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Who would read it anyway?

Write your book

When you’re procrastinating, when you put off writing your book, do you find yourself asking ‘who would read it anyway?’ And if you are procrastinating, perhaps your subconscious is pondering that question, even if you don’t articulate it. If so, then this post is for you. Let’s take the question seriously. Who would read it anyway?

Your ideal reader

Is there such a thing as an ‘ideal reader’? Do you need to get to know your ideal reader before writing your book? Let’s borrow a concept from the business world for a moment: the ideal customer. This person doesn’t really exist, of course, because people are complicated, but the concept helps businesses to target their services at groups of people. If you’ve ever worked in sales and marketing then you’ll be familiar with this idea.

Poundland or Harrods?

Say you’re selling scented candles, the answer to the question ‘who wants to buy my scented candles?’ isn’t ‘everyone’. Only certain people are going to be interested in buying your candles. In fact, there are some people who are so uninterested in scented candles that they are only vaguely aware they even exist. Others get their scented candles from Poundland or Harrods and wouldn’t buy them from you. Some people make their own scented candles at home. None of these people are your customers.

Who will buy my scented candles?

It helps, if you’re selling scented candles or anything at all, to know who is likely to buy from you. That’s where the concept of the ideal customer comes from. The typical suggestion for getting to know this fictitious person goes like this:

  • Get a picture of one particular person in your head.
  • Write about how old they are, how educated, whether they have kids, what their interests are.
  • Work out where they hang out, online and in person.

In fact it’s a bit like doing a character sketch. Is this useful to do if you’re a writer and you’re going to be involved in marketing your books? And if it is a useful exercise, then when should you do it?

  • Before you start writing?
  • Before you submit to agents or editors?
  • After you’ve sold the book?
  • After the book has been published?

I’ll give you my own opinion in a moment – feel free to give me yours in the comments. In the meantime, it’s worth pondering what you would prefer and / or the concept of readership and audience you tend to default to.

Feelings lead to words and actions

Over the next few posts, I’m going to delve a bit deeper and look at some of the ways you can get to know your audience. But first, a quick reality check: How does it make you feel when I suggest getting to know your ideal reader?

  • Icky?
  • Interested?
  • Inspired?

Once you’ve read the advice in this series of posts, check back in again and decide how you feel about the whole ‘ideal reader’ thing, because how you feel about it is going to affect what you do about it and how you talk about it.

As usual, it depends

So what’s the answer? Do I need to know who my ideal reader is before I start? Or can I write my book first and then think about the readership? Won’t it put me off, thinking about the readership while I’m writing? Or will it help me to write if I’ve got someone in mind – it’ll be a bit like having a conversation with them, won’t it?

Personally, I think this depends on the kind of book you’re writing. This is general advice, but here’s my take on it:

  • If you’re writing self-help or general nonfiction, yes, get to know your ideal reader early on, before you write your plan or pitch it to agents and publishers.
  • If you’re writing for TV, know which programmes your script most closely resembles.
  • If you’re writing fiction, get to know other contemporary writers, be a literary citizen, and come up with some comparison titles. To be honest, you’ll know them already, based on what you like to read, but start thinking about this seriously after you’ve got the first draft done.
  • If you’re writing for theatre, be a literary citizen, get to know the contemporary theatre scene in your local area. That way you’ll discover (and probably meet) your ideal audience.
  • If you’re writing poetry or short stories, attend readings regularly and hang out with other poets and short story writers if you can. Follow small presses that publish your kind of thing on social media. Read and promote the work of your fellow writers. Again, you’ll discover (and probably meet) your ideal readers along the way.

Read the next post in this series here.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Louise xx

P.S. Want to learn more about your ideal reader? Go here.

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