Promotion Matters: The Target Audience

Mystery genre Detective Novel

1. Rob Kassel stared down at the body of his friend, already certain that the son of a bitch that killed him was going to pay. The only problem was finding out who that son of a bitch was.

2. The man pulled up at a small petrol station outside Figeac, in the south of France. He doubted there’d be CCTV here, but he averted his face as he paid. It was 10.15 p.m. By now, he supposed, the bodies of his wife and children had been discovered.

3. PC Richards held the phone close, straining to hear. ‘An old woman, you say? In a blue coat? I’m on my way.’ He got on his bike and pedalled furiously, fearing the worst: the woman whose body had just been found in a ditch was the one he’d dismissed just a couple of hours earlier as batty. The one who’d reported the murder of four people in the nearby village of Chorley.

4. ‘This young man. He said someone had stolen some antiques of his and the police were doing nothing so…’ Her voice faltered.  For a while there was silence. Then a stifled moan, followed by a barely contained sob of fury and dread. And the sickening realisation that the man who killed her son had returned to the house to taunt her.

The above are all adapted from existing stories (see below to find out which). If any or all of them made you want to read on,  it means you like the mystery genre; therefore you belong to my target audience. Should this worry you? ‘Target’ has sinister overtones. Not for nothing do marketers conduct campaigns like the military, sometimes precise and surgical, other times indiscriminate. OK, so there’s a difference – they want you to buy, not die. But hey, that’s minor – most of the time, you need what they’re selling like you need a hole in the head.

But that’s because they’re selling shampoo, fridges, handbags, cars and computers, and you’ve already got enough of those. You’ve already got enough books as well, but since each book is unique, each one requires a campaign to itself. It’s as if, instead of selling cars, the advertisers’ task was to sell the registration plate to which the car is attached.

I think there’s really only one enormous thriller out there now, made up of the hundreds and thousands of them that are published every ten minutes or so, and our job as readers is to knit them all together. We’re the ultimate sleuths. There’s no other explanation I can think of for so many goddam thrillers.

The above is an extract from Kevin Brennan‘s Occasional  Soulmates, a very enjoyable read, by the way, even if it’s not (obviously) a thriller, but chicklit. His heroine, Sarah (or rather, I suspect, Kevin himself) has picked out the mystery genre, but the same could probably be said of most genres. Read enough sci-fi and after a while you’ll get your Thorgons confused with your Gribronds and the spaceships will all get lost. But that’s OK. You’ve gone to a far-flung corner of the universe, fought some incredibly nasty aliens, and come back in time for supper.

And that, I believe, is what we want: to be transported, entertained, given a glimpse of danger, a thrill, a little food for thought and a good dose of emotion. Then to be returned, perhaps a little shaken, but basically safe and sound, to the comfort of normal life. So when we talk about genre, what we really mean is setting: country mansion, outer space, or a bus with a bomb on board. And at the end, what we want is resolution: the killer caught, the aliens zapped, the bomb, at the last minute, defused.

Now, I do know a few people who read practically nothing but mystery, or fantasy, or suspense. And quite a few more (myself included) who tend to avoid certain genres – I’m not a great fan, for example, of paranormal romance. But the great majority of people I know read all sorts of books – what they want is a good story. So when I read (on a book marketing site), ‘The audience for a cozy mystery is very different from the audience for a hardboiled detective story’, I have my doubts. Maybe I’m wrong (and I’d love to hear what you think) but to me, that’s marketer-speak, an attempt to convince me that with a few carefully planned surgical strikes, I’ll have my target audience where I want them. Ah, if only it were that simple…


  1. Murder to Measure, a website offering ‘off the peg murder mysteries to die for!’
  2. The true story of Xavier de Ligonnes, a Frenchman who disappeared in 2011 following the murder of his family. He still hasn’t been found.
  3. Murder is Easy, by Agatha Christie.
  4. One Green Bottle by yours truly.
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