One in a Million: Creating a Target Reader

For whom do you write?

Initially, we write for ourselves. It’s the love of the craft that compels us to create characters and stories. But are we satisfied with writing a poem, short story or novel then shoving it into a drawer never to see the light of day?

Of course not. Writers want their work to be read and liked — loved would be even better.

In the September 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest, Kip Langello says, “you should be drafting your book with one specific reader in mind—and that reader isn’t you.”

Illustration provided by allegretto and 123rf

Illustration provided by allegretto and 123rf

Now he’s not saying we should abandon our voice or style, nothing like that. He suggests an interesting exercise that involves going to a book store and surreptitiously observing the people in line buying books. What we are supposed to notice is that no two people are alike, not only in their appearance but in what they like to read. This lead Kip to do something I think is quite brilliant.

He “visualized one person from that proverbial bookstore line. Not [himself]. And not a generalization of everybody else. One person.” Just as he creates characters he created a reader. His “ideal reader.” He goes on to describe his reader, named Peggy, and how he tests everything on her. “Crafting a story for Peggy forced [him] to use a consistent voice and style, to be consistent and focused and true to a single reader, representative of a larger niche readership.”

In this way he knows his audience.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Toni Morrison. “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” For years, I’ve believed she meant to write for yourself. And maybe that’s the way she intended it to be taken. But after reading Langello’s article, I’m thinking that the story I want to read has another person that wants to read it as well. Why not create that reader and run everything I write by her/him?

By creating a representative for my target audience, I’m giving myself a leg up when it comes to finding an agent and/or editor. And what is one of the first questions asked when you pitch an idea? Who is your target audience?

Langello, Kip. “Inkwell: One in a Million.” Writer’s Digest Sep. 2013: 8-9.
  • I like this idea! I’ve heard this advice too, but I’ve never thought of it in terms of “running it by” said person. I think that way of thinking is safer as far as revisions go than running it by oneself, so it seems worth a shot!

    • I was in the doctor’s office this morning and looked around at the other patients and this came to my mind. Watching the different personalities, cultural distinctions and characteristics had me developing my target reader. Really interesting.

  • I like this idea! I’ve heard this advice too, but I’ve never thought of it in terms of “running it by” said person. I think that way of thinking is safer as far as revisions go than running it by oneself, so it seems worth a shot!

    • I was in the doctor’s office this morning and looked around at the other patients and this came to my mind. Watching the different personalities, cultural distinctions and characteristics had me developing my target reader. Really interesting.

  • mooderino

    I think that’s a good idea but tricky to do. People in my imagination never like anything I do.

    mood

    • You stumped me, Mood. I hadn’t let my imagination go farther than creating the reader. Think of it this way, if your imaginary reader HATES everything about your writing create another reader. If this one LOVES everything, try again. Find a balanced reader. I’m sure you know instinctively works and what doesn’t – you just need to get in touch with those instincts.

  • mooderino

    I think that’s a good idea but tricky to do. People in my imagination never like anything I do.

    mood

    • You stumped me, Mood. I hadn’t let my imagination go farther than creating the reader. Think of it this way, if your imaginary reader HATES everything about your writing create another reader. If this one LOVES everything, try again. Find a balanced reader. I’m sure you know instinctively works and what doesn’t – you just need to get in touch with those instincts.