Selling to a Mass Audience

You were inspired to write a story. That inspiration turned into passion, followed by the willingness to fill many blank sheets of papers with your words. You could relate to all the characters, the plot, and the entire storyline. You are both pleased and proud of your effort. You feel blessed to be given such a perfect gift. 

You are brave enough to show your closest family and friends. They enjoyed your book and encouraged you to write another. After careful consideration, you decide that the book you just finished should be published. Meanwhile, you will write another book. 


This is a common theme for writers that wish to become an author and sell their work. Let me explain one major hurdle that had been overlooked. How many times was the word “You” or “Your” mentioned in the above two paragraphs? 


How many times was the word “Reader” mentioned? 


I don’t want to put a damper on your dreams, but this is why your first book should never be published. You wrote that novel because YOU were motivated to put your story on paper. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, you will inspire others to do the same. 

However, the characters, storyline, and everything else that happens in your book, is relatable to only YOU. Perhaps your second and third novel is the same. If you want to sell to a large audience and create a following, you need to write for the mass market. If you want a literary agent or publisher, you need to write something that they can sell to millions of readers. 

Of course, you thought about that eventually. But I’ll pay a nickel that you did not start your first book by thinking, “Okay, what is a great concept that millions of people will love to read about?” 

If I owned a publishing company, I would do away with query letters. Let’s say I publish psychological thrillers and I receive 150 submissions a week. I would have the authors answer these questions: 

  • Why did you write that book? 

The following responses will result in a rejection letter: 

“I wanted to be a writer all my life.” 

“I wrote this book from my heart.” 

“My family encouraged me to be published.” 

“I have gone through an experience that others will enjoy reading about.” 

The kind of answer I am looking for: “Before writing the book, I researched the idea and found that the storyline is relatable to millions of employees that are struggling with Corporate America.” 
What is the key word? “Before.” I can only sell your novel if you thought about a mass audience before you wrote the book. 

At this point, I’ll have about 50 authors remaining of the initial 150. Here is the next question I would ask: 

  • Name five key factors that make up a terrific psychological thriller?


This is sort of a trick question, because the answer is debatable. I just want to know if the author put any thought into his book, beyond the story. I will look for this kind of answer: “Key factors of a psychological thriller are intensity of emotions, apprehension for the eventual hero, force driven pace, several obstacles for the characters to overcome, an objective for both the villain and hero.” 

Maybe another author answered this way, “Generate thrills using a global threat, breakneck speed in each chapter, building to a rousing climax, meaningful characters, explosive ending.” 

That works. 

Let’s say ten authors survive that round. Here is the next question: 

  • What are the five main characteristics of a reader who enjoys psychological thrillers? 

Again, this is a trick question. Answers will be different for each author. However, the author must have thought of a certain reader, before and during the writing of his/her novel. Here is an example of an acceptable answer:
“Middle-aged woman, married, has at least two children, works for a corporation in a low-level position, lives in a suburban home.” 

That answer shows me that the author knows his/her target audience, knows how to find them, and wrote a book that will interest that audience. 

I guess that five of the ten remaining authors will answer something like, “Anyone who enjoys an entertaining story, with plenty of plot twists, exciting characters, action on every page, and a shocking ending.” (Rejection letter has been sent out.) 
Here is the next exercise.

  • Describe your book in twenty-five words or less. 

Since these remaining five authors put a lot of thought into their book, before it was written, I would guess they all pass and move on to the next round. Just remember that on a book jacket, the story, author, and all descriptions need to sell the reader in twenty-five words or less. If you pitch an agent at a writing conference, you need to describe who you are and about your book in twenty-five words or less. 

Next, I would have them submit their first, middle, and last chapter. Of the five, at least two would refuse to send me the last chapter and drop out. They give me this response, “You cannot understand the ending unless you read the entire book.” That answer shows a lack of trust. If the author does not trust me, then there is no reason to move forward.

The three remaining authors can submit their entire manuscript. I would read them over and choose the novels that I feel are entertaining, marketable, and sellable. Maybe all three pass that test or maybe none of them pass. 

It may be hard for some authors to swallow, but the readers care more about the book than you. After reading several of your novels, they will begin to trust you as an author. 

There are two ends of the spectrum to consider. First, new authors that write a book and have it published, never consider the above questions and exercises. On the other end, established authors gain trust and sometimes depend more on their reader’s loyalty, than writing an entertaining novel. I don’t think anyone does this on purpose. Nevertheless, it would explain why so many readers are complaining about the quality of books these days. 

Before you write a mystery novel, you should be able to describe five key factors of a great mystery book. It’s the same with any other genre.

What are five key factors that every young adult looks for in a book? (Cover, familiarity with the author, sequels, mystery, fast paced story.)

If you want a mass audience, then you better know that audience. 

Before writing your book, think about the once person you are writing for. Is it a struggling divorced mom? Is it a high school student that enjoys going to the beach? A Court TV fanatic? An out of work father? College students who are interested in medieval study? 

A question every literary agent and publisher will ask: “Will I be able to sell this book?” 
I wonder how many self-published authors ask that same question…before they wrote the book. 

Ron Knight                                                                                     

Build your audience:  

Ron Knight

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  1. Clara Brown says:

    Thank you for you post Mr. Knight. Although I have wanted to be an author for quite some time, I am gathering information and advice before I write my book. I do not want to be surprised if my book goes no where and turns out to be a steaming pile of crap taking up space on my hard drive. To be honest, I don’t have time to throw hundreds of hours into something without doing my research first. I thought your advice on this post was very helpful. These are things that people rarely put their thought into when writing something they want to sell. I never would have thought about my audience as anything other than “anyone who likes a good psychological thriller.” Now I know what I need to do.