New Podcast Episode: Dive Into Your Reader Niche With Book Marketing Coach Colleen Riordan

Who is your book for and how can you dive into your niche and find your reader soulmate? Colleen Riordan provides descriptive examples of how authors can target their ideal audience, collaborate with comparative authors, and connect with readers on a deeper level for long-term relationships.

Olivia: Hi, and welcome to this episode of All Things Book Marketing. I’m your host, Olivia McCoy, and today I have special guest Colleen Riordan with me. Colleen is a book marketing coach and the co-creator of Wild Ink Pages, an author website platform, specifically tailored to the needs of busy creatives. With over a decade of marketing experience. She coaches authors on how to use their creativity and passion to market their books. Through Wild Ink Pages, she designs custom author websites and empowers creatives to use their websites, social media, email marketing, and digital tools to create engaged, loyal relationships with their readers. Hi Colleen.

Colleen: Hi there, Olivia. I’m so excited to be here.

Olivia: Thank you for joining us today. We’re excited to talk to you. So tell us a little bit more, I know it’s mentioned in your bio, but tell us a little bit more about what you do at Wild Ink Pages.

Colleen: Absolutely. So, I walked into creating Wild Ink Pages simply because I was spending so much time coaching people on marketing and their websites in particular. It is a challenge, I think, for a lot of authors to kind of jump into that business side when they have put so much emphasis on the creative side for so long. So my focus with Wild Ink Pages is to help people establish their online presence and do it in a way that feels sustainable because they are focused on the things that drew them to writing in the first place. So being able to share their passions and utilizing those things in order to be effective when they are trying to reach their audiences online.

Olivia: Okay, so why is it important to focus book marketing and promotion to a specific audience as opposed to all readers in general?

Colleen: So, this is one of those things, when it comes to marketing books, a lot of times, and I’m sure you’ve heard this as well,  an author will say to me, “My book is for everyone. It could be somebody who is five years old. It could be somebody who is 90 years old. My book is something that everyone will love,” and the reality is that might be true in the long run, but when you are starting out your book marketing, you have to first convince your initial reader group to pay attention to your book, to read your book. And it takes a lot more effort to convince someone who doesn’t like to read to pick up a book in general. You know, it takes more effort to get somebody who enjoys carpentry and woodworking to read a book that is YA fantasy. So, trying to target everyone means that you end up making your marketing really bland and generic and you lose the essence of what makes your book special when you are trying to win people over. So finding your specific audience, your reader niche, is really about first identifying who is the audience who is most likely to adore your book. Because once you can win them over, you can utilize that audience to grow and expand from there. But you always want to start with a specific audience first. So, I kind of think of it like a bullseye, at the very center is your reader soulmate. The reader soulmate is the person who doesn’t just love your book, but they’re giving it five stars, they’re recommending it to everyone. They give a special place on their bookshelf,  they’re the person who when you win them over, that’s your niche audience, that’s the target that you were first starting with. After you first won them over, then you can expand to related audiences because not only have you learned how to appropriately pitch your book the first time around, but now when you’re reaching out to new audiences, you have a whole group of reader soulmates who are on your side who want to help you spread the word about the book to their friends. So in the long run, your audience is going to be continuing to grow with related audiences, but you want to start small.

Olivia: I think it was Samantha Ricchiuti in a previous episode that said, if your book is for everyone, then your book is for no one, for that exact same reason that you have to dilute the information so much to make sure that it interests everyone.

Colleen: Absolutely. I mean, a great example of this is Atomic Habits from James Clear, you know, New York Times bestselling book. It’s about habits. This is a topic that I think appeals to most people, but the book isn’t necessarily for everyone. We might all have habits that we want to change, but where you’re at in your journey means that you might be more likely or less likely to want to read a book about it. So for him, for his first audience, he was really focused on who are the people who are already interested in self-improvement, who have already identified that they have problems with their habits and they want to change them. So by first targeting those readers, he’s able to convert them and then they’re telling people who are telling people who are telling people. And so it helps to expand your audience, but instead of trying to target everybody because we all have habits, he’s focused in first on who are people who are interested in identifying and targeting problems that they already have with their habits.

Olivia: That’s a really good example. I hadn’t thought of that one. How can authors identify their niche audience and where do they reach them then once they know who they are?

