Building an Audience Through Niche Marketing - The Ultimate Guide

One of the biggest problems creators face in trying to get the word out about their projects is that there are a lot of other creators working to do the same exact thing. This "noise" is something every creator, new or established, has to deal with.

And when you're trying to build your audience, and get the word out about your comic, one of your biggest challenges is going to be getting your signal through all that noise.

Well, that's exactly what I'm going to cover in this post. It's a big topic, but by the time you're done reading you should have a much better grasp of what you can do to market your comic and grow your audience through one of the best strategies available: niche marketing.

It all starts with understanding audiences.

Assembling An Audience

A lot of the advice that's out there for creators recommends striving for your "ideal audience."

But that's indicative of a key misunderstanding about what it takes to build an audience.

Before you've sold your first comic, you don't have an audience. You don't have a readership. You just have a comic. And it's unlikely that your comic is just defined by one of its component elements - the genre, the art style, the theme, the format.

And your job as a creator - your responsibility - is to get your comic read.

You don't do that by finding the perfect, ideal reader and then only targeting that person. That's just an unrealistic expectation.

Instead, you draw from the many different audiences, the different niches, that might be interested in your comic. They might all have different reasons for being interested, but that's okay. Whatever the logic behind their interest, you use the common ground, the aspect of your comic that's piqued their interest, as context to show them your work and give them an opportunity to support it.

That common ground is critical. It's how you make it past the filters most people use to deal with the media overload we're all faced with.

And as you pull in readers from more and more different audiences, eventually you'll find yourself with a unique readership. An audience comprised of people with different interests, personalities, and demographic profiles. But, they're all bound together by one thing. They like your comic. That's when you have a true readership. That's when you have a single audience.

Before then, it's your job to identify the different component audiences you can draw from, build trust with them and bring them value, and then - after all that - give them an opportunity to support your comic.

Identifying Component Audiences

You can't craft an effective message about your comic without first knowing who you're going to be presenting that message to.

It's unlikely you act exactly the same way around your family as you do with friends, or as you do with people you've never met.

So, the first step in marketing your comic, and building an audience, is identification.

It's extremely important to emphasize this step, because a lot of creators try to market their work without doing this and end up wasting a lot of time, energy, and money.

If you want to avoid this, you need to invest just a little bit of time upfront so that you can attack your marketing with a plan.

There's a framework I use to guide creators through this process. And that's what I'm going to walk you through right now.

Experienced Fans

The first piece of the puzzle are what I call "experienced fans." These fans all read comics already. They're used to engaging with the medium and being fans of what they read - whether they read their comics traditionally or online.

Now, in order to get an idea of who they are in relation to you and your comic, you have to understand what they look for in a comic.

There are a few different profiles. (These might seem obvious, but there's a point, so bear with me).

Medium Fans
Medium fans are simple. They like comics. Of course, few people just like comics without any additional qualifications. But the fact that they like comics is an open door for them to at least consider the thought of reading your comics.

Organizational Fans
Then there are company fans. The people who'll give any new comic by Image a shot, for example, or go out of their way to support a specific publisher.

Even for independent creators, these fans are worth keeping in mind. They're people for who "indie" is a sales point, because they enjoy supporting work that otherwise wouldn't exist. Frequent Kickstarter backers - who'll search out cool new comics without any prompting - also fall into this category.

Creator Fans
And then, of course, there are fans of you, personally. Or fans of the other creators involved in the project. Or perhaps even fans of creators with relevant or similar comics that you can tie your project to - perhaps by getting pull quotes, a pin-up, or a variant cover.


Now with these fans, it's important to note that the broader the component audience, the weaker it is. For example, most comic fans like comics. And the fact that you are making a comic is little incentive for them to check your work out. All it does is open the door.

So these profiles are largely ineffective. But that's exactly why I wanted to bring them up.

Most creators are only thinking in terms of these profiles - even without being aware of the strategy behind it. But, unlike most of them, we're not going to stop here.

Reaching Beyond Comics

Comics limits itself by deciding that it shouldn't or can't reach beyond comics even though there's no reason for this limitation.

This is one of my biggest frustrations with the industry.

We have so many tools and resources at our disposal now to let us easily reach past this artificial barrier, but we don't use them. Even the major publishers today are at fault of drawing their audiences solely from preexisting readers of comics.

