Just Who Are Your Readers? : How Creating a Readers Profile Can Focus Your Writing Efforts.
Yes, you are writing the book you want to read. However, if the only person who wants to read it is you, then you have a hobby and not a writing career. It is just as important to know who you are writing for as it is to properly format your great work for publication. Knowing your demographic, i.e. knowing who your reader is, is a significant step in creating a work that will captivate your audience. The sense that you understand your readers is surely going to invite them to stay. So, let’s get down to deciding who are your readers.
My Reader’s Name is Vivian St. James.
She is a college educated, work-from-home-entrepreneur who spends her weekends brainstorming ways to expand her business and spending time with her family. Their favorite family pastime involves movies, and lots of talking. She has been married for over seven years, has three children, and a yearly income around 30k plus. Vivian likes her romance equal parts steam and plot. Mrs. St. James has an active imagination and spirited sex life with her husband. Can often be found perusing sexy sites for lingerie and other fun things to add to their bed play.
Vivian is short in stature, wears her natural hair in a variety of styles, and insists on being fearless about her age. She is perpetually 35 for my purposes. Her weight settles in her thighs and hips. She has a post pregnancy pouch that she is constantly working on. Vivian is a dreamer who works with her hands. She is a mental health and self-love advocate. Her faith is strong. She is politically aware/active and rarely misses the opportunity to vote. Vivian loves hard, and almost never finishes folding laundry. Her favorite color is turquoise, fall is her favorite season and Pinterest is her favorite social media website.
Vivian likes heroines who stand on their own two feet, but are still vulnerable to love. She likes them smart, nurturing, and fearlessly protective of those they love. She likes heroes who are insightful, kind and generous lovers who work hard and take challenges head on. Vivian likes her villain/antagonists manipulative, selfish and heartbreakingly attractive. She reads during nap time, bedtime, and during those sacred soaks in the tub.
I literally have another full page of descriptors about Vivian St. James and a picture as a visual model showing what she looks like. Vivian is not my muse, she is my reader. She is the woman I am writing for. Knowing all of this gives her “realness”. After all, all of my readers are real people. So are yours.
What does a reader profile do?
A reader profile is a writers tool that identifies qualities you believe your ideal reader has in life. It helps to imagine a specific person who your book will reach, as a means to stay true to your writing style and visualize your extended audience. Your reader profile will not tell you everything you need to know about writing, but it works as a guide to the demographic who will enjoy your book.
From a publishing perspective, it gives you an idea of who you are marketing to, and how they like to be reached. Included details can also give you insight into what triggers you should avoid for your readers, and for your personal style. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with pushing your readers to expand,. By creating a profile you will know how far you can push them and how fast.
Reader profiles are great when you first start out and are establishing the ground rules for how you will construct your work, and helps to establish a baseline within your backlist. It tells your readers what to expect from you and tells you what to provide for them.
Why is knowing your reader important?
When you first start creating a book, everything about it is exciting. The outline is exciting. The first chapter is exciting . Everything about your writing process is sacred and lovely. You want to honor it in every way. Then, comes the half-way mark. All you want to do is finish. On those days, I have to think of Vivian St. James.
I have to finish this book, because she is counting on it to be part of her self-care routine when her long days leave her mentally exhausted and desperate for some much-needed “me time”. I have to finish this book because she is constantly on the prowl for things to add to her “to-be-read shelf”. Books are her connection to the world outside her motherhood, wifehood, entrepreneur bubble. They are the bridge between her and her friends (whom she never sees because time).
Knowing who you are writing for allows a connection when you are still establishing your readership and helps determine the best ways to reach readers when publishing. By asking myself what Vivian is like, I have also asked myself what are her values. What is important to her daily life? Where does she spend her time? How much money does she make? Where does she spend her money? All of this character building information may seem trivial, but it creates an image. It aids in my writing formula by giving me pieces to glean from her life that will resonate.
All of the details of her life aren’t written in stone. She isn’t fireproof, and obviously my readers come from all walks of life. I am not excluding readers who don’t live identically to Vivian. Instead, I am simply creating a foundation with one fictional person that will shake her head and say, I would never want to read that. Vivian is my first critic, because she is the one who knows what the book should sound like to appeal to her.
Let’s take a closer look at my reader example.
I know that Vivian is married and has children, which means that 30k she earns is likely mostly accounted for with home upkeep and paying for her children needs. Since we know she is an entrepreneur who works from home, we can imagine her time is split between work and children at an almost equal rate. She probably doesn’t sleep much, and her free time is sparse. Knowing she is imaginative and has a spirited sex life, means she prioritizes her time with her husband and wants it to be fun instead of chore-like.
One can assume, that due to these ties, heroines who have strong family values and are hardworking would speak to the woman in Vivian. She would understand working until bone tired out of love and passion, and relate to not enough hours to do it all. With so little time, she would need quick access to as many books as possible with a stellar sorting system so she could get to what she wants. Her budget would insist on her being reasonably responsible with any leisure spending. She’d also likely enjoy more than vanilla sex scenes and find it interesting when her heroines take responsibility for their sexual health and enjoyment.
Everything I have written about her speaks to some part of the characters she enjoys reading. Knowing she is college educated means certain universal college experiences could be interesting to acknowledge, knowing her weight and that she is “constantly working on her post partum pouch” speaks to her physical self-image and any challenges that could come from that.
By knowing who Vivian St. James is, allows me to craft a story that weaves in details of her life and speaks to other women who may also contain similar intricacies. It takes the guess work out of what my readers want. Vivian is my reader. I write for her.
How to create your reader profile.
Ask questions. Your reader profile is your key into your larger writing/publishing demographic. Take the time to imagine the lives of those who will be your readers. Find their common ground. What do they like to eat? What is their background? Who are they interested in meeting? What music do they listen to? How do they provide for themselves? Add those details to traits about their reading habits, family size and financial status and what you have is a blueprint of your reader audience.
Don’t be afraid to be particular about the details, but not so specific that it boxes you in. You want to limit details to their bones. i.e. Vivian is politically aware, and rarely misses a chance to vote. I don’t say she is a republican/democrat/independent. In the grand scheme those titles come with their own nuanced limitations that aren’t beneficial to my style of writing. Add any details that give you clarity about your ideal reader. Leave out details that limit the directions you can take your characters.
Nothing is too minute a detail to add to your reader profile. As long as it creates a useable trait to add to your characters/ novel feel free to include it.
Don’t get lost in the thick of your reader profile.
Remember, not everyone will fit the description completely. That’s okay. They don’t have to. What you are doing is creating a foundation. Relatability saddled with your writing talents will do the work of turning first time readers into repeat readers.
Above all make this tool work for you. The earlier within your career that you create your reader profile, the better it will be for your long-term work. Over time, you may find yourself evolving and thus may need to edit your reader profile to include your growth. Should this happen, I suggest you evaluate the traits you’ve used and keep those through your growth in order to retain your core audience. Anything that feels non-consequential, let it go.
Creating a reader profile isn’t for everyone. I highly suggest it anyway. Undoubtedly it comes in handy.
Has having a reader profile helped you? Comment below with details.