If you have a business, you have no doubt spent time identifying your ideal client or customer. This is known as your “avatar.” When you know what motivates them and understand the problem your product or service solves, it’s easier to design things that you know they will need, buy, love, and rave about.
Perhaps your avatar is simply another version of you. Many people have built wildly successful businesses making things that they themselves need and want. If your ideal customer is another version of you, you’re in luck. You know your needs and desires—and your challenges—very well. Even if you don’t have a business, you still want to know who you’re writing for.
When writing a nonfiction book, you must have clarity about your ideal reader. What title would make them pick it up? What words on the back of the book make it a must-buy right now? And what would make them tell their friends about it too? It’s important to know these things, not just from a marketing perspective but from a writing perspective. Often when we sit down to write, we become overly formal and lose touch with our voice and our confidence.
When we have a clear sense of who the ideal reader is, it’s easier to write directly to them. Write in a conversational tone as if you’re having coffee together and you’re telling them everything you want them to know about your topic. Ideally, this is a real person you know. Having a real, specific person in mind will make all the difference. Your writing will flow and decisions will feel easy to make. And yet, you will resist it. You will want the book to be for everybody. You will think of three or more separate audiences for whom your book would be of interest.
That’s the problem—it’s not for an “audience.” When you think of that word, what comes to mind is probably a bunch of people or a big group. But when you think of one specific person and the problem this book is solving, you will make writing your book infinitely easier. Trust me. I understand that you can see your book’s value for different kinds of people. You want to be inclusive, but for your book’s focus, I want you to be exclusive. Your book is not for everyone. You aren’t pleasing everyone.
Let’s use a target model to drive this concept home. Suppose you’re writing a book about how women can fit exercise into their life. Now identify up to three kinds of readers for your book. You want it for busy moms because you are a busy mom and you know that your methods work for you and your friends. You also want more people to have this information. Everybody needs this! But for now, choose just three potential readers. These three types of readers could be busy moms, college students, and business owners.
If you try to write to all three kinds of readers, your writing will go all over the place. Imagine a target. Put your main reader in the center ring. Your next type of reader goes in the second ring, and so on. When you write to hit the heart of the target, you meet your main reader and their needs. Anyone else picking up the book could also find value. With your main reader in mind, you will not be without direction.
I cannot emphasize how important it is to have this very specific person in mind when you are writing.
Take some time to freewrite about your ideal reader, the one who needs your book and will recognize it when they see it. Give them a name and get very clear about who they are and why your book is important to them. Write a letter to your reader about how your book will help them live a better life.
Tell them that you are excited to share this information and why you are the perfect person to do so. Now print that up and keep it in your writing zone so you’re always writing to them. Include a picture of them if you can. Later, some of what you have written could be useful in your marketing copy.
What resistance, if any, comes up for you when I ask you to choose a specific reader?
Reprinted with permission from the author’s website and excerpted from The Busy Woman’s Guide to Writing a World-Changing Book.
Thank you, Cynthia, for the unwavering advice. It’s so tempting to write for more than one reader, but your own strong voice will help me stay the course.
My pleasure, Jill! This is one of the challenges that really gets writers in trouble when writing a book. I hope this helps make the road to author easier to navigate!
This is so essential, Cynthia!!! How often do we leap into a project without fully envisioning our readers? And I love that you personalize it by creating a specific avatar who you will share information, knowledge, and stories with. Thank you so much, and I’ll share this post with my clients.
Thanks, Laurel! I am glad you liked this and that it will be a useful resource for your clients.
As a writer, I get how easy it is to get caught up in my ‘great’ ideas. I finally realized that all my ideas feel ‘great’ because the joy if the initial idea is so fun. But my ideas are only great if others resonate with them.
I’ve learned to listen more closely to my clients when they talk about their challenges so the things I create for them meet their needs.
Yes! Knowing your ideal reader is so important! For both fiction and nonfiction authors
I wonder about that for fiction writers. I suspect it’s true and I think fiction writers need to stay true to their own voice and story without thinking about the reader too much.
Do you write fiction? Has it helped you to know your reader?
You had me at “avatar.” Thanks for your very insightful and helpful advice!
It’s my pleasure, Ellen!
Thank you, Cynthia! As I read your piece, I thought of my clients who vehemently resist narrowing their market. It’s like I’m asking them to give up on their dream of writing a bestselling book for everyone. By narrowing their focus, they not only craft a better book but they also set themselves up for a targeted marketing campaign and more success in the marketplace.
I know! This is truly one of the biggest stumbling blocks writers face. It may be because of what you say – we want our work to be for everyone. I also think it’s a leap across a line for many creatives. When we are making something, we are coming from our own internal process. But if you want to make something to sell, you have to keep the buyer in mind. Many people shrink away from this commercial point of view. But it’s vital if you do indeed want to sell copies of your books.
You are right that narrowing the focus expands the potential for success. Hopefully this article helps people see that!
This was really helpful, Cynthia. Avatar … what a useful word here. So easy to get too narrow or too broad when thinking of the reader. I have alerted an author client to your blog just today.
This information is so helpful, both for me as a fiction writer and for my clients, who are mostly nonfiction writers. I may actually send some of them this way in the early stages of working together!