An essential step in your writing journey is identifying the ideal reader for your book. I recently listened to a podcast episode of Fiction Writing Made Easy by Savannah Gilbo entitled “How to Identify Your Story’s Ideal Reader,” which made some interesting points on the subject.
“If you don’t know who your ideal reader is, how can you possibly write a story that meets (or exceeds) your ideal reader’s expectations?”Savannah Gilbo
Gilbo had a refreshingly different take on this subject. Rather than framing her discussion around the ideal commercial market for your book, she discussed having in mind that one person who’s going to “love your book just as much as you do.” Like, an actual person in your mind that represents the type of person who would read your book and love it enough to recommend it to others. For this exercise, they can be based on a real person or entirely hypothetical, but picture a super fan who would automatically buy every book you write. Do you have an author who is an “auto-buy”? You are their ideal reader.
The flip side of the coin is the opinion that you should stay true to your story and just tell it, without being influenced or distracted by thoughts of the end user. This argument has merit as well, of course. But don’t we change how we tell a story based on who our audience is? Don’t we highlight different aspects of an anecdote depending on whom we’re talking to? With that thought in mind, I suggest that it could be a beneficial exercise to have in mind who is most likely to pick up and enjoy your book. As you’re writing and editing with this person in mind, you can feel like you’re telling the story to someone rather than just telling it. Gilbo recommends creating an ideal reader profile, an interesting exercise that had never occurred to me before.
“Art goes both ways. Writers tell stories and think they mean one thing. Readers take stories into their own lives and they mean something else.”Neil Gaiman
Let’s be clear here; I’m not talking about jumping the gun. I mean, it’s great to think about your book being out in the big wide world, but I absolutely do not believe that throughout the entire writing process, you should engineer your story to fit in a perfect little commercialized box. There’s too much of that expectation in the publishing world already. Rather, the suggestion is to lend focus to your writing and editing by thinking of how a specific person will react and how the story will fulfill their expectations, thus targeting your story in a way that will resonate with said person.
“There IS a person out there who will love and appreciate your story. And when you know who you’re writing for—while you’re writing—the story you come up with will be that much more intentional and powerful.”Savannah Gilbo
My ideal reader’s name is Ashley, a 35-year-old millennial living alone in a small town in the northeastern US. In her spare time, she binge-watches murder mysteries and sits in cafes people-watching, concocting zany stories about strangers’ lives. She hates her 9-5 grind, loves reading and staying home, and has the remnants of 15 started and abandoned hobbies cluttering her closets. In general, she’s a self-sufficient, curious, sarcastic, cynical over-thinker who sometimes loses sleep at night over the state of the world’s economy and the environment. She’s more passive than driven, and more than anything in this world, Ashley wants to retire early to her own little house in the country and spend her days writing a novel or mastering French cooking—basically just for everyone to leave her alone. My book will serve my ideal reader by providing escapism, a puzzle she can solve, and a world that mirrors her dream of life’s problems being as easily solvable as all the cozy mysteries she reads.
Your turn. Who is your ideal reader?
“No two readers can or will ever read the same book, because the reader builds the book in collaboration with the author.”Neil Gaiman