One of the most important issues for an aspiring author is to define your audience. That begins with defining your writing. The biggest mistake a writer can make is to answer the question, “What’s your book about?” with the phrase, “It’s about a lot of things.” Of course people assume that means you have no idea either, and you’ll lose your audience right then and there.
The minimum requirement is to define your genre. Yes, you can mix them, for example, with something like a mystery/romance or a horror/comedy. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your manuscript will have ‘universal appeal.’ There’s no such thing. People come with preferences, not just needs. We all eat, but we don’t all buy bookcases of cookbooks. It doesn’t matter if you claim to be Dickens incarnate (in which case we’ll think you stark raving mad!) Not everyone likes Dickens, either, and chances are you’re not him.
Another misdirection authors tend to fall into is the idea of ‘author lists’ and author/publisher social networking sites. The former is largely useless (think back at how often you went looking through an author list) and the latter is better suited to networking, support and advice on the various aspects of writing and publishing. Other writers and publishers are there to engage in discussion, not discover new reading material. You might find the rare connection with a publisher who wants your manuscript, but this is extremely rare. My personal favorite for author networking and discussion is www.Goodreads.com
While book marketing sites can be helpful, chances are that you’ll again be engaging other writers and publishers, not your target audience. However, if you’re having trouble defining your genre these are the sites that can offer advice and help with lists of publishers who may be interested in your manuscript. It’s pointless to send your deep, dark mystery to a romance publisher. That rejection would be automatic and entirely predictable, a waste of their time and your effort. (And it would possibly burn bridges if you should ever decide to switch to writing romance…) Even if you use a reputable self-publishing company they’ll need to know what genre to assign your book. (If they don’t care, RUN AWAY!)
Your choice of genre will help you find your real audience. My most avid readers are science fiction fans, although I sold one book on the basis of the romantic aspects of the story. This genre is no accident. I’m a huge Star Trek and Dr. Who fan. Once I’ve won over all the Trekkies (one of my most eager readers wears a B’joran earing, no matter where he goes…) guess who I’m focusing on next?