Who are your readers?

They are not your family and friends. And don’t expect them to buy the book when it comes out. Unless they are in it. And that might not always be a good thing.

Who are the people who don’t know you and will be pulled to your book enough to take money out of their pocket to buy it so they can read it? Do you know who those people are? They are book-buying customers. If not, it’s time to get to know them.

The whole point of getting published is to be read. It IS about the readers. What will they think of it? How will they respond?

As an author you can’t pretend you aren’t writing to a reader. Imagine who that is. Who are you talking to as the narrator of your book? What do you want them to think, feel, and do as a result of reading your book?

When I coach radio journalists, I encourage them to identify their listeners. To whom exactly are they telling the story? If they can’t picture the specific person they are speaking to in a conversational manner, then they sound like the sing-songy news readers we all hate and tune out. Your writing will be stronger when you write to a specific audience.

Let’s face it. Most of us don’t have time to read many books anymore. Buying a book is a luxury, not a necessity in most cases. If readers buy a book, they want it to meet their expectations, serve their needs, and fulfill their desires.

When you say you are writing for everybody, well, everybody isn’t interested. Not everybody reads. Look, if your book is about something an overwhelming number of men are not going to be interested in then there is no use pretending your audience is everybody. It’s not.

Female readers. Incredibly diverse. You need to narrow your audience further. Women of what age? Race? Class? SES? What shared values, goals, interests, motives? Describe their media consumption habits. Think about how they live their lives and what they seek in a book. Hang out at a bookstore and watch the customers who come and browse in the section of books where yours would be located. Go window shopping for the books on your comp title list and talk to the bookseller about who buys these books.  Go online to Goodreads and see what readers write about what they like and don’t like in the books that are like yours.

So you’re writing for kids? What age kids? Board books for babies? Picture storybook? What grade? What reading level? Children’s books are highly segmented by audience and genre. And the 10-year-old boy who reads Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series is a different kind of reader than a 10-year-old boy who reads R.J. Palacio’s Wonder.

Writing nonfiction about a specific subject? Who is your intended reader? Other specialists? Students? Scholars? Clinicians? Teachers? Professionals? In order to organize the information and write cogently about a subject you need to imagine who the reader might be and what they want in a book on the subject.

Consider your audience when you make reference to music, film, and popular culture. Will your audience grasp your reference to Watergate or Wayne’s World or Lisa Simpson? Are they old enough or too old, too urban or too rural, too idiosyncratic or too esoteric to catch your intended meaning?

The reader needs space in your book. Have you left enough breathing room for the audience? Do you trust the readers enough? When you aren’t sure who the audience is for your work, it is easy to distrust readers because you distrust yourself as a writer.  When you can invite your readers into the story they’ll become invested in turning the page to find out what’s next.

While you write your book manuscript, consider the reader. Know your audience.

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