You can increase the chances that a reader will connect with your story, and understanding your ideal reader is one way to do just that. If you want the point of your story to come across loud and clear, you need to understand what your ideal reader is bringing to the table.
Hello writers. Welcome to the Let’s Write Your Novel podcast. I’m Stephanie Dethlefs, writer and book coach, and this is the place to be if you’ve got a story on your heart, but you need just a bit of clarity, accountability, and support to finally get it onto the page. In each episode, I’ll give you one skill or strategy to apply to your novel, and we’ll also take a peek into your mindset about the process. I’m here because your story matters. You deserve to write it, and you have a reader out there who needs it. I’m so glad you’re here, so let’s get to it. Have you ever read a book that felt like it was written just for you, like the writer could practically see into your soul? It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it feels like suddenly everything has become aligned. You learn something you needed, you gain a new perspective.
You feel validated and seen in some way. It’s a beautiful thing and it’s my favorite part of being a reader. We talked about the emotional journey that your protagonist is going to go on in your story and how they’re going to change as a person over the course of the story. This really boils down to the point you’re trying to make with your book, the message you’re trying to convey about life, the human experience, love, and so on. But do you ever think about who is receiving that message and why that message is going to matter to them? Now, of course, we can’t know for sure and we certainly can’t control what our readers are bringing to the table, but we can consider who our ideal audience is, the people we most want to pick up our book and receive this message we’re working so hard to convey.
I’ve said this before, but it’s important to remember when we talk about the message behind your book or the point you’re trying to make, we’re not talking about blatant preaching or proselytizing, it’s just about having a point of view about the world or human nature and making sure that this point comes across through your protagonist emotional growth and decision making. So back to your audience, I’d like you to imagine three concentric circles each a bit smaller than the one before it, and all embedded within each other. This model is how I like to think of the three types of intended readers for your book or your story. The largest one is, well, it’s basically anyone who might come across your book. Now, this technically could be anyone, but we can narrow it down a little. I like to do this by imagining my book on the bookshelves of a store or a library.
What section is it in? The people who are likely to come across your book are people who tend to like your genre, right? So if you’re writing sci-fi, someone who doesn’t typically read sci-fi probably won’t be browsing in that section. If you’re writing for an adult audience, chances are good that a young reader won’t pick it up. If your story is set against the backdrop of war, someone who doesn’t like to read about war time probably won’t pick it up. So we can narrow down this largest circle by things like age, maybe genre preferences and general interests. But still, this is the largest circle, the biggest possible group of people who might pick up your book. That said, we really don’t need to spend much time thinking about these readers because we know we won’t be able to please everyone who likes our genre. So let’s narrow it down a little bit further.
The next circle, the middle one, is your ideal readers. These are your people who love the exact type of story you’re telling. They’re the people who will connect most with your protagonist, who have their own life experiences that will lend themselves to deeply understanding your story. You might start with imagining details about their lives, like age again or gender, geographical, location, et cetera. But then we want to ask some questions that’ll get at the heart of the point you’re trying to make with your story. So here are some questions you could ask. What will this person relate to in my story? What keeps this person up at night? What does this person want more than anything in the world? What is this person possibly struggling with right now? Now it’s important to remember that when we read, we are subconsciously or sometimes consciously seeking validation and healing for the ways we experience pain as a human. If your book can provide answers to the big life questions your reader is asking, they’ll connect to your story on an even deeper level. Now, again, we’re not putting a moral of the story at the end of the book, but you are connecting to their big life questions through the message that you’re trying to convey. So part one of your assignment this week is to free write some thoughts on who your ideal reader is using those questions.
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So we’ve talked about the biggest circle, which is basically anyone likely to come across your story and the middle one, which is your ideal reader. Now, we get to the smallest circle, which I sometimes call your shadow or your secret audience often. This is just one person. I’ll give you a couple of examples for my own writing for this one. When I wrote my middle grade novel Unspoken, my secret audience was my daughter. She was the inspiration for one of the characters, and I just wanted her to see the possibilities within the struggles she was facing at the time. More recently, I wrote an essay titled Possibility/Loss, where the shadow audience was my father who passed away a few years ago. This person doesn’t have to be someone who will ever see it, but you’ll still want to acknowledge that they’re there. The other thing to know is that you are always inside this smallest circle.
This is so important to acknowledge, but it often goes without even thinking about it. Ultimately, you’re writing this story to process something within your own heart and mind, whether it’s a personal challenge that you’re directly addressing or an understanding about the world that you’re trying to clarify. This is why we asked the question we asked back in episode 61, Why must you write this story now? It goes a long way toward motivating you to keep writing to remember that it is important to you and why it’s important to you. But in addition to you, there may be someone else in that inner circle like the two examples that I gave you. If so, your job is to figure out who that person is and decide what it is you’re wanting to say to them through this story. The more clear you can get on what you’re trying to say and who needs to hear it, the more authentic and genuine your story is going to read on the page.
So part one of your assignment, like I already said, is to dig into those questions about your ideal reader. Part two of your assignment for this week is to go back to episode 61 and dig into the questions I ask there, and also ask yourself if there’s someone else in that smallest circle too, and if so, what do you want to say to them? Writers, you can increase the chances that a reader will connect with your story and understanding your ideal reader is one way to do just that. If you want the point of your story to come across loud and clear, you need to understand what your ideal reader is bringing to the table. I’ll talk to you next week. Thank you so much for being here. If you like what you heard, would you please take a moment to leave a review on iTunes so that it can reach more writers who, like you, could use a little support today? I would appreciate it so much. Remember, your story matters. Happy writing.