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Your ideal reader

If someone asked you who buys your books, would you shrug and say 'everyone' or 'anybody who wants to'?

Everyone or anybody

If someone asked you who buys your books, would you shrug and say ‘everyone’ or ‘anybody who wants to’? Because that raises at least three questions:

  1. What does ‘everyone’ or ‘anybody’ mean?
  2. Would ‘everyone’ or ‘anybody’ really enjoy your book?
  3. How are they going to find out about it – in order to know whether they want to read it?

Let’s take each question in turn.

Food for thought: what does ‘everyone’ or ‘anybody’ mean?

I think it’s a good thing to challenge the paradigms through which we see the world, so it’s interesting to think about what we mean when we say ‘everyone’ or ‘anybody’. First of all, let’s get a sense of perspective. My favourite illustration – by inference anyway – of how tiny our books are in comparison to the rest of the world, is Douglas Adams’ Total Perspective Vortex, which you can read about by clicking the link. If you get put into the Total Perspective Vortex, you’re going to see something that looks a bit like this with a sign saying ‘You Are Here’. Although this picture of earth taken from the surface of Mars, on the NASA website, is probably perspective enough.

According to Unesco’s 2017 figures, worldwide “there are 750 million illiterate adults, two-thirds of whom are women”. I’m assuming here that many of the writers reading this are in the UK or US. These were the figures I managed to find on literacy in those countries: According to the National Literacy Trust, “5.1 million adults in England” are functionally illiterate – I couldn’t find info on the rest of the UK. According to Literacy Inc, this applies to 32 million adults in the US. Whatever the figures in your part of the world, you can take it as read that millions of ‘non-readers’ are not included in your paradigm of ‘everyone and anybody’, unless you are writing books targeted at those learning to read.

About 54% of the world’s population had access to the internet by the end of 2017, meaning that 46% do not – so although these figures are rising very quickly, we can’t treat the internet as if it were ‘universal’ or ‘free to access’. Ebooks and digital marketing is not going to reach these people. If you tend to tell people about your books online only, then this 46% of the worldwide population are not included in your paradigm of ‘everyone and anybody’.

A 17-country report” based on the “international online population” found that 59% of people read books “at least once a week”. So of the 54% of people who have access to the internet (presumably because they did the survey online?) only 59% are likely to pick up a book. Several million more people who are not included in your paradigm of ‘everyone and anybody’.

Maybe that sounds silly. Of course you didn’t mean those people when you said ‘everyone’ or ‘anybody who wants to’. OK then – so who did you mean?

Would ‘everyone’ or ‘anybody’ really enjoy your book?

Would ‘everyone’ or ‘anybody’ really enjoy your book? Or is there are type of reader who is more likely (speaking generally here) to like your book? If you’ve written a cookbook for vegans and avid meat eater might read it because they’ve decided to change their ways, but it’s much more likely to appeal to vegans?

Good news – YOU are the best place to start. What do you like to read, watch, write? (If you write kids’ books, then what do your kids and grandkids – or the students you’ve worked with – like to read, watch, write?) What are YOU like? Now adapt: write a description of your ideal reader. This isn’t a real person, neither is it meant to exclude some audiences; this is a kind of composite sketch of the sorts of people who are likely to enjoy your book the most. Because there are so many people in the world, you will be able to find people who like what you write, even if you’re the niche-y-est niche writer in existence, which is unlikely.

More good news – if you’ve already got an audience you can ASK THEM. What attracted them to the book? What do they want to see more of? What made them buy or borrow it? Where did they first see it? Get them involved.

Like this idea? Work through these activities. Be warned – it’s very marketing-esque. You might also like this blog post I found by googling and these tips from The Creative Penn, whose books I enjoy. I also like Jane Friedman’s work. There’s an article on finding your ideal reader on her blog. You might also like Dan Blank’s blog, which goes into the whole author-reader connection thing in a lot of detail.

How are they going to find out about it?

Once you have an ideal reader profile done, you can start thinking about where they hang out, what else they read, watch, enjoy (again, generally speaking). Once you know that, you know how to reach them. You can do all of these for free or relatively cheaply:

  • Pitch an article to a magazine, blog or paper read by your ideal audience.
  • Ask people from your ideal audience to blog for you.
  • Review books you think your ideal audience would like.
  • Follow people on Twitter who are connected to your ideal audience.
  • Join in with Facebook groups where your ideal audience hangs out.
  • Make a free mini-course that would appeal to your ideal audience and post it on Udemy.
  • Post some videos on your YouTube channel with ‘tips’ and ‘hacks’ that would appeal to your ideal audience.

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