover songs on YouTube? Might it be some parts of the OVO nation, a cultish multi-culti army of people from all walks of life, who one would presume are digitally-inspired and like to march to the beat of their own tweets (and blog posts)? Is it the aging hip hoppers who witnessed their culture grow from being a rebel music, mostly only recorded and enjoyed by inner city youth, to a worldwide phenomenon that’s hit everywhere from Bay Street to the Bridle Path? Does my readership consist of all of the above, or none of the above?

When I’ve asked some authors who their own target audience is, some of them have replied that it’s everyone. And my typical response has been that unless you’ve contributed something to the best-selling book of all time, the Bible — no, it’s not a title from LongPen Lady, silly — convincing yourself that your narrative is for everyone is a great exercise in futility and delusional thinking. Some non-fiction authors who think they are writing for “everyone” oftentimes end up appealing to no one. And to them I say, “good luck recouping that advance!”

Other times authors will tell me that they write for themselves. I don’t have a problem with that either, but the last time I checked, the publishing business was just that — a business. If your prospective readership do not see themselves or their interests reflected anywhere in your titles, or there is no emotional connection made between you and your readers, I don’t think you and the fine folk at BookNet will be building the type of relationship that you might need to be building. Real talk, my speaking gigs come with actual audiences attached to them. So if I’m not engaging them in some shape, form or fashion, there’s no cha-ching (or bling bling in this case, because this is hip hop) happening. Can you dig it?

When I think of authors with a good niche audience, I think of someone like Shani Mootoo. Now, she might not agree that she has a good cult following, or that everyone might dig her work. I think she’s developed a nice following of readers who appreciate her exposition of some cool ideas around Caribbean living, class, race and sexuality, whether you dig her new novel Moving Forward Sideways Like A Crab or not. Case in point. Let’s say you’re Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. You’ve had some unresolved issues around class and race, having been sued for housing discrimination in the past for reportedly not wanting to rent your apartments to low-income Latin Americans because “hispanics just smoke and hang around the building.” You also own a basketball team that is mostly black, but you explicitly state to your female friend (as caught on tape) “not to bring them (black people) to my games.” So then a reasonable individual might opine that the likelihood of you buying a Mootoo novel might be quite slim. Likewise, would University of Toronto academic David “What I teach is guys, serious heterosexual guys” Gilmour be in any rush to teach and/or carry Mootoo’s works in his class, after boldly proclaiming that he’s not into teaching works written by those who are gay, women or of Chinese ethnicity? I think not.

One good example I like to give in relation to cultivating and understanding my own burgeoning readership is that Luddites might not enjoy much of my writing. I typically write using all kinds of techno and contemporary hip hop speak, as do my peers. So when words like hashtag or beatboxer recently got added to the new Merriam Webster and Oxford dictionaries, I privately applauded these decisions, given that I use these terms in my written work. And it kinda means that some parts of my Hip Hop Generation, who have quite literally started from the bottom, are here.

Likewise, for those who are thin skinned or get offended easily, I would implore you to completely bypass my literary contributions to Canadian society. I like my drinks and my words straight, no chaser. And so does my readership apparently. Much in the way how I just not-so subtly implied that Clippers owner Donald Sterling and writer David Gilmour might not be so into Mootoo’s very solid works. If you’re looking for safe, conservative, saccharine views, you might need to go elsewhere.

Lastly, one thing you might to ask yourself is “are you writing for people in Toronto, or for global audiences”? If you take a provincial approach to your writing, you might be limiting your reach and sales potential. I like to say that the world is small and it’s shrinking. Or that it’s a hip hop world, and you’re just living in it. So while I am not opposed to you, Joe / Josephine Writer, making references to obscure streets in south Etobicoke in your prose, I would only hope that these same Etobicoke natives might be willing to spend some dough, when it comes to book launch time, simply because they see themselves in your work,

My point here is that you really need to have some kind of brand or hook that is targeting some particular demographic, or you might have a tough go at it. Not only do I know my target audiences needs well, I’ve even cultivated great relationships with a few of them who’ve bought all five of my titles. Target audiences are cool, but don’t limit yourself or stay stuck in your comfort zone. Try to implement new audience development schemes that incorporate the feedback of those amazing readers you meet at library and bookstore readings, conferences and symposia, or from just schlepping around at Starbucks and/or Second Cup while you’re cranking out your own unique form of literary propaganda on your trusty laptop.

Dalton Higgins is a National Magazine Award-winning journalist and radio and TV broadcaster who blogs and therefore is. His latest book Far From Over: The Music and Life of Drake (ECW Press, Oct. 2012) sheds light on the cultural conditions in Toronto that helped create the Drake phenomenon. His four other books (Fatherhood 4.0, Hip Hop World, Hip Hop, Much Master T) examine the place where the worlds of technology, diversity, hip hop and hipster culture intersect. His daily Daltoganda, musings, rants, jabs, pontifications and fire-and-brimstone blather can be accessed from his digital pulpit on twitter: @daltonhiggins5

Click here to read Dalton's archived articles on Open Book: Toronto.

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