Your ideal reader represents the core person who will buy your book. While you want to sell as many books as possible, getting your title in front of the people who will actually read and buy your story is the real goal. So sitting down and setting up an ideal reader profile or profiles can help you in many ways. Such greats as Stephen King use them and he talks about using ideal readers in his book On Writing.
By identifying and figuring out who your ideal reader is, you can then focus your story and your marketing to that target audience. Yes, you should have an ideal reader while you are writing. A hot sex scene would not do well in a story that is written for a fan of young christian romance. Knowing who you are writing for helps you to keep boundaries, which improves your writing.
So someone who only likes gritty noir detective stories will not be the right person for your regency bodice ripper romance beach read, nor will someone who is looking to raise llamas for profit. What seems obvious in that example becomes more difficult in real life. So how do you narrow your ideal reader down.
What is your genre?
The first step is to know what your general genre of book is. You probably already have an idea, but you should still go to Amazon and looked for books that are like yours in terms of content. Scroll down the book details page until you find “Look for Similar Items by Category”. That category is your genre.
You want to balance becoming too specific in your genre search vs too broad. Romance is a perfect example. The romance genre is so broad that it could mean a wide variety of choices. You have everything from dinosaur shifting romance (yes that is a thing), to step brother fantasy (yes still a thing), to innocent sweet valley high romances. But by going down a category level on amazon you can narrow it down. So paranormal romance is better than general romance, but don’t make your focus so narrow that you block readers. If you only focus on velociraptor shifting love stories, your ideal reader pool is going to be pretty small.
Non-fiction vs fiction vs kids
There is a difference with your ideal reader profile depending on if your title is non-fiction, fiction, or kids.
Kids books are more defined by age than genre, at least until you get to young adult. Your ideal reader might be male or female or not be gender based at all. Your ideal reader could also be an adult who is trying to get the child to bed, or to learn how to read.
With non-fiction titles, you are generally looking to solve a problem or focus on a particular subject. How-to books are a good example for solving problems. For example a how-to on setting up a budget is solving a problem. Instead of your ideal reader being someone who needs a budget, try focusing it a little more. So your ideal reader is a small business woman who is trying to manage both her personal and business finances. That would provide a better focus. A biography is a good example of a focus on a subject but is too broad a category. Narrowing your ideal reader down to someone who likes to read about politicians is a good compromise, while narrowing it down to corrupt politicians in New York during the during the 1860s is going too far.
Because fiction encompasses such a large variety of stories, doing your research can really help define who your ideal reader(s) are and help you to stay focused.
Once you find your genre, you can try to google your broad genre and demographics. For example, if my genre is romance then I would google “Romance demographics” and I find the Romance Writers of America Romance Reader Statistics.
You can also go back to Amazon and find the books that are similar to yours. Go down and look at the reviews and the reviewers. You can get a general sense, for example, on how many reviewers are men vs women. Click on the individual profiles for more details. Most of the time there is not a lot more information, but you can see what other books the individual feels passionate about enough to write a review.
Check out the author. Do they have their own author site? If so, go look and see who they are marketing to, and check the comments there. Do they have a Facebook page or Twitter account. Who follows them there? All of this will give you a general idea of who your ideal reader(s) are.
So now what? Write it down! Compose a couple of sentences on one or a few different ideal reader types. You can make it as simple as writing the demographics down, or even create personas with names.
Are they male or female? How old are they? What is your core story? If you had one minute to talk about your story what would you say to get the gist of your story across? Who would that appeal to?
You don’t need to worry about blocking a reader out if they don’t fit your general demographics. If there is a gentleman who loves Christian romance, he will still find you if you write for the demographics for that genre.
Using Your Ideal Reader
In your writing – If your story is about a plucky woman who is in charge of a military campaign in space but studied and applies the theories of Sun Tzu in great detail then you might have a few different ideal readers. They could be sci-fi fans, military fans or even history fans. Address your ideal readers needs. Perhaps you put a quote from “The Art of War” in every chapter header, provide campaign maps, and have your protagonist get more conquests and less romance.
Targeted marketing purposes – By knowing your ideal reader you can then find out where they are located and can talk directly to them. With our example above, you could start by looking at historical military groups, science fiction fans, or strategy buffs. When you write your copy, you can address their particular needs. This way you are focusing your valuable time and attention on the people most likely to become your fans and buy your book.
Another bonus is that if you decide to find an agent or sign with traditional publisher, they are going to want this information and will be impressed that you already have it figured out.
By finding and addressing reader needs, you improve your writing but also improve your ability to focus your marketing on the people most likely to become your fans and buy your books. We are told that writers should write for themselves, but the real satisfaction is finding a true fan to share your story with. Ideal reader profiles help you to recognize who it is you are writing for and increase the chances of finding your true fans.