If you want to be successful I sincerely believe that it's completely necessary to change our ways.

As a creator, you should be proud of the work you're doing. So, ask yourself, is that work better defined by the fact that it's a comic or by the world you create, the values at stake, and the characters you introduce your readers to?

There's no reason someone wouldn't enjoy your comic just because they don't generally read comics.

While the first piece of the framework I utilize is meant to illustrate some basic audience components, this next piece is really meant to help creators looking beyond comics.

All it takes is understanding how readers choose to read - or how people choose to consume media - and applying it to your own comic. These are Precise Fans - they're characterized more by their interests, than whether or not they read comics.

Genre

The first profile I recommend exploring is genre. It's one of the core ways readers choose to read. For example science-fiction fans often seek out great sci-fi. This holds true of romance, thriller, and countless other genres.

Whatever genre your book fits into, provides you the context you need to introduce it to people who already like that genre. Now, they don't have to be fans from the same medium. Your science-fiction comic, can easily appeal to a fan of sci-fi movies. Or sci-fi prose. Don't limit your opportunities artificially.

And when you don't fit firmly into any one genre, that can actually be an advantage. For example, if you have a time-travel thriller that can not only appeal to fans of thrillers, but also to sci-fi fans compelled by the time-travel hook.

That's true whether they're fans of science fiction comics or anything else that might be sci-fi.

Theme

Next up is theme. Whether it's a bloody revenge story or the motivating tale of an underdog, themes can draw an audience to a story.

While it's hard to target for fans of a certain theme upfront - few people go looking for a great underdog tale - you can target against fans of other movies, books, or comics that employ a theme your project shares.

This is part of the reason why I feel so strongly about creators being involved in marketing. You know your comic best. While marketers bring craft and practical experience to the table, you can't expect them to do the work well without your input or involvement.

Also, while I don't think it's generally necessary for every creator to do their own marketing - and that publishers can play a very important role in this function - it does seem to be a necessity in the comic industry, today.

Topic

And then, there's the broad category of topics. Any number of topics can attract an audience to your work.

If you have a comic about Star Wars, it's not just people who like comics who'll read it. Sound familiar? Of course, they're benefitting from a specific, established fan base, but other areas can work off the same principle, too.

Your comic about aviation can draw a whole slew of fans more interested in your topic than the medium of the work. This is the same principle non-fiction books and documentaries work off of, and it can work for fiction, too.

I'm not saying that if you make a comic about sushi it'll automatically sell, but it gives you context to introduce your work to people who like sushi and it opens doors for you to then do the marketing work you need to succeed.

The same goes if you're making a comic where the main character is a veteran, and is impacted by that background. Even in an unreal fantasy setting, you have a good chance of satisfying a lot of readers with similar backgrounds.

As a note, I do consider art style a topic. Whether your comic is a little more animated, or more realistic, you can use that to narrow the audiences you try to target.


Those three pieces - Genre, Theme, Topic - are the core of this framework. For each one, you should try to come up with at least two elements from your comic.

I know that's quite a lot to digest already, but it's what it takes to market your comic properly - and we're just getting started.

building an audience cheat sheet!

To download a free step-by-step guide walking you through this framework and summarizing the info here, click the button below!

Locating Your Fans

Once you have an idea of the various component audiences you can use to construct your readership, you're focus should be on engaging them. If you want them to purchase eventually, you need to spend the time to develop a relationship and build trust.

But you can't engage someone if you don't know where they are. So you need to locate your fans. You need to determine where they spend time online.

Put yourself in the shoes of a member of each of the component audiences you identified through the framework above.

Then, find the specific forums where they gather. Find cross-media communities for fans of a certain genre, or even communities specifically for books or movies within your genre.

Find comparable stories that deal with the same theme as you do and target fans of those stories. It could be music or poetry - it doesn't matter. The theme - the common ground - is there. This can form the basis of a targeted advertising campaign.

Whether it's a podcast, a news site, a forum or Facebook group, or an influencer - you need to find where people within your component audiences spend time and then note those down.

Ideally, you're keeping track of all of this in a marketing subfolder within your project. I have a folder like this for every project I do. Usually I start it at the same time as I start working on that project. It's never too early to start marketing - whether you're just jotting ideas down or actually raising awareness about your project.

Prioritizing Audiences

But Jeremy, this seems like a lot of work.

