Many writers need a different mentality to go into the storytelling process. They think they’re writing a story for the whole world to love.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
No matter how amazing your story, how well-crafted your plot, or how fleshed out your characters are, this is undeniable: Your book will not appeal to everyone. It won't even appeal to most. If you're lucky, you'll be able to craft a story that a handful of people truly love.
My creative writing teacher taught me one of the most important lessons any writer must learn to be effective at storytelling: Write to and for a specific group of people. Write to one person—the person who will eventually pick up your story, read it, and love it forever.
That person is a needle in a haystack.
It's easy to think this is pessimism, but here's a quick exercise you can do: Go to Google and search for your favorite novel with the added phrase “is a terrible book.” Did you discover haters? Unfortunately, no book is immune to hate, from To Kill a Mockingbird to One Hundred Years of Solitude. No matter how beloved the book may be to some people, it will always have critics. And it’s usually on a one-to-one basis.
For every raving fan, at least one other person will shrug their shoulders and sigh a “meh” before moving on.
Many writers are well-meaning but need further clarity on their audience. They start writing a story for themselves, and then they begin to shift into writing a story that will appeal to everyone. But writing a unanimous crowd-favorite is an impossible feat. People have different tastes and different cravings.
Your challenge as a writer isn't to write a story that everyone will love. Instead, the challenge is finding the few who genuinely enjoy your unique storytelling approach. Then the next challenge is writing more novels for that specific audience.
The magic happens when you do.
Let’s discuss why you need to define your ideal reader and how to do it.
Why Should You Identify Your Ideal Reader?
There are two reasons why you should identify your ideal reader.
When you’re clear about who you’re writing to, you can be a more effective storyteller. You’ll be able to connect to your reader in a stronger and more meaningful way simply because that person is no longer an unknown, faceless blob to you.
This clarity enables you to be more relational in how you write. You’ll write your story, knowing who you’re writing to, which will affect everything, including your language choice and how you frame scenes.
Think about it: If you know that your ideal reader—the person you’re writing to and for—shares several similarities to your characters in terms of experiences, you may adopt a familiar and relational tone. However, if your ideal reader is someone who picked up your book to explore a new way of life or understand a different perspective, you may take time to explain and enlighten the reader.
As you see, if you write to one person, you can better craft your story in a way that will land with that reader. You can speak directly to them. That will make the story seem more immediately personal to that reader, even if it's not about them.
Let’s get practical for a second. Do you want to make money from your book?
If the answer to that question is “yes,” you’ll need to get serious about how you market your book. And you’ll do that by first identifying your audience. When you define the ideal reader for your book, you can create a targeted marketing campaign to reach that person. You can also find this audience more easily by narrowing their common hang-out spots.
For example, if you’re targeting middle-aged homemakers, you can create a Facebook ad campaign to promote your book to this exact audience.
How to Find Your Ideal Reader
First, let's define the term “ideal reader.”
An ideal reader will love every aspect of your storytelling, from how you develop characters to how you progress through your plot. Not only will they love one book, but they'll love every book you write. They're true fans.
Your ideal reader isn’t merely a set of data points, such as race, age group, or gender. While those data points indicate who they are, remember that your reader is a living, breathing person with thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Who is the Ideal Reader in Your Niche?
Every niche has at least one type of reader. Identify the person most likely to read books in your chosen genre. Seek to understand what they enjoy about the genre.
Does the ideal Christian romance reader want to fall in love with the characters, or do they want to go on an adventure? Do they want to understand how romantic relationships work, or do they want to see representations of themselves in literature?
The more you understand your reader, the more you can create content and intentionally craft a reading experience just for them.
What Motivates Your Ideal Reader to Read?
If you ask your reader to define their motivation to pick up a book, what words or phrases would they use?
I’ll go first.
Whenever I pick up a book, fictional or non, my initial attitude is always curious and hopeful. I hope to find a lesson to understand the human condition or apply it to my own life.
But not everyone dives into a new book for life lessons. Some readers are art appreciators who wish to explore a book because of its poetic storytelling. Others dive into literature simply because they want a distraction from their lives.
Find out what interests your ideal reader. Sure, your ideal reader will be interested in the subject matter of your book, but it does not always mean the main subject.
For example, your sci-fi novel could attract your ideal reader, not because they enjoy sci-fi in general but because they want to explore the ethical questions surrounding artificial intelligence addressed in your book. In this example, your ideal reader isn't someone who will read sci-fi for the sake of unfamiliar characters and strange, new worlds but more so for moral, social, and ethical issues. It’s important to know this when writing so you lean more into this side than the other. Once again, understanding your audience brings clarity to your writing.
Always ask yourself, “Why would a potential reader buy my book?”
Do they want to escape from the ordinary or discover a new location? Will they enjoy reading your particular prose style, or are they compelled to read your story because of its strong plot or relatable characters?
What Can You Learn From Your Beta Readers?
Beta readers are test readers who provide feedback on your manuscript before you release it to the general public.
Generally, beta readers are passionate about a particular subject or literary genre. They may or may not represent your target audience, but they can give you insight into that audience. You can select beta readers for your book based on what you believe of your ideal reader. As part of the feedback process, ask the beta reader questions to determine if your content resonated with them. For example, you can ask:
- Would you buy this book?
- What would make you want to buy this book if a friend told you about it?
- Is this the type of book that you normally read? If yes, why? If no, why not?
- What kind of audience would you recommend this book to and why?
By identifying your target reader, you will be able to connect with your true community of fans and craft better stories for them. Use the above tips to find your ideal reader.