Who is your target reader?

Recently, I read a post about knowing the “right reader” for your work. Cathy Yardley of Rock Your Writing wrote it, and you can read it here. I would like my novels to appeal to everyone, of course, but that’s not realistic. How many books can you name that appeal to everyone?

At the least, I’d like to say my writing appeals equally to both women and men, but that’s not true either. As far as I know, even though the main character is male, no man has read The Brevity of Roses. Maybe, if I took the word roses out of the title …

Seriously though, it’s supposed to help you focus your writing better if you know your target reader. You’re writing for yourself, of course—and if you’re not, you have my sympathy. I can’t imagine the drudgery of writing what you don’t love to read. I digress. You’re writing for yourself, so is that a good indicator of your target reader? Maybe; maybe not.

Ms. Yardley lists questions that writers can answer to help form a character sketch of the “right reader” to aim for. Her first is about gender. I do think my ideal reader is a woman, so I know that much. The next question is about the age of my target reader. I’m stumped on that one because I’ve had positive feedback from readers aged 16-65, so should I average that? Is my target a 40-year-old woman?

I have no idea how to answer some of the other questions she asks. What does your target reader do for fun? Is she social? What music, movies, magazines does she enjoy? Is she tech savvy? What are her hobbies? Gee, I wish I knew.

I could try polling, but I don’t think I’d get enough responses to form an accurate picture. Where do I find this woman and her clones anxiously searching for my novels? When we find each other, will I be fortunate to discover they’re all members of huge book clubs?

I guess I’ll imagine the answers, create an ideal reader in my mind, and write for her. For the heck of it, I’ll also imagine she has huge international influence and the paparazzi will photograph her reading my books.

What about you? Do you know your target reader?

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20 thoughts on “Who is your target reader?

  1. Really great point! I’m actually holding a focus group this weekend for a writing project that I am working on. It won’t be fancy, just a few like minded people gathering around to discuss issues but, it’s a start. It’s always a bit tricky trying to figure out your Target Audience. Even for blogging, for twitter even! I’m sure we’ll all figure it out! xo – Lisa

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  2. Hi Linda,

    Thanks for linking to my article! I feel passionately about it.

    Just to clarify — you don’t need to be that scientific about determining who your right reader is. It’s not about who would enjoy your book. It’s about who would be most likely to be a raving fan. Who is most likely to love your book, to the point where they’re grabbing others and saying “You have GOT to read this!”

    This is just for you. Nobody’s going to tell you you’re doing it wrong, and I wouldn’t worry about it unless your sales are tanking and you’re wondering “am I reaching the WRONG readers?”

    And it’s not so much to influence your fiction as your… well, marketing communication. Your blog, your tweets, your newsletters. I like to write those to my “right reader” (who in my mind is patterned after my best friend in college.) Makes it conversational and very, very focused. I’m not excluding anyone, but I’m not trying to please everyone, either.

    One easy way to research: I’d pick someone who writes similar to your title, but is a big league type — someone who you’d love to have a cover quote from. Then look at his or her Facebook fan page, if he/she has one. Look at the people who have “liked” it. Many will have private profiles, but a surprising amount won’t. Just do some casually looking around, and you’ll see some similarities in age and in interests. Again, this isn’t precise, it’s just to give you a stab at it.

    Did I help, or make things more confusing? Email anytime. LOVE talking this stuff. 😀

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    1. You’re welcome, Cathy, and thank you for taking the time to comment — and clarify. 🙂

      This won’t be the first time I’ve misunderstood something. I understand your focus is on marketing the book, but when you say that the key is to “know your market so you can give them what they want” doesn’t that mean I should write with my target audience in mind? It may be different for writers of non-fiction, but although my voice is more casual here on my blog, I think it’s consistent with my fiction voice. In that sense, I guess I’m always writing with my target reader in mind.

      I confess, I’m more clueless on the marketing aspect than I realized before my book was published, so thank you for the research tip! And thank you for your helpful blog posts.

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      1. “…doesn’t that mean I should write with my target audience in mind?”

        Sort of! 😀

        I think that you’re able to identify your right reader by knowing what you write, not the other way around. Your right reader is the ideal audience who gets what you write. She appreciates the things you do best. She’s also someone who loves the genre you’re writing, and is a constant and vocal fan.

        I think writing in one genre is helpful, but the more important thing is figuring out what you do best that would attract your reader… not figuring out who the ideal reader is, and writing to what you think she wants. Figure out your unique “thing” and then think about the reader that loves that “thing.”

