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Defining the Reader Part 1

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Last month I wrote about why it’s a good idea to write for your readers, not just for yourself. But how do you know who your readers will be? To figure out who is most likely to be interested in your subject, and who you want to be interested in your subject, you need to ask yourself some categorization questions. These questions can range from general and broad to as detailed as you want.

The two broadest and most general are:

1.  Gender.  Are your readers more likely to be men or women? There have been many things written about the differences in gender communication styles.

2.  Age.  Are your readers likely to be under thirty? Over fifty? Mid-life, seniors, Generation X, Y, or Z?
But don’t stop there. The more detailed you make the description of your ideal or most likely readers, the better you will be able to grab their attention. Here are some other categorizations you might want to ask yourself about the readers who will most likely read your book, or who you want to read your book.

  • Knowledge level.  Will your readers be experts, or conversant, with your subject, or are they from the general public whose knowledge is limited? 
  • Financial status.  Are your likely readers people with money or people who are struggling with money? Money is an important factor in people’s “care abouts”.
  • Education level.  Are your hoped-for readers mostly college educated or not? Do they have specialized knowledge, such as medical or legal knowledge?
  • Social status.  Are your readers members of a particular social class or sub-culture?  If so, is this status based along cultural or racial lines, or financial wherewithal?
  • Geographic location.  Are your readers from the Southern States or Eastern Seaboard or Great Midwest? Or even – are they mostly Americans?
  • Interests. What are your readers’ hobbies and favorite pastimes?  For example, a book about how to write one’s memoir would probably appeal to amateur genealogists. 
  • Political ideas. Are your readers right-wing conservatives or left-wing liberals or middle-of-the-road Independents?
And so on … are your readers outdoors people or couch potatoes? Engineers or artists?  Romantics or realists? Intellectuals or jocks? 

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit


  1. This is great info, Kim. Knowing our audience and writing with them in mind are both crucial to maximizing book sales. Conversely, being too general in an effort to entice more readers into buying can have an adverse effect when our true target audience discovers our book doesn't quite meet their needs. Excellent food for thought.

  2. Kim, you've got me hooked! Hoping you'll tell us what to do with all this great info in tomorrow's post!

    I can see its relevance in both the writing and marketing stages. Some agents I submitted to actually required a "market analysis" such as this for my novel. I've heard authors complain about such a requirement, saying they think the agent just wants to author to do all their work. But I think it is a great way to reveal whether the author understands her readership—and get the author thinking along those lines if s/he isn't already.

    Yes, writing novels is a creative act, but publishing is a business—and if you're seeking an agent or considering self-pubbing, it's time to start thinking about it as such.

  3. LOL! I just want my readers to be able to read! Or maybe having a pulse is good enough.

    But great advice--I know my readership is predominantly female for my romantic suspense books, but I've had men tell me they've enjoyed them. My mysteries, I hope, will appeal to both sexes, but I have a feeling my readers are still more likely to be female.

    Then again, statistically, men tend to read more non-fiction than fiction.

    Terry's Place

  4. This is a terrific exercise for writers of fiction and nonfiction alike. Books that sell well have broader appeal than those with a small, selective audience.

  5. Very helpful post, Kim. And the comments are great, too. It is all good information as we try to define our audience. I can see how defining the audience connects with branding, and this is all things the writer needs to know.

  6. Actually, indie writers have a better chance of success in the niche markets, and non-fiction (especially how-tos) tends to sell better than fiction. In fiction, you'll notice that publishers narrow their mysteries, and even their cozy mysteries, into tighter themes like gardening, cooking/food, other activities or careers. By doing that, they define a smaller reading market, with some overlap into related subjects, but with a better chance of zooming in on their best customers. Casting a wide net in such a huge sea can be a bad idea, especially for a self-published or small press author.

  7. I would bet that most authors don't stop to consider all these things before writing their book. I don't think I do, either.

    Good advice. Thank you.

  8. The first question I ask my ghostwriting clients is "who are your readers?" Usually this first elicits silence, because few have considered it. But after the silence, we often have a productive discussion which helps me write for my clients' clients -- their readers.

  9. This is part of the book proposal we're all supposed to do before we start writing. I think it's fine to do it after the first draft, though. For my own book, a WWII memoir of my mother as a teen in Japan, I wrote it for middle-grade school kids because of the history and culture and age of my mother then. It turned out they weren't interested, but elders who have lived through WWII love it, and university librarians! I just shake my head.

  10. I know it makes good marketing sense to consider your audience ... and I try ... but in the end the only audience I'm concerned with is me ... I have to be amused or I can't force myself to write ... which might help explain why my audience is so small.

  11. Good to know who will appreciate the type of story we write.

    Morgan Mandel


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