When I first began writing my fantasy novel The Dark Between, I didn't have a clue who my future readers would be.
"Oh, I'll just write for myself," I said. But I was 18, teetering somewhere between teenager and adult. With every tiny self-transformation, my manuscript transformed, too. It wasn't until I began writing for She's Novel and researching the craft of fiction in depth that I came across the phrase "ideal reader".
This phrase cropped up all throughout my research, until I finally realized that this was something I should probably learn about. And so I did, getting to know everything I could about what an ideal reader was and why it was so important to discover your own ASAP.
I've since talked about ideal readers in a few of my online courses, but this topic is too life-changing not to share with as many writers as possible. That's why I've written down my best ideal reader tips to share with you today. Ready to get started?
What is an ideal reader?
In essence, an ideal reader is the person your book would most appeal to. They are the right age group and gender, they have the right interests, and they're likely to be as in love with your story as you are.
Oh, and they're 100%, completely fictional.
Don't worry. I'm not asking you to believe in imaginary friends. But then again, we already do that as writers, don't we?
What I do what you to believe in is a little thing called purpose.
We've talked about the importance of writing with purpose in at least a dozen posts here on She's Novel, but it's still worth repeating. Let's break down the most vital points below.
While you should always adore the story you're writing, you should also write with a specific purpose in mind–especially if you plan to publish someday. What kind of purpose am I talking about?
That depends on what element of your novel you're currently working on.
If you're pre-writing, you should work to create well-developed characters and a tight, purposeful plot. But if you're drafting, you should focus on transforming your plot into a full-blown story.
Still yet, your focus should lie on cutting filler, fixing plot holes, and tightening your prose if you're editing. And if you've already published, you'll want to target the perfect readers with purposeful marketing strategies.
In each of these cases, it's purpose that separates amateur manuscripts from those that gain commercial and critical acclaim. So if you choose to work with purpose, you choose to give your novel its best chance at success.
But what does all this have to do with finding your ideal reader?
Having an ideal reader allows you to narrow down that purpose, to focus in on making the best choices for the future success of your novel. It not only helps you strengthen your story's appeal, it helps you grow your author platform by defining the way in which you pitch and market your published book.
The earlier you discover your ideal reader, the better. But no worries if you're already far along in your writing journey. Because knowing your ideal reader can help you work with purpose at any stage in the journey, it's never too late to discover who they are.
But how can you do just that? Let's talk about finding your ideal reader!
Finding your ideal reader doesn't have to be a scary process. In fact, it's pretty easy in most cases! You can usually nail down your perfect reader in just a single sitting. Sounds good, right?
But first things first, there are actually two main ways to approach the creation on your ideal reader. You can either...
- Decide on your ideal reader first, developing your story to appeal to that reader before or during the first draft.
- Or, decide on your ideal reader before editing, so you can take the raw story you've drafted and turn it into a purposeful and powerfully-attractive novel.
Either of these approaches is a-okay. I've actually used both in my own writing process. I decided on my ideal reader for The Dark Between before editing and my ideal reader for Dreamworld before pre-writing, and both novels shaped up nicely.
The key is to actually get the job done, to make sure you take an afternoon to hash out your ideal reader at some point during your writing process.
Discovering your ideal reader is, in essence, the process of asking yourself a series of intentional, thought-provoking questions. Let's break down five keys to discovering your ideal reader:
- Demographic. The basics are the first things you'll want to know about your ideal reader. Age. Gender. Race. Religion. Where does your ideal reader live? How much money do they make? And how do these factors play in to who they are?
Knowing these points will help you narrow your book's content and marketing strategies to the perfect demographic.
- Interests. It's time to dive a little deeper. Think about the things your reader enjoys. What are their favorite books, movies, and television shows? What kind of music do they listen to? How do they enjoy spending their downtime?
Discovering these items will help you better understand where your book fits into the publishing market. They'll also help you engage and connect with your actual readers.
- Personality. We know what your ideal reader likes, but who are they? It's time to explore your ideal reader's traits, as well as what makes them happy, sad, angry, etc.
Understanding these personality traits will help you create characters that your ideal readers will love (or love to hate!).
- Secrets. We're not done yet. Next up, we'll dig in to our reader's deepest desires and darkest secrets. What are their passions and regrets? What or who do they hate the most? What do they despise about themselves?
Bringing these secrets to light will help you tailor your plot for an amazing read, playing off your ideal reader's hopes and fears to keep them turning pages.
- The Why. And finally, you want to ask yourself why your ideal reader reads. At first, this might seem like a silly question, but not all readers are built the same.
Some readers enjoy novels that are pure entertainment–all romance, adventure, or thrill. But other readers enjoy novels that engage them emotionally, that comment on society and make them think about the world and their place in it.
And others yet enjoy novels that feature elements of both entertainment and engaging emotional pull, and these novels can include varying degrees of both.
