Don’t Be The Sugar Man: Find Your Audience, by David Vinjamuri



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David Vinjamuri

In the winter of 1969, a young musician named Sixto Rodriguez was discovered singing in a Detroit bar by a pair of legendary Motown record producers.   He went on to record two albums for Sussex Records: “Cold Fact” in 1970 and “Coming From Reality” in 1971.   Critics hailed Rodriguez as a poet and a prophet.  His producers thought that he was a greater artist than Bob Dylan and that he’d be a bigger star.  But both albums failed, miserably.  Two weeks before Christmas in 1971, Rodriguez was dropped from the label.

Rodriguez quietly ended his professional music career and returned to a life of hard labor.  He demolished homes, worked in factories and did other low paying jobs.   For 27 years, Rodriguez assumed that his work had gone unappreciated.

Then in 1998, one of his daughters stumbled across a website called “The Great Rodriguez Hunt.”   It turns out that Rodriguez’s albums had made it to South Africa, and that he had become the voice of the anti-apartheid movement there.  Both of his albums went platinum in South Africa and he was a bigger name than Elvis or The Rolling Stones.  But the rumor in South Africa was that Rodriguez was dead, that he had set fire to himself on stage.  So nobody looked for him until 1998.  Then they found him alive, living in Detroit, nearing the end of a career doing backbreaking manual labor.

This story ends happily – Rodriguez did four tours in South Africa where his sold-out concerts were a huge hit.  He has lived to see his work appreciated.  If you want to see his story, watch the new film: Searching for Sugar Man.

Admire Rodriguez.  But Don’t Be Rodriguez!

You may admire Rodriguez, but do you want to be Rodriguez?  If you’ve written something great, something wonderful, do you want to wait your entire life to see it appreciated?  Probably not.

I came to writing as a professional consumer marketer.  It’s not a bad background to have because the moment we stop writing we must start marketing our books.  That means finding an audience.

As I’ve entered the self-publishing world, I’ve discovered something surprising: many Indie authors spend a lot of their time and effort marketing to other authors.  It’s understandable: writing is a solitary pursuit.  Connecting with other authors creates community and writers are often willing to help one another.

But unless your book is about writing, authors should not be the focus of your marketing efforts.  Why?  Because they already have more books than they can read.  Marketing to writers is like trying to sell SUV’s to car executives.



Finding Your Audience

Instead of marketing to everyone, try to think of a small audience of readers who will love your book.  Here are three things you need in an audience:

  1. Passion – They have to be the kind of people who will get excited and express it
  2. Expertise – This sounds strange, but they have to be credible readers of your book.  Can you market to people who have been through the same trials as your protagonist?  Vampire and werewolf people this is a little harder for you …
  3. Connection – The third important characteristic for an audience is that they need to be connected to each other.  That’s the way buzz works: when different people in the same group have a shared experience and start talking about it.  It’s much harder to achieve buzz without resonance.

Your audience could be connected by geography (could you try to become a bestseller in Des Moines or Bloomington?  Sure!) by affiliation (any organization from Parents Without Partners to the Boy Scouts might be a great place to seed your writing) or even by education (try your high school alumni group on Facebook – mineOperatro_6x9_BW_280 were enthusiastic early buyers and readers).

If you’ve found your audience, focus on how to cultivate their attention and get your writing to grow among them.  Are there a few influencers you could get the book to?  Could you hold a discussion group?  Should you champion a cause that is important to them?  Remember that influencers will more readily pay attention to you after you’ve helped them, so think about how you can do that.

Won’t A Small Audience Limit My Book Sales?

On the contrary.  Nike markets women’s running shoes to a very small audience of dedicated female athletes who run even when it’s raining or cold.  But their shoes are worn by millions of other women, some of whom don’t even run.  By finding the core of their audience they reach women who are experts, who have passion and who will spread the message about products they love.   The narrower the target for your marketing the more likely you will be successful.

Last Step: Prepare for Success

This sounds like an odd thing to do.  After all, isn’t failure much more likely?  Should you be prepared for that?  Perhaps emotionally, but in terms of marketing, success presents the bigger danger.  If you catch an updraft, make sure you understand who you’re writing for, what your core values are and who your audience is.  This shouldn’t change even if you have many, many more readers.  Brands that forget their core audience diminish and fade away.  So if you are successful, stay true to the folks who got you there.

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David Vinjamuri published his first detective story in a junior high school literary magazine at age twelve and has been writing ever since. After a brief stint as an intelligence analyst, David worked as a consumer marketer for Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola and other large companies. He writes the “Brand Truth” column for Forbes online and teaches at New York University.


Stop in Friday, February 8 for an original short story, “In His Boots” by C.R. Hiatt, bestselling author of Gone at Zero Hundred 00:00 and Fireworks on the 4th.