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Book Marketing Challenge: Closet Readers

Challenges of marketing to readers who are self conscious about reading your book

Challenges of marketing to readers who are self conscious about reading your book

I follow best selling romance author, Mandy M. Roth, on TikTok. She posted a video about how men can also like romance novels. I absolutely agree. Why not? But even in our much more diverse and tolerant society today, I’m sure many men would still be uncomfortable admitting it to family or friends since that genre is often associated with female readers.

I would call these self conscious male romance fans “closet readers” who wish to privately enjoy their reading choices. But they’re not the only ones. Closet readers for any genre represent a marketing challenge for self published authors.

My Own Closet Reading Confession

When I was in high school, Dr. Wayne Dyer’s book, Your Erroneous Zones, was published. For those who are unfamiliar with the book, it is a self help book on self destructive thought and behavior patterns. It was on the New York Times best seller list for 64 weeks and is reported to have sold 35 million copies.

In my high school’s library was a poster for the book. Though I thought it looked intriguing, I was terrified to read it, or even have it in the house, for fear of judgment from my mom if she found out. She was very religious and delving into psychology didn’t align with her faith. So I didn’t read it until maybe 15 years later, years after I left my parents’ home. After I read it, I wished I would have been brave enough to closet read it in high school. I wonder how my life and relationships would have changed if I had.

But I wasn’t the only closet reader in the family. My dad was an avid novel reader. One of the authors he enjoyed was Andrew Greeley, a prominent priest and prolific best selling author from our Chicago area. His novels often dealt with “sinful” subjects. So when my mom discovered my dad was reading Greeley’s books, she was not happy. Luckily, dad could read privately during his commute to work.

The Reader Isn’t the Problem

As my story shows, there was no problem with reader acceptance of these books. But publicly reading them can set up readers for judgment from others—such as family, friends, coworkers, teachers, or religious leaders—who may not agree with their book choices.

Some genres, like romance, may be associated with a particular reader profile or demographic. Readers outside the profile norm may be judged as weird.

Banned books represent another angle to the closet reading issue. It’s surprising that so many literary classics have landed into this category throughout history. In this case, readers’ consumption of ideas or literature may be considered not just unacceptable, but threatening to the societal status quo. When society’s norms change, so does the status of these books and those that read them.

In all these cases, the reader is not the problem. While you could say that these readers should be able to stand up for their reading choices, they may not be in an emotional place where that act of courage feels like the right thing to do. Given my experience, I can relate.

Kindle Closet Readers

The greatest technologies to help closet readers—and the authors who write for them—are the Amazon Kindle and Kindle apps, and library eBook apps such as Overdrive and Hoopla. You can read whatever you want on your device, without having an offending book laying around for others to see and judge.

Challenges of Marketing to Closet Readers

If you’re looking to sell books, you should have an ideal reader profile for your work. Depending on your genre and subject matter, you should determine whether that ideal reader is also a closet reader. Your closet readers may also be a secondary market. For example, let’s say you do write romance and your primary audience is women. Men who closet read romance could be a secondary market. You need to decide how much time and investment you need and want to make in reaching your closet markets.

Further challenging marketing efforts is that closet readers may not publicly review, discuss, or share your books on social media. Closet readers may feed their private reading habit on the likes of Amazon and Kindle. So it is crucial to write a compelling book description and choose appropriate keywords to facilitate searches on Amazon. Amazon advertising, through Amazon Marketing Services (AMS), should also be considered to help visibility in search results.

As for Amazon reviews, closet reading reviewers can edit their public profile name to help conceal their identity and set some controls over the visibility of their reviews. However, as with all books and products on Amazon, only a small percentage of buyers actually do customer reviews. With closet readers, it may be even less. Don’t take that personally or as a judgment of your books or marketing.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 01, 2020:

Mary, you totally understand the situation! And thank goodness for the Kindle to protect our reading interests, and for bringing all our favorite reading materials when we travel.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience to the conversation! Have a beautiful day!

