Writers, Know Your Readers

In this week’s All About the Authors video installment, I talk about three ways fiction writers can improve their story. In order to follow my suggestions, writers must trust their readers. But to trust readers, you must know who they are. Do you?

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I’m sure you’ve heard the advice that you can’t worry about what others will think when you write. Allen Ginsberg said, “To gain your voice, you have to forget about having it heard.” That is true to some degree. If you’re worried about what people will think of your writing, it can be very limiting. But there is a point when you need to think about readers.

Defining your audience gives you a focus when writing. If you imagine that your story is a written exchange between you and your reader, you must know who’s sitting across the table from you. It’s quite common when you begin writing to write for yourself. Self is a perfectly acceptable audience. Other concrete writing audiences include family, friends, your blog followers, your agent.

But maybe you don’t have an agent or blog followers, and you’d be embarrassed to let your mother read what you’ve written. Who do you write for then?

hand-vintage-old-bookWrite for your future readers. Maybe you envision these creatures as nebulous and benign, someone who will one day read your work and like it. Eventually though, you want to create a more concrete idea of your audience. It may help to post stock photos of readers around your writing space to remind yourself that real people will read your book one day. And if you have a fan base, envision them moving through your story.


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Why do you need to know who these readers are? Because once your book is published, you need to entice these readers to buy it. In order to create a viable marketing strategy, you need to know your readers’ likes and dislikes. You need to know their reading habits. This information will inform your cover design, back cover copy, and the story itself. Romance writers know their readers expect a happily-ever-after ending. Self-help writers know that readers expect a step-by-step guide to improve an aspect of their lives. You can only break the rules if you break them on purpose and not out of ignorance. (Trust me when I tell you that the difference is obvious.)

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Once you’ve figured out who your (future/current) readership is, get to know them. Read books popular in the genre you’re writing to see what these readers like. Read the reviews they leave. Participate in bountitled (8)ok discussions with other readers. Be active on the social media platform they use most frequently. For example, YA readers gravitate to Instagram.

Finally, get to know them for the sake of spending time with people you care about. Successful writers often talk about how much their readers mean to them. They recount experiences they’ve had at events that motivate them when the going gets tough.

Let your readers take the journey with you. Your writing will be better for the companionship.

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