Colleen: Sure. So I  always like to think about, when you’re trying to identify who your niche audience is,  you want to look at what are the topics, the themes, and the tropes that are going to draw readers to your book. So, why do they want to read your book right now? What desire, what need is it filling for them? And the more specific you can be, the better. So romance does a fantastic job of this. I mean, all of the other genres could take a page from their book.

Olivia: They’re my favorite genre. I actually mentioned that last time that they’re ahead of the game. Almost always.

Colleen: Yes, always! I mean, they do such a fantastic job of targeting their readers. They have sub-genres that are based on the level of spiciness, based on whether it’s fantasy or contemporary or realistic. They have things that are based on the time period that it takes place in.

Olivia: The tropes. Is it enemies-to-lovers? Is it villains, one bed, forced proximity? Oh, I’m all over it.

Colleen: Absolutely, one hundred percent, because this is what readers are looking for. When you are talking to a romance reader, a lot of times what they are telling you is, “Oh, you know, I love books that are kind of like medium level spicy and I love an enemies-to-lovers, or I love an office romance. Every time that I see that a book is an office romance, I drop everything to read it.” And so, when you see that they’re using like their sub-genres, their tropes, their themes, their topics to use them to pitch to readers, it’s easier for readers to make decisions and say, “Yes, this is exactly what I want to read.” Romance does that so well, it is just absolutely fantastic. But it’s the same for every genre. You can narrow down where your book fits based on those topics, the themes, the tropes. With YA fantasy, it might be magical realism, dark fantasy, dystopia. You might have fairy tales or superheroes. Does it have a chosen one or dragons? These are all different, specific elements that are going to draw someone’s interest. So within YA Fantasy, you can specifically identify where your reader hangs out the most and is most interested in reading those books. So it’s a great way to kind of zoom in on their interests in order to figure out who’s going to be the best person to read your book. And then from there you are going to look at what are the kinds of psychographics, how do we classify people in terms of their attitudes, their aspirations, their activities, their interests. So from there you’re digging into reader behavior. 

If we know what topics they want to read about, who are their favorite authors, where do they get their book recommendations, what do they do to engage with those genres, the topics, the themes, when they’re reading and when they’re not reading. So being able to identify those aspects is going to help us then figure out how we want to reach those readers. This is then when you’re moving into the space of, do I want to be on social media? Which social media channels do I want to have? A TikTok account, a YouTube account? Am I going to be putting myself out there in certain newsletters or things like that? You want to first identify where those readers are spending their time and where they’re already filling their needs in order for you to reach them. You know this, and I know I’ve heard this on the podcast before, but there’s kind of this big fallacy with marketing of like, if you build it, they will come. 

Olivia: Mm-hmm.

Colleen: I hear people talk about this and I understand it because there is a desire to feel that when you’ve written something, you’ve written something so incredible, people will just see it and know and be attracted to it. But no one will hear about it if you don’t make that initial outreach. They have to know it exists to fall in love with it.

Olivia: The way you drilled into the subgenres of fantasy, YA fantasy and romance 

Colleen: Mm-hmm.

Olivia: Can you give us a non-fiction example as well, like maybe a memoir or a self-help book as well? Some of those subgenres they can consider?

Colleen: Absolutely. So, when you’re within kind of like the non-fiction realm, there’s different tones for non-fiction and there’s different topics. When you are looking at what type of book, what type of audience am I looking for, you’re going to be less focused on the exact same type of book every time and more on what are the related topics. So for instance, let’s take Atomic Habits. If I am somebody who is most likely to be interested in Atomic Habits, I am already most likely to be reading other self-improvement books. So I might also be reading other habit books, but I also might be reading other books that are about mental health or about how do I change my schedule, how do I plan for a better day, how do I stay organized? They’re all within the self-improvement realm. So when you’re within kind of like the nonfiction space, I would look at what are the books, what are the topics that are specific to what I’m writing about and what are kind of the semi-related ones within that same space? And then from there, you can look at what are the things that people are doing. When somebody reads nonfiction, they’re typically trying to educate themselves or they are trying to learn something that is going to improve their lives in some way, so they want to take action on it. So being able to identify where those items sit, it’s not a trope, but it’s still kind of within that topics and themes line of what are people’s interests and are you targeting them where they’re at because they’re typically looking to solve those problems. Do I want to learn or do I want to improve my life in some way? And there’s overlap there.