Well, it is! But I'm not trying to be unreasonable. I know that your time is limited. For most of you, it's your scarcest resource. So, before you dive into the deep end of engaging audiences all over the internet, you can take a moment and prioritize your audiences.

We already discussed the idea of some audiences being broader than others - with the tightest, most focused audiences being best.

Now you just apply that principle to the list of all the different component audiences you came up with. Consider:

  • Which of your audiences are most likely to read your comic?
  • Which of your audiences are going to get the most value out of your comic? A theme dealt with in a side-plot, is likely to be a less compelling hook than your main theme.
  • Which of your audiences will be the easiest - and most difficult - to reach and engage? Some audiences are more competitive than others.

This is where a lot of people usually bring up that experienced fans are important. After all, if they read comics already they should be the easiest to reach, right? Wrong.

It's because they're the most apparent audience, that they're actually one of the most difficult - the most competitive. Getting through to them is likely to take more work than reaching out to the non-reader audiences, where, even though the results are uncertain, having a comic can be a unique and exciting thing, and the potential upside is quite high.

Once you've answered these questions, decide where you want to draw the line.

Which of the audiences do you really want to commit to? How far are you going to go to market your comic?

It's far better to commit to fewer audiences and give them your all, than it is to spread yourself thin.

Marketing well is not about getting to as many readers as possible. What it's really about is building relationships. It's about turning casual onlookers into fans, and develop your audience into a community.

If you just haphazardly reach out to every audience you've identified you're doing no better than the creators who haven't identified anyone at all.

The point of all this is to go from a shotgun-blast approach, to a focused sniper. Fewer audiences, but deeper relationships. In the long run, that's what matters most.

Engage

When you know who your readers could be, where they spend their time, and who you're going to actively work to show your comic to, then it's time to engage them.

It's time to start developing that relationship and turn people who've never heard of you into fans, who'll be ready to buy your comic when it's available.

To do this right, it's important to understand that marketing is not about selling your comic. Yes, you read that correctly.

Marketing is actually about giving readers an opportunity to buy your comic.

It's a small, semantic distinction, but it's an important one. You can't build an audience or find your true fans by just asking people to buy, buy, buy.

Instead, you need to build trust and deepen your relationship with the people you want as readers. You do that by bringing them value.

Ideally that value is linked to the reason you've targeted them. If you think they'll be interested in your comic because of the art style, don't rant about the story - show them the art!

There are plenty of ways to do this - social media, paid advertising, getting creative publicity from sites and podcasts, or participating in community groups and forums.

The how of it matters less than actually doing it, and remembering that you need to bring them value.

If you don't, they won't even pay attention. After all, why would they?

Attention is a prized commodity. You can't get sales, you can't grow your readership, without first earning attention.

But attention is difficult to get. Not only are you competing with other comics for it, but everyone else who's selling something is fighting for attention, too. The problems we face as comic creators are shared by creators in every other industry.

Film, books, news, memes - they all ask for our attention. That's why in marketing your work, you need to provide more value than all those other sources and make an offer that's enticing enough to get them to spend time to check out your comic, rather than do any of the nearly limitless umber of other things they could be doing instead.

Because you need the attention. You need the attention to build a relationship and develop an audience's trust so that when you do ask them to buy your comic - they'll at least listen.

That's why we learn to use social media well. That's why we build mailing lists, when algorithms change the attention we get from readers, or move to new platforms like Snapchat where there's more attention.

Without it, nothing else matters. And if you bring people value when they do pay attention - perhaps by showing off samples, telling your backstory, or answering their questions - then they're more likely to pay attention the next time you come around.

You are not owed attention. If you want the chance to link your webcomic, plug your Kickstarter, or pitch an audience on your new book, you need to earn it.

The Ask

After all that work, you eventually get your "at bat." Your chance to ask your audience to support you and your work.

It's what you've been building to this whole time.

You spent the time identifying component audiences that might be interested, for a variety of different reasons. You figured out where they hang out online - what they read and listen to. And then you put in the work to engage them and bring them value.

Now you get the opportunity to ask them to support you. You don't automatically get the sale. They can still decline. And if they do, that's entirely their right. They don't owe you anything. But, you've earned the chance.

They're actually listening to you. Your signal has gotten through the noise.