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Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on November 30, 2020:

The first time I read the Bible, I hid it inside a magazine for fear that my very progressive friends would laugh at me. Nowadays, I read what I can get into especially when there was yet no Kindle and we can only bring so many books when we travelled. My family and friends supply me with books as they know I love to read. There are many surprises, books I would never have gotten for myself but are very enjoyable.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 30, 2020:

Donna, the ad for the book when you turn on the Kindle is a lockscreen ad. The author/publisher buys these ads. It sounds like a perfect ad venue. I have tried the ads. They are a bit expensive compared to other book advertising on Amazon. But certainly worth considering for some markets.

Thanks for sharing that in the conversation! Have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 30, 2020:

Hi Linda! Lots of authors don't consider these readers either, probably because they're so difficult to identify. But they can be loyal fans of authors' books.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting, as always. Have a great week!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 29, 2020:

This is interesting, Heidi. I've never thought about closet readers before. It's a good topic for a writer to consider.

Donna Herron from USA on November 29, 2020:

Hi Heidi - This is a very interesting article, and discusses a problem I didn't know existed. But I noticed my husband's kindle displays an image and advertisement for a new book when the device is first turned on. Not sure how this book is chosen, but I would think this is a great way to promote other similar books to closet readers.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 29, 2020:

Liz, you're so right! As authors, we have to wonder if we've overlooked a huge segment of potential fans by not being aware of these hidden markets. And, yes, I think a lot of us have been a closet market for certain books over the years.

Thanks so much for chiming in! Have a beautiful day and week ahead!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 29, 2020:

Flourish, I don't think authors ever think about their "closet" audiences. And, yes, it's a huge challenge for self published authors... and even for the big traditional publishers. How do you know who you're marketing to?

Isn't Google Analytics a hoot sometimes? Same situation for YouTube. I just shake my head because I'm wondering how these people land my way. I'm guessing some hidden markets like these are at work. I'd love to know who exactly resonates with my work.

Thanks for adding that perspective to the conversation! Enjoy the rest of your Thanksgiving weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 29, 2020:

Bill, I wouldn't think you'd be a closet reader. You're pretty forthcoming about your thoughts and preferences.

I wonder, did I invent this term? :) But it is a pretty accurate assessment of the situation.

Anyway, thanks for weighing in, as always. Have a wonderful walk with the doggies!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 29, 2020:

Peggy, there are a lot of people who post "shelfies" on social media to show the world what they read. I have to wonder if that's just for show, or if that's what they really read. ;)

I agree it's an interesting topic. When I saw Mandy post about it, a lightbulb went off for me.

Thanks so much for chiming in! Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving. Have a beautiful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 29, 2020:

Pamela, my hubby isn't a closet reader either. Although I have to say I don't know everything that's on his Kindle. :) But I say guys should enjoy romance novels if they want to.

The secondary markets are ones that authors either ignore or might not even be aware of. Yet they do offer opportunity.

Thanks for chiming in. Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving. Have a beautiful day!

Liz Westwood from UK on November 28, 2020:

You have highlighted a whole section of readership that it would be easy to overlook. I think more people than we probably realise would at some stage have fallen into this category.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 28, 2020:

I’ve rarely thought a bought closet readers but I definitely get the idea. Your examples are excellent. It’s unfortunate that with closet readers you never really know who your market truly is. Similarly, withGoogle Analytics sometimes I’m surprised about audience stats. Gotta know who you’re writing for!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 28, 2020:

This one had me thinking. I don't think I'm a closet reader. I am doing a quick scan of my book-reading history, and so far no surprises. lol

Hey, if nothing else, I learned a new term/phrase with this article, and for that I thank you. Now, the doggies want a walk, so off I go while it's not raining. Have a great weekend!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 28, 2020:

What an interesting topic! You are correct in saying that many books have been banned over the years for one reason or another. People can judge others from what they see on home bookshelves.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 28, 2020:

I never thought about men liking romance novels, and I c an tell you my husband is not a closet reader. He reads many books about WWII, etc.

I do not doubt that some men are. I am familiar with Dr. Wayne Dyer’s book. It is good for authors to know there is a secondary market. This is a very interesting article, Heidi.

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