Olivia: Those are great questions for authors to ask. So kind of figuring out what the pain points are as opposed to what the subgenre is.

Colleen: Absolutely.

Olivia: Okay, that makes sense. And you mentioned earlier the fallacy of build it and they will come, so how can authors use branding to attract their ideal readers when they do reach out?

Colleen: Sure. So when you are trying to identify how you want to be pitching your book, the branding aspect in particular, you want to look at what are the things that are drawing your ideal reader to your comp authors. So,if you look at the comp books, the comparative books out there to yours, you always want to assume that there’s going to be something, because people who are reading your book, they’re readers, they started somewhere, so you need to know what else they’re reading. 

First, identifying what they’re reading and what attracts them to those books and to those authors is going to help you to better identify what you need to be targeting with your branding. So, specifically with branding, I look at visual elements and tone. So this is where, are there specific visual elements that are indicating to a reader what type of book this is? And is there a particular tone that tells the reader the tone of the book, the tone that the author takes on it? And romance is a great example of this. One of the things that fails often when people are doing any kind of promotion for romance is when they have a very generic social media image that’s like, “Hey, my book is available. Here’s the name of it, and here’s a mock up on a very generic background that has, say a rose, maybe some sheets.” If somebody looks at that image and they say, “I can’t see right now from this first glance what type of book this is, what type of romance this is”, then it doesn’t tell me, the reader, whether or not this is the right book for me. 

So your branding, you need to be trying to indicate to your ideal readers the topics, the themes, the tropes. You want to be getting that information to them. And you can see it a lot with, if we just look kind of big picture, visiting somebody’s website is a fantastic way to see this. If you go to an author who primarily writes thrillers and suspense, their website is going to be dark, edgy. It’s going to have these elements on it that give you a spooky feeling and make you think, “Okay, I’m nervous about reading this book. I haven’t even seen what their books are, but I get the vibe just from visiting” and it’s created through using visual elements and tone. So it’s the same thing when you’re looking at nonfiction. What are the ways in which we are conveying to the reader the type of nonfiction book this is, if it’s a business book, how are we showing that? If it is a self-improvement book, how are we showing that? And the branding that you’re using is to target them by telling them by giving them indicators that this is what it is. It is visual, it is tone. Those are the key things. And when you visit, we talked a little bit about where can you reach your readers, if, for example, you were to visit, say you have a parenting book, you join a mom Facebook group. Joining the group and just telling people about your book is not going to be the most successful way to get people to read it. But if you go into it and you pay attention to what the people in that space engaging with, how do they indicate their needs and desires? When you are spending time within that community, where your ideal readers already hang out, you can then start to notice the elements that draw them to things like books or other pieces of entertainment. So then when you want to market to them, you are using the elements that they are already using when they’re talking to each other.

Olivia: And you mentioned comp titles, and I think as industry professionals and as authors, we often look at them as competitors in the same space. But are there ways that authors can actually collaborate with other authors in their space to reach those audiences?

Colleen: A hundred percent. This is one of those things that I really hope that authors no longer see each other as competitors because there truly isn’t a competitor for your book. It is always going to be somebody who is comparable, who can help bring you up. And the reason that this is the case is that, for the most part, when a reader reads a great book and they love it, the book just ended, but they want more. And so they are going to be seeking out more books, more entertainment that fills that gap for them. And a single author can never fill that need, that gap for them all by themselves. It’s just not possible to write that many books as quickly as readers can read the books. So, thinking about your comps as your community is a great way to change your mindset about the authors that you are within that same group with. They’re no longer the people who, it’s your book or the other book. It’s more like, which book is the reader going to pick up first and then lead them into the next one. When it comes to your comps, the biggest thing that I always recommend is identify who your comp authors are, and then focus on audience sharing. 

