Jeanne: Identifying Your Reader


Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

This week I happened across a new writing blog, How To Write Anything (Well), by Dana Sitar.

What led me there was a guest post she did for Joanna Penn’s, The Creative Penn, on tone and voice in writing.  It was a good post, but an embedded link led me to one I found even more interesting–this post on understanding your audience. 

In it, Dana recommends, rather than writing what you like and then identifying the reader who might enjoy it. you identify your ideal reader and then write what she wants to read,

How do you identify that reader? By filling in the blanks of this sentence (which is totally Dana’s and not mine and, seriously, go check out her blog):

As a [type of person], they want [some goal] so that [some reason].

I approached this writing gig backwards, the exact way Dana recommends NOT doing it. I wrote a couple of books I really enjoyed and now I’m trying to figure out who might want to read them. Since I am where I am, I figured it was worthwhile to go through this exercise.

As a bright and curious person, my reader wants a challenge or puzzle so that she gets the pleasure of figuring something out.

This suggests people who enjoy reading mysteries are a crossover possibility.

I really love books challenge me in some way, but the books that I keep thinking about after I’m done reading are the ones with great characters–those books that you’re bummed to finish because you hate saying goodbye to the people you’ve met. The reason series do so well is because series books give us a chance to hang out with our new friends again and again.

That made me realize I was only looking at Dana’s question from a plot perspective. The perspective of character(s) is also important.

As a lover of romance, my reader wants characters she can identify with and root for, so that she feels good when they prevail against overwhelming odds.

Finally, I linked back to the original post on The Creative Penn, about voice and tone. What kind of tone does my ideal reader look for in a book?

As someone who’s more Cassandra than Pollyanna, she wants a humorous but slightly dark tone, so that she sees her worldview validated.

As I tailor my advertising and blurb going forward, I’m going to keep this ideal reader in mind.

5 thoughts on “Jeanne: Identifying Your Reader

  1. I wonder if it’s cheating if I define my reader as being like me, LOL? Of course, this is a task in itself — what kind of reader am I? Who are they? They are readers who read a lot, across genre. What do they know? A lot of half-formed references floating around in their brain. What do they want? Heartwarming stories where everything works out, but not quite they way they expect them to — lots of twists. Why do they want it? They want distraction from a boring, every day life — they want to escape into a world that’s a bit weird and very much wonderful. They want to be bombarded with sights and sounds and smells, but as if they were in a Disney ride — seated comfortably and securely as they trundle through the Small World exhibit.

    As super-readers, they want a new experience so they can escape reality for a little while. LOL, I wonder if that’s too niche? SFF was the lowest-selling genre, IIRC, when we studied that sort of thing in class. But I don’t need a huge audience — I just need to cover the cover art and editing and possibly the audiobook. Anything else is gravy, until I quit my dayjob.

  2. The question becomes, for me was well as you, how do you identify those characteristics from the demographics available–age range, gender, location, income. If FB and Amazon had a category for “bright, curious, likes to be surprised and delighted,” we could check that box and be done.

    I think we have more work to do.

    • This is an important point . . . are the demographics available easy for someone to find? For example, IS there a box when you fill out your self-publishing form that asks for age range, gender, location, and income? Or do you have to go to things like RWA and the SFWA to find your demographic?

      And what about all the readers you miss if you stick to those things? “Demon Lover” is a very specific sub-genre. I think people attracted to that subgenre are spread out evenly over the ages; women would be a safe bet (although look at all the men who have written about demon lovers! But women will read about succubi, but will men read about incubi who go for women? Sorry — arguing with myself in the parentheses here).

      Location: demons could be world-wide, and you have to take into account the ex-pat situation, too. I have no guesses whatsoever about income. It would be fascinating to find out!

      What would be a very interesting experiment is to start with the target audience, as you say, and just write something. The number one Amazon best seller of 2019 as of this writing is a mystery that seems to reek of nostalgia, rurality and nature (Where the Crawdads Sing). A couple of women’s memoirs. two self-helps, a Howard Stern memoir and another self-help. Finally, #8 and #9 are fiction: a Dr. Seuss, and the Wonky Donkey. IE: more nostalgia.

      Luckily for us, four of the top ten bestselling fiction works on Amazon are fantasy, if you count the Dr. Seuss. Two are revived because of TV dramas, though.

      So that suggests that a fantasy, dripping in nostalgia, with a dripping of mystery could be a bestseller in 2019, if only we can write fast enough. And well enough. And luckily enough. Maybe throw in a good dose of self-help. (This is actually kind of heartening.)

      Fantasy comes with a formula (the hero’s journey) plot. And there are so many fantasy generators out there, a few formula characters should be pretty easy to come by. The challenge would be to make it my own, but not so much my own that it turns off the kind of people who buy bestsellers on Amazon. Hmmm.

      I have a love-hate relationship with boxes. I don’t like being told what to do . . . but having definite parameters often lets me unleash my creativity, so I don’t think this would be an entirely cynical exercise. (And it’s not like I’m making any progress on my old WIPs.)

        • I should! LOL, it’d shut me up, if nothing else. I did some digging around on Hero’s Journey. Gaiman said on Twitter that Good Omens isn’t Hero’s Journey, though. I’m pretty sure he implied that GoT isn’t either. And I’m not crazy about Hero’s Journey — I can never remember the steps; I get as far as Refusal of Call and then have to go back to Google to see what comes next.

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