In order to truly hone in on appealing to your ideal reader, you need to know why they read. Do they want to be entertained, engaged, or a little of both? Another way of looking at this question is to ask if they enjoy literary, genre, or upmarket fiction.
- Literary Fiction. Character-driven fiction that engages readers by commenting on social, political, or philosophical views (often critically acclaimed with "literary merit", relies heavily on the author's superb writing abilities).
- Genre Fiction. Plot-driven fiction that appeals to fans of established genres and seeks to entertain or indulge (also known as commercial or pop fiction, relies heavily on the author's superb storytelling abilities).
- Upmarket Fiction. Fiction that both comments on world views and seeks to entertain or indulge (often coined "literary fiction with commercial appeal", relies heavily on the author's superb writing and storytelling abilities).
Are any one of these types of fiction better to read or write than another? Absolutely not! All three styles take extreme skill to craft well. An author of literary fiction must still be a good storyteller, and a genre fiction author must still have good writing skills.
Of course, there are books that slip through the cracks, managing to gain success without either quality (I'm looking at you, Twilight!), but even those books must appeal to the right audience in order to make it big.
That's why knowing your ideal reader's why is so important; it will determine your own how–how to write, edit, pitch and market your novel for success.
Now that you've defined your ideal reader, it's time to talk about all the ways you can use your ideal reader to add purpose to your novel and direction to your marketing.
- Development. As we mentioned briefly above, knowing your ideal reader can help you create characters and plots that will not only appeal to them, but will make your novel simply unforgettable.
To do this, look back on your ideal reader's personality and secrets.
How can you infuse a few of your ideal reader's traits into some of the main characters? How can you take the opposite traits and embed them into your antagonists to drive your readers crazy?
What about their secrets? What fears can you include as plot points in your novel? What dreams and regrets can you mimic in your characters' goals and motivations?
- Focus. You can also use your ideal reader's demographic and interests to make sure you're creating a story that appeals to the appropriate audience.
After all, you don't want to include ultra-mature topics in a middle grade book or gory language in a romance novel. You want to keep things tailored to the audience you intend to appeal to, right?
- Pitch. If you plan to publish your novel traditionally through a publishing house, you'll need to perfect your pitch (a.k.a. the proposal in which you try to convince agents or publishers to take on your manuscript).
One of the biggest items agents and publishers look to check off their lists is marketability. They want to know exactly who your novel will appeal to on the commercial market.
If you're able to show that your novel is tailored to appeal to a specific readership in your proposal, you'll increase your chances of getting an acceptance letter.
- Platform. Looking to grow your author platform and build a fantastic readership? Then it's important to remember that the quality of your followers–and not the quantity of them–is what matters most.
What do I mean?
Let's explain: If you have 300 engaged readers that mirror your ideal reader, you're going to sell far more copies of your book than if you had 10,000 followers that just weren't connected to what you do, right?
That's why knowing your ideal reader is so important. If you can focus on reaching and engaging actual readers that hold strong similarities to your ideal reader, you'll be far more likely to build a following that will absolutely love your work.
- Marketing. And finally, you'll want to market your finished novel to readers, and who better to market to than your ideal reader? If you've already built up an engaged readership, marketing should be pretty organic.
Think about your ideal reader. What marketing strategies do they respond to best? Storytelling? Quick pitches? Visual cues? Don't forget to consider where your ideal reader hangs out online, and focus in on marketing in those places.
Isn't it crazy how much your ideal reader can play in to every part of the writing and publishing process? And we just covered the basics!
There are dozens of unique ways in which authors are appealing to their ideal readers, and I'm excited to explore many of them with you as we dig in to our author platform series here on the blog. More posts coming soon!
Can you be your own ideal reader?
If there's one question I'm frequently asked about choosing an ideal reader, it's this: "Can I use myself as an ideal reader?"
Whew! Talk about a loaded question... I will say this: the camp is split.
Much like literary vs genre fiction, you'll often find writers who adamantly believe you can or can not use yourself as an ideal reader. And this argument usually comes down to the idea of writing what you love.
"Shouldn't I be writing for myself first and foremost?" you ask. Absolutely. Always, always, always.
But just because you're passionate about the story you're writing doesn't mean that it's best fitted to you. Just think of JK Rowling writing Harry Potter or Nicholas Sparks writing romance novels.
Harry Potter is marketed to children. And which demographic is most attracted to Nick Sparks' romances? Women. But that doesn't mean those authors love their stories any less or don't write for their own gratification.
Get what I'm saying?
So, can you use yourself as an ideal reader? Yes. Do you have to? Absolutely not. Creating a fictional ideal reader does not make you anything less than in love with your story.
So, what do you say? Are you ready to discover an ideal reader for each of your manuscripts and rock the heck out of writing, editing, publishing, and marketing them? You go, writer!
Have any questions? As always, leave 'em in the comments below, and I'll be sure to answer ASAP. See you there!