So, audience sharing is one of the greatest things that authors can do in this day and age with our digital audiences, with our online followings. So let’s say that for example you are an author and you have a hundred readers and you meet Kelly and Kelly has a hundred readers for her book. If you share your audiences by pitching, you pitch your book to Kelly’s audience, Kelly pitches her book to your audience, well now you both have the potential for 200 readers. So you are massively growing your reach for an audience by reaching out to readers who are already interested in the types of books that you write. They may not have heard about yours yet, but that’s why by collaborating with another author, you can expose these readers to your book and vice versa. So, this is an amazing way that you can reach a wider audience without targeting an individual person every single time. 

The key ways that I always say that you need to think about how you’re collaborating with other authors is to think about how they are currently engaging with their audience and to think about how their audience wants to engage with them. Because you don’t need to pitch super complicated collaborations that take months to put together. It can be a quick email back and forth that says, “Hey, I, you know, would love to share your book with my newsletter. I think that your newsletter is fantastic. Would you be willing to do a newsletter swap, where we pitch our books to each others?” And then when you do it, make sure that you are focused on the reader’s desires so that you are targeting what it is that the readers want and really honing in on that, as opposed to focusing on what your needs are

Olivia: As you’re talking about it. I’m thinking of another romance example, I’m thinking of Emily Henry and Casey McQuiston. 

Colleen: Yes. 

Olivia: They do that all the time. They’re constantly sharing each other’s books on their Instagram stories and just saying, “Oh, I can’t wait to pick up a copy of Book Lovers,” or, “Oh my goodness, I loved I Kissed Shara Wheeler, ” and I think that’s a great example of how you can collaborate.

Colleen: Absolutely. Because, readers are looking for ways to engage more deeply within the topics, the themes that they enjoy. As an author, you are becoming a bit of a curator. I guess influencer is probably the right word for it, but you are influencing other people. You’re sharing to other people things that they’re going to love. So it’s simply about being a source for other people to share things that  they’re already going to enjoy and give them the space to reach for it.

Olivia: And I think that initial read of comparable authors with competitors is that there’s so much passion in this book that you’ve written now. I mean, it’s like your child that you’re promoting now to the world. And so with that comes a little bit of ego and there’s nothing wrong with ego, but sometimes it can get in the way of all of these really great creative ways of reaching your intended audience. So, my question to you is, how can authors harness that passion to drive promotional efforts while leaving ego at the door?

Colleen: Oh, it’s absolutely difficult. I think with anyone who works in an artistic field, you are pouring everything of yourself into something. The way that you have to approach the business side or the promotion or marketing side is from a much earlier stage. So this is kind of a challenge that a lot of people deal with, but when you are writing a book that is the type of thing that you will write and then revise for months, sometimes years before the story is perfect, and then you publish it and once it’s published, it’s done. When you are doing marketing and the business side of things, a lot of times what you’re working on is experimentation. It’s really almost the opposite of spending all of this time up front to make it perfect. Instead, it’s about testing and failing fast so that you can keep trying new things. And you don’t waste time trying to make something perfect that doesn’t work. Because a lot of times when authors come at it from kind of the other mindset of, “Okay, well I spent forever on the book, it’s perfect now before I launch the book, I want to put out social media pieces every single week for three weeks or something and from that I’m going to generate this kind of thing and I’m going to spend three hours creating a single social media post.” 

That amount of time spent trying to perfect something that is so short-lived, that lasts on somebody’s screen for such a short period of time becomes a waste if you are not willing to experiment. And so part of that separating of the ego from the passion is focusing back on the early stages of creativity and experimentation. Like when you’re drafting your book, but you’re drafting by doing your promotion in public, it’s being out there and testing out new things, talking to people and being a human person and coming at it from a place of authenticity and just trying things as opposed to trying to have a perfect thing that you push out there and hope that people are engaging with it.

Olivia: And you mentioned just then, and on your website too, URL is in the description for all you listening, the support you’re able to offer authors in approaching promotion through an experimental lens, keyword experimental. Can you elaborate on that concept? Like, are there any hard and fast rules on where you should experiment and where maybe you shouldn’t?

Colleen: Yeah, so when it comes to the experimental thing, the way that I always look at it is you want to be able to test things, to try things and fail quickly. This is an idea that actually came to me from the startup world, which my partners a part of, because there’s this idea that you want to test something out and fail and know that that method is a failure, so that you can move on as quickly as possible instead of trying over and over to make this one method work. So I don’t know that there’s any hard and fast rules, but in some ways it’s kind of, you want to understand the basics of how readers are currently finding books like yours, and then from there, experimenting with variations on what they already expect and what they don’t. 

