Understanding Audience: An Author’s Journey

erick mertz author, understanding audience

There was a time, not too long ago, when I believed that an author’s goal was to try and reach everyone. Universal appeal, that seemed to me the objective, writing stories that would touch every reader.

That was, I have since discovered, the proverbial fool’s errand. That belief represented something I desperately needed to unlearn, at the risk the notion of finding success. My first step toward understanding audience was a process of letting go.

No author, regardless of how popular, truly writes a book for everyone.

Understanding Audience Is A Process Of Letting Go

erick mertz, paranormal mystery author

Crack the cover on one of my novels and you will recognize what genre my stories fit into. Set largely in a fictional central Oregon community in the early 1980’s, they are modern mysteries with a strong paranormal flair. Imagine a blend of The X-Files, Unsolved Mysteries and Longmire. That’s what I’ve heard from readers and the comparisons feel apt to me. I love those stories.

When I started marketing my Book Of Witness stories, however, I sought to capture a broader audience. When I looked at my series, I wanted to emphasize a blend of horror and paranormal.

After a few attempts at marketing those stories that way, I ran into a hard reality. Crickets. A lot of disinterested readers. With every newsletter I saw a large number of “unsubscribes”.

I couldn’t figure out why. I absolutely love the horror genre. There were ghosts in my books and that made them a natural fit for paranormal. Something was wrong.

As it turns out, that was me.

I began looking at successful books in my genre. I read many. That process revealed what readers of those other genres responded to. The top ranking horror books were shocking and bloody. My books were more subtle. Paranormal book covers featured handsome bare chested he-devils. Mine did not.

Through that exploratory process, I learned an invaluable lesson. Although my books involved elements of horror and paranormal, they were a better fit elsewhere. They were a better fit in mystery.

A Change In Thinking For The Better

For me, this understanding represented a critical part of my author’s journey. I had to shed, like a cocoon, those old, limiting ways of thinking about where my books would fit in.

When I started writing The Strange Air series, I went in with a grand vision for my project. Every author entertains feelings of grandeur. We need to believe, for at least a little while, in the illusion that what we’re creating will attain those dizzying heights.

If you don’t believe that what you’re sitting down to is great, why start?

I read a lot about book marketing. There are literally thousands of blogs, YouTube videos, podcasts, and Facebook groups devoted to helping authors sell their books. I’m not shy about saying that, in the beginning, I undertook that study with a pretty heavy chip on my shoulder. I had the great idea for a book series. What did they know about how to reach an audience? My books were going to touch everyone.

As it turns out, I was wrong. I couldn’t successfully sell my books without understanding the audience.

What Your Audience Knows (That Maybe You Don’t Yet)

understanding audience, erick mertz, paranormal mystery author

Here is that lesson about understanding audience I chose to ignore: readers are not fools. They know exactly what they like to read. They know what they want in a book. When something does not fit their taste or expectations shows up, they ignore it. Or worse, they read it and leave a negative review.

It isn’t the author that dictates to their audience. The audience dictates what they want to the author.

A humbling reality? Actually, as I continue the process of focusing my author journey through that understanding, I would say that it has been, more than anything, liberating.

Serving your audience comes down to understanding them. That understanding helped me break the shackles. When you learn to look at the ever widening options of book marketing and sales, shedding the pressure filled notion of ubiquity feels utterly divine.

If you write in the paranormal mystery genre… or romance… or fantasy, whatever, you are working in the direct service of those specific audiences. You can surprise them. You can entice them.

By the end of the book, however, you absolutely need to satisfy them.

I haven’t changed what I write. I still write the stories I want to tell. I’ve changed how I look at it’s fit. Understanding audience represents a kind of freedom that comes with recognition.

You don’t have to reach everyone.

My mission, the one I’ve chosen to accept, is to reach my audience. If that is you, I welcome you to join the journey with me. If that is not, however, no hard feelings. Let’s talk about books anyway.

Can I Offer You A Free Book?

erick mertz, paranormal mystery author

I have talked a lot about my books already.

Want to check one out?

I have made the eBook version of the The Strange Air series starter, The Book of Witness, available as a free download.

All you need to do is enter your email.

This collection of thirteen weird tales from Canyon County, Oregon offers a taste of what’s in store for you in this series of paranormal mysteries.

Click this link to get that free book.

emertzUnderstanding Audience: An Author’s Journey

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