How to Define Your Ideal Reader: Tips for Connecting with Your Reader Base
When publishing a novel, it’s important to keep your ideal reader in mind. What does "ideal reader" even mean? Your ideal reader is your target market. They're the person who will be eager to pick up your book and share it with their friends, sign up for your newsletter, and pre-order your future books!
Knowing what kind of person this is will help you (and your publisher, if you're traditionally published) better market your book once it’s ready to hit the bookshelves. If you're able to start thinking about who is going to be reading your book before you even start writing, that can make your job a lot easier later on!
Defining your ideal reader: Questions to answer
If you want to connect with your target audience, one good way to do this is to answer some key questions about what type of person you're writing for. As an author, you can't please everyone. No matter how wonderful your book is, some people will look at it and say, "Not for me." The trick is to know who you're writing stories for, and figure out the best way to reach those readers.
What is your ideal reader's age?
One of the most important steps in defining your target reader is to know how old they are. Your reader will usually be in the same age category as the characters, and especially the protagonist, of your novel. Younger readers often tend to read “up”, so if your protagonist is 12 years old, you might have readers as young as 10 years old reading your novel. With adults, the age bracket for your audience is much wider.
While books are often categorized as being for either children or adults, there are more nuanced categories within these groups. Keep in mind these ages aren’t set in stone, but this chart is a general rule of thumb that will help you understand age demographics:
- Children between the ages of three and six years old are being introduced to picture books. Picture books are often read to the child, who is usually not an independent reader yet.
- Children between the ages of five and eight years old are learning to read and often begin with easy readers. These readers are usually between kindergarten and second grade and are just beginning to read independently. These books are often divided into short chapters. Sentences are short and simple for the emerging independent reader.
- Children between the ages of seven to ten years old begin to discover chapter books. Chapter books are more advanced than easy readers, with more dialogue and longer chapters, and often include more details of the inner lives of the characters. Chapter books might also have animals or fantasy characters as the protagonists.
- Children between the ages of eight and twelve years old are ready for middle-grade fiction. Depending on the reader, children as old as fourteen years might fall into this category. In middle-grade fiction, characters are becoming more focused on themselves, their place in their family, fitting in with peers, and developing a sense of self.
- Children between the ages of twelve and eighteen years old are discovering young adult fiction. In young adult fiction, characters are becoming independent and figuring out their place in the world beyond their family. Issues characters face in young adult fiction are more mature than the issues characters face in middle-grade fiction
- Adult fiction is geared towards adults over the age of eighteen. Adults are the protagonists in these novels, not children, and are dealing with adult issues.
Decide which of these categories your novel best fits into and you’ve taken a big step in understanding your readership. Remember, especially when writing for children, your reader will most often be reading a book with a protagonist close to their own age, or slightly older.
It’s also important to understand what kind of issues your reader faces in everyday life. The issues a middle school reader deals with in everyday life are very different from the issues a young adult reader faces. Make sure the issues the characters in your book are relevant to the issues your ideal reader faces, and your reader will easily relate to your characters.
What genre is your ideal reader interested in?
Once you’ve identified your story's age group, you need to identify the genre. Genre is the style of the book, and especially within young adult and adult fiction, there are many genres even within age categories. Some of the most common genres in fiction include:
A reader of romance is usually different from a reader of Western novels or science fiction. Horror is often popular with young adults, but usually isn’t found on the bookshelves of young readers.
Determine which genre you are writing and do some research to see who is most likely to read that genre. Ask family and friends which genre they prefer to read. Make a list or keep a spreadsheet of their answers. The data you collect in this exercise will help you get a sense of who your ideal reader is. Writers also tend to write in the genre they enjoy reading themselves, so think about what draws you to the books that you read. There’s a good chance that your ideal reader is similar to yourself.
Where is your book shelved?
A great way to help define your ideal reader is to visit your local bookstore or library. Peruse the shelves and figure out where your own book would be placed. If your book is geared towards young adults, look at the selections on the young adult shelves. What other books would be sitting near your book?
Next, imagine the other readers who stand in that spot making book selections. Even better: sit down nearby and observe the readers who stop in this section of the bookstore. Take notes on what you observe. How old are the readers perusing the area where your book would be shelved? Are they mostly male or female? What other books are they holding in their hand? What kind of clothes do they wear? What questions do they ask the bookseller or librarian? What are they discussing with those browsing with them?
Find fiction books similar to yours
To get more information about your target audience, open up your laptop and look at the websites for popular book venues such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or even Goodreads. Narrow down the search results to reflect the age and genre of your ideal reader. Peruse the results and find books similar to yours. On Goodreads, you can even see lists under the heading, “If you liked ABC, then you might like XYZ.”
Next, look at the comments and reviews. Do the readers reflect the reader you are narrowing in on? Can the feedback these readers leave help you better narrow down how to define, and write for, your ideal reader?
To take this one step further, read the books that your ideal reader is reading to help better understand your ideal audience.
Give your ideal reader a persona
Once you’ve completed these exercises, sit down at your laptop or open up a notebook. Take the data you have collected to create an ideal reader profile. Get as specific as possible when creating this persona. In fact, give them an actual name once you’ve recorded the data.
In creating a persona for your reader, try to answer the following questions:
- How old is your ideal reader?
- Where do they live?
- What hobbies do they enjoy?
- If your target reader is an adult, what kind of work do they do?
- What is their biggest fear?
- What is their biggest dream?
- Who is in their family?
- What keeps them awake at night?
- What is their name?
- What do they talk about with their friends?
Answering these questions will help you understand your ideal reader. Once you’ve completed this exercise, imagine what they look like. You might find an image of a person online that represents your ideal reader. Print out the picture, or find one in a magazine, and put the picture where you can see it as you write. Remember that this is the person who will be picking up your book and keep this persona in mind as you write.
You’re ready to write for your key demographic!
By now you should have a specific idea of who your ideal reader is. You know their age and what genre they prefer. You know where your book would sit on the shelves of the local bookstore and who is shopping in that section, perusing your book and others similar to it. You’ve created a reader profile for them. You’re ready to write the next book that people in your reader base will purchase!