So the things that I always recommend that you do first before you start experimenting with anything is first identify your audience very clearly,  as clearly as you can. And you’re going to do that by understanding the topics, the themes, the tropes, those things that are going to draw your audience in, and how they find their books, their reader behaviors. Then I would say, “Okay, what are my goals and what are the metrics that I’m going to use for tracking whether or not something is successful?” So if I’m going to choose to do Instagram, I’m going to choose one channel, Instagram, and I’m going to set a time frame for how long I need to do it by. And then within there, once I have those items lined up, identifying my audience, knowing how I’m tracking success, choosing my channel, and setting the time frame, then I can play. Then I might say, “Okay, here are three different ways that I’m going to utilize my Instagram to try to approach this audience and win them over.” And at the end of that time period, check in with yourself, honestly. Did it work? If not, why didn’t it work? Looking at, what were the efforts that I did? How does it match up with my goals? Did I achieve more followers by achieving more followers? Did I achieve click throughs to my website? Did I achieve book sales that were coming through from my Instagram? So by identifying, kind of setting up the stage for your experiments, you can then actually play with your experimentation, because then if you try Instagram and it fails miserably, you can start over. But you already have identified your audience, you already have your goals and metrics. If you’re going to do Instagram again for a second test, then you set a new time frame and you set a new approach for how you’re going to experiment with it. And typically with this, I would say give it a week to two weeks tops. You want to, like I said, fail fast. You want to play with it. Jump in with your passions and just see where it goes. And then come back and look at it and ask yourself, does it work? If not, why not?

Olivia: How can authors continue delivering similar content on topics, ideas related to their brand without becoming stale, or then risking losing some of their audience branching out too far? I’m thinking of a niche topic like deep sea fishing and you talk about everything deep sea fishing, but then how do you not run outta topics or lose your audience breaching into lake fishing?

Colleen: Sure. So, with this, I think there are two key methods. The first is to niche down, and the second is to connect and collaborate with your community. So the first one to niche down. If you are doing deep sea fishing, there are so many topics within deep sea fishing that you can niche further, deeper down into. You can go into specific types of fish, you can go into specific places of fishing, you can talk about the different people who are kind of historically known within the deep sea fishing space. So within that one topic, you can always go deeper. And by going deeper, you’re going to find that the audience that you brought in for that top level topic, many of them are going to come with you, because they already trust and enjoy your writing. And so they’re willing to come along and they’re like, “Yes, tell me more. I want to dig deeper too.” And for those who don’t, that’s okay. There’s always going to be new spaces that you might dive deeper into, maybe the historical figures related to deep sea fishing, and that might not appeal to some of your audience. That’s okay, they still loved you for the first book. And so now when you choose a new niche in the future, maybe it’s the specific type of fish, well, now they might find that that one does appeal to them and they’ve already built up that trust with you because they’ve already enjoyed your work previously. So niching down is a great way to do that. 

But the other thing that you can do is to connect and collaborate with the people who are reaching the same audience as you. So this is, like we were talking about with your comp authors, with fiction, we have our genres,with non-fiction, we have those related topics. You can identify who are the other authors, speakers, and experts, they don’t have to just be authors, but the other people in those spaces who are reaching the same audience as you and finding ways to connect with them. And maybe you pitch collaborations, maybe you just build friendships. But when you are trying to keep your marketing and promotion fresh and enjoyable for yourself, a huge part of that is being able to connect with other people and embrace your community and feel like you have people to talk about your passions with. So, honestly, lean into that community because they’re the people who are going to keep you going and they’re always going to be exposing you to new ideas, new topics, new ways to approach your same audience, but just from new angles.

Olivia: I so appreciate you going along with my deep sea fishing. I’m not sure why I picked an example I know nothing about, but you explained it beautifully, so thank you. How can an author incorporate an existing network with an ideal audience for that book? So say they already have a following on LinkedIn and now they have a book coming out that they want to promote to this ideal reader.