So, remind them of why you think they'd like your comic. Pitch them on the angle that you thought they'd enjoy. Show off your cool art, talk about the time travel element, share an endorsement from the creator that they like. And ask them to buy your comic, or back your Kickstarter, so that they can read something awesome and you can keep doing the work you love.

The Problem of Friction

Sometimes, even after all the other work's been done, there's a hiccup here - right at the finish line. I encounter this a lot in my work. The marketing that people are trying isn't working and they don't know why.

Usually, it's because even though they've been adopting new marketing strategies, they haven't made the same commitment to evolving their business.

Marketing alone can't solve everything.

The structure of your business needs to support the marketing you're doing. For example, I'm a huge proponent of Facebook Ads. But if traditional publishers tried to run Facebook Ads to get readers out into comic shops to preorder, it wouldn't work as well as it would if the people they reached didn't have to deal with that friction.

Friction is the obstacle between your targeted audience and your comic. While we can't control the obstacles themselves, we can decide to take paths with fewer obstacles - like, for example, making the comic available digitally (selling a print comic online counts).

Otherwise, you're just making it more difficult for yourself. You see how much work this is. Are you really going to go through the trouble of not only interesting an audience in your comic, but trying to educate them on an archaic system of purchasing completely outside their buying habits?

Why are you going to cost yourself readers just to participate in a model you could easily avoid? Or one you could complement with an alternative strategy so the people who want to buy online can, and those who want to buy in their local comic store, can too.

This is a question the entire comic industry needs to answer. But, first, it's up to each of you to answer for yourselves. As a creator, it's your responsibility to make sure your story gets read. Are you living up to that? Or are you just making it more difficult?

We All Start Somewhere

It's a long road to build an audience. There's no way around the time investment. Some of us will build a sustainable living faster than others, but it's not "fast" for anyone.

And these strategies won't solve anything automatically. Instead, it's only in continuing to apply them - from one project to the next - that the true value of it all reveals itself.

Because, fortunately, audience building gets easier. As you make more comics, your core base, your "Creator Fans," grows larger.

Kevin Kelly, the founding editor of WIRED, called this the principle of 1,000 True Fans.

In comics these true fans are the people who'll buy your next comic on-sight, no questions asked. They're the people who you have the deepest relationship with. They're the fans that matter most.

Of course, 1,000 might not be enough for a comic - given that most are produced by teams. But regardless of the actual number, the principle holds true. Understanding this is key to your long-term success.

As you move from your first project to your second one, not everyone you attracted for your first comic will follow you to your next one.

And while that is unfortunate, it's made easier by the fact that if you did a good job, some amount of them will. It might be 5%, it might be 20%, but over time your core base will grow and it'll become easier and easier to build larger audiences for your comic.

So is the work you did marketing your last comic wasted effort? No, not in the least! You did what that comic needed. And now you're better prepared for the next go. And not only are you coming in with more readers than you had last time, but your next project is an opportunity to reach a whole new set of people. People who might like what you do so much that they're inspired to go check out your previous work.

You can maximize the likelihood of this - both ways - by working on stories in a similar genre. That's why people advocate picking a niche and becoming a great fantasy writer, or romance author, or comedic screenwriter, specifically.

But I've never really bought into that mentality. Sure, it helps. And yes, I try to strategize around it. But I believe that you should always work on the stories you care most about. That's the most important qualification.

I'm not in this to have the biggest audience possible. I'm in this to tell the best stories I can. And that's true for most of the creators I've met.

The business, the marketing - it's all about making the creative work possible. Not forcing the creative work to fit to some external constraints. But you can't ignore it. Ignoring it is a fast road to failure.

Instead, you need to embrace it. Learn how to do it - or find someone who knows - and do it right. Give your comic the best chance to reach people who'll love it.

And even if you only reach one person. If you only find one new reader - that's okay. Most of us only start out with one reader. And one's a whole lot more than zero. And if you make something really great, and actually create a relationship with that one reader, then that person probably has at least one other friend they can show your comic to. And they're likely to stick around for your next project, too.

That's how you market your comic. That's how you build an audience. That's how you build a career as a comic creator.


The Audience Building Cheat Sheet

To help you apply everything here I built a cheat sheet for you.

It's a step by step guide that walks you through the framework while summarizing all the key points.

It's completely free and you can download it by clicking the button below.