Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Beyond This Blog: Your Ideal Reader

Following is an article excerpted (with permission) from Randy Ingermanson’s popular newsletter, Advanced Fiction Writing, which provides an abundance of useful information for writers. Enjoy.

Your Ideal Reader

When a publishing house considers your novel, one of the first things they ask themselves is, "Who's going to buy this book?"

One answer they won't even consider is, "Everybody."

Every book has a natural audience. When a publisher tries to market your book, they're going to target that natural audience.

This is true, even when a story has extraordinarily broad appeal. The Harry Potter series was massively popular, but even so, plenty of people didn't read it.

I know lots of readers who heard about it and just shrugged and said, "So what?" I know others who read the first chapter and didn't get it and stopped. I know others who read the first book and then quit.

I'm going to bet that very few of them were 11-year-old boys. The ideal reader for the first Harry Potter book was an 11-year-old boy.

True, lots of other people liked the book. Zillions of adults. Zillions of females. But we're talking here about which group loved it best. That group was the set of boys Harry's age.

Why think about these "ideal readers" when they obviously aren't the only readers for a book?

Simple. Every publisher has a limited marketing budget. Their game plan is to market your book to the people most likely to love it. Then those early adopters will market it to everyone else via word of mouth.

Word of mouth is the best thing going in marketing fiction. The smart marketer tries to get word of mouth going by starting a "brush fire" -- igniting interest in those people most likely to love the book.

If you're writing a novel, then one of the things you must do to get it published is to identify your target audience. Publishers will insist on knowing this information. The better able you are to tell them, the more likely they are to buy your novel.

How do you identify your target audience?

Start by imagining your ideal reader -- one person -- who is "most likely" to love your book. This doesn't mean that other people won't like it, but we're going with the probabilities here. Think of the one person in the world who will love your book most. Now answer these questions:

* Is this reader male or female?
* What age is this reader?
* What ethnic group does this reader belong to?
* How much education does this reader have?
* What does this reader do for a living?
* Where does this reader live? Which country? Which state?
* What is this reader's goal in reading a novel?
* What is this reader's deepest yearning in life?
* What does this reader fear most?
* What is this reader's most dangerous secret?
* Who does this reader admire most?
* Who does this reader hate the most?
* What matters most to this reader -- sports, clothes, politics, religion, love, fun, cars, career, drugs, money, or something else?

You may find it helpful to give your ideal reader a name and hometown. (My ideal reader is named Bob and he lives in San Diego.)

Now take your answers to the above questions and write up a one-page document named "My Ideal Reader." Pretend he's a character in your novel and write up his backstory and describe his life, focusing on his hopes and fears, his loves and his hates, and the reasons he likes your kind of fiction.

That's all. You might find it helpful to print out your document and tape it on the wall and read it every day before you start writing. It'll keep you focused on the reason you write.

Remember this. No matter how narrowly you define your ideal reader, there are thousands of people in the world who are a lot like him. There are millions of people who are fairly similar to him.

If you can define your ideal reader, you can write a novel he'll love, and your publisher can find a way to market to him.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 23,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.


Norm de Ploom said...

Great ideas getting people to think beyond the traditional audiences. My special person is Mary and she live in Minneapolis. What else does she have to do in MN in the winter besides read? The list of questions is a keeper. Thanks!

Mary Jane Honegger said...

I don't know when Randy finds the time to put together all the information on writing (especially marketing) he does, but it is always valuable. If you don't already get his ezine - you should sign up for it. I agree with Norm - the list is a keeper.