Colleen: Yeah, so the key thing when it comes to existing networks is that if this network is already all in on the topics that you are writing about, they are the perfect audience for the pitch. But a lot of times for authors, they will have an existing network that is somewhat related but is not specific to that topic. So, fiction is a great example of this. A lot of people, for a lot of fiction authors in particular, their existing network is their family and friends and their writing group. They don’t feel like they have a wider network outside of that, and they feel like they need to go on social media and somehow drum up a following of people who love fiction. And that is where we want to get to, to be driving, to be building an audience around those interests in particular. But when you have your existing network first you want to make sure that you aren’t spamming people. Don’t assume that everyone in this network is going to be your reader soulmate, your ideal reader. So similar to what we were talking to before, just because everyone could like your book doesn’t mean that everyone will. 

So, instead, recognize that there are some people who will love your book and there are some people within your existing network who will know somebody who is the perfect reader for you. So I would message people, I would let people know that you have a new book coming out and these are the topics and themes and tropes, focusing in on those aspects, the specifics that are going to draw somebody’s interest. And then as you are reaching into this network, you’re going to find that some people will engage with those content posts or emails that you send out, and others you will just know are already engaged in those types of topics. So from there, I would identify key people within your network right now and just talk to them, schedule time, see if you can take them for coffee or have a quick Zoom chat and just talk to them about those topics. 

If you were writing, say, a book on habits, finding people who are interested in the self-improvement and habit space and just saying, “Hey, I haven’t reached out to you for a while. It would be great to catch up. I’d love to talk to you about habits and kind of get your thoughts on a few things.” Then having a very informal conversation gives you a chance to not pitch them on your book specifically, but get to know how they’re approaching these topics. How do they think about things like habits and self-improvement? What is drawing them? So right there, you’re able to utilize these moments to kind of investigate who your ideal reader is and how they’re approaching finding books. So it’s almost like a little mini interview, but it’s a very casual conversation. And from there you can pull so much information about how you want to be pitching your book and doing a couple of those gives you a good sense of the range. And then from there, a lot of the times, those people who you talk to are willing to be your advocates, who are willing to kind of evangelize about your book because they’ve learned a bit about it, they know your passions about it, and when you schedule time, you made time to talk to them and get their thoughts and opinions on things without just pitching their book. It’s a way to kind of find the people within your existing network who can be that reader soulmate and help you spread the word in the long run.

Olivia: And I do want to give you time here at the end to talk about Wild Ink Pages and how you all can help our listeners connect with their audience. So where can our listeners follow you? How can they get in touch? What can you do for them?

Colleen: Absolutely. I’m on Twitter and Instagram, @ColleenMRiordan for both of those. People can also find me on our website wildinkpages.com or they can email me directly. My email is pbyyrra@jvyqvaxznexrgvat.pbz. But where I can really help people the most is in terms giving their website some life and helping them to identify how they’re going to drive their online presence for their marketing. So with Wild Ink Pages, we built it to be a platform specifically tailored to all of author’s needs because we were helping authors who are typically non-technical, try to muddle their way through some of the other platforms out there, WordPress, Wix, Square Space, and struggling with it. And so I find that if your online presence becomes too difficult to manage on your own, too difficult to figure out how to make quick updates, you tend to procrastinate about doing it. And procrastination is kind of the thing that holds us back from a lot of our marketing. So my focus is on trying to help people lean into their creativity and their passion, the things that drove them to write their books in the first place, and then use those things through their online tools, through the digital space to reach their readers and engage in ways that truly fulfills them and makes them see the impact that they can have on a reader. So yeah, if there is anyone who has questions or wants to reach out to me at any time, I would be happy to answer any questions about it.

Olivia: Thank you so much, and we’re going to include those links in the description below as well. Thank you for joining us.

Colleen: Thank you, Olivia. This was fantastic.

Colleen is a book marketing coach and co-creator of Wild Ink Pages, an author website platform specifically tailored to the needs of busy creatives. With over a decade of marketing experience, she coaches authors on how to use their creativity and passion to market their books. Through Wild Ink Pages, Colleen designs custom author websites and empowers creatives to use their websites, social media, email marketing, and digital tools to create engaged, loyal relationships with their readers. Learn more at wildinkpages.com and connect with Colleen on Twitter and Instagram @colleenmriordan.