        Okay. I think I need to write another blog post — you’ve given me a lot to think about! 😀

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        1. Thank you for commenting again, Cathy. I just clearly don’t have a marketer’s brain. I’m looking forward to your additional post — as long as you don’t name names of any thick-headed indie author bloggers. 😉

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  3. This is always a good question. When marketing a book you are always asked, “Who is your book targeted for?” My travel/adventure books are for children 8 – 12 years old. But I hate having to narrow it down like that because younger kids have read them and loved them, as have older children. I also have many adults who enjoyed them. The cover of my first book is a lovely pink so not many boys have read it, but the boys who have read it loved it! The second book cover is a deep red; I hope that appeals to both genders. I guess I should say, “These books are for anyone who likes to read about other counties through the eyes of a 12 year old.” I am still not sure how to answer the question.

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    1. Well, Darlene, as the article says, we will always have readers outside our ideal reader group. I’ve used the Eyewitness books many times in research, but they’re written for children. So, it seems to me, even though your books would be enjoyed by “anyone who likes to read about other counties through the eyes of a 12 year old”, your target readers are 8-12 years old. The gender neutral covers are probably a good idea.

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  4. Great things to think about, Linda. I have a pretty good idea of my target reader, they are my blog readers, mainly women, from my age and up the line. There’s a lot of going back in time in my writing, since it’s memoir, and it seems my readers like to travel along those trails. As for those questions that stumped you, I wonder how important they are?

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    1. I’m just about to finish reading a memoir that really spoke to me for that reason, Victoria. Because the writer is only a few years older than I am and grew up not too far from where I did, her memories sparked so many of my own. I wondered how someone much younger than this writer would connect to her memoir.

      Maybe the answers to those particular questions aren’t important, but I do think it’s important to know your target reader. Even if not while you’re writing, you do need to know so you can effectively promote your work.

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  5. You make a good point Linda in identifying the target audience. I know Stepehen King writes what he finds interesting and his audience found him..this whole issue has been on my mind for awhile so I am glad you brought it forward.
    Chris

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    1. Chris, like King, I think it’s important to write what interests you. How people relate to each other interests me, so that will always be my primary focus, but that’s also not very specific. I think that’s why it’s been hard for me to envision my ideal reader. In Brevity I narrowed that focus a bit by exploring how people deal with grief, recover from that loss, and open themselves to a new relationship. I didn’t expect it to be viewed as a romance novel, yet some readers do. So that’s why this issue concerns me.

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  6. Who doesn’t love humor, right? I could kid myself and say my target audience is anyone who enjoys laughter–making that everybody. But not everyone loves David Sedaris (I do) or Erma Bombeck (I do) or Woody Allen, Tina Fey, and Laurie Novato (I do, I do, I do). So I guess my target audience is … ah heck, I don’t know.

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    1. I suppose you’re right, Tricia. At least most people like humor, but most people like a specific type of humor. So you just have to identify your type of humor and you’re all set, right? Simple as pie … or smoked banana peels. 😉

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  7. My target audience is easy enough to figure out, because the readers are reflections of me. Albeit a small target, it’s a precision market. My average reader reads Orwell for entertainment, Sartre for brain food, and if you ask them to read Austin or Stephanie Meyer they are liable to un-friend you for life. However, I do write for different age groups. With that said, after reading Cathy’s comment, I’m not sure if I know how to reach each group individually.

    Great post, Linda! I’ll be deep in research after reading this one. You have provided me with adequate reason to delay writing today. 😉

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    1. I’m envious of your precision market, T.A. Even though I’m still a little hazy who my target reader is, I wouldn’t think you are specifically it … which makes the fact that you enjoyed reading Brevity a delight. 🙂 Will you please pass along what you find in your research?

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      1. Absolutely, I think Goodreads is an excellent place to “get to know” my future readers. They actually have a Utopian/Dystopian book club! I’m there now fishing around.

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  8. Ah, I think you’ve touched on one of the hardest things about writing. This has a lot to do with how final marketing is handled, what the cover looks like, everything. As far as the writing, though, I can never, ever write for a target audience, mainly because I don’t write for other people. I have to tell the story and what it wants to be. I can’t mold it to anything or it will fail. So, the key for me is to find out who the target audience is AFTER I’m finished with the book. Monarch, I figure, is for middle-aged women, but lots of men have taken interest in it. Cinders – which is OBVIOUSLY a female-centered book, has been picked up by many men and enjoyed, and some not just because they know me. So, who knows. From your cover and description, your book seems to be aimed at middle aged women, as well, but I haven’t read it so I can’t say for sure.

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    1. I agree on specifically writing toward a target audience, Michelle. If I could do that, I’d be writing hot-selling YA. 😉 I did assume the ideal readers for Brevity would be women 40-60, but judging from my feedback so far, it appears that should be 30-60. That’s no small readership. I just need to figure out how best to connect with them.

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