Now is the time to define your target reader

Writer’s Digest is an excellent resource for writers. You will be inspired and challenged by the advice you’ll find at the site and in the print magazine. One recent article asked this question: Who do you see as your target reader?

Target reader.

Aim towards. Keep in your sight. Hit the mark. Those words came to mind as I thought about the term.

Do you think about your target reader as you write? Should this be a regular practice for writers? I think it should, and I admit it: I rarely gave thought to the reader when I began writing my stories and blog posts. That’s starting to change, though, as I learn and grow in the writing life. The best writing advice that I study always points to the reader. This quote convicted me and I hope it does the same for you. We write because we love the craft, but we also want our work to resonate with readers. If we don’t pay them any attention while we write, then it seems we are only defeating our writing purpose.

But the Writer’s Digest article points out that there is another purpose for having a target reader in mind. Being ready with a well-defined statement will impress agents, editors, and publishers. “Who do you see as your target reader” will be one of the first questions that these VIPs in the publishing world will ask.

The answer they’re looking for, though, isn’t as simple as “Women in their 20’s and 30’s.” This is the paragraph from the article that gave me an “Aha!” moment after I read it:

This question is an enormous opportunity. When an editor or agent asks it, they aren’t just looking for a demographic – they’re looking for your motivation. Ideally you answer not just the surface question “Who’s the target reader?” but also the implied question behind it, which is “And why are you the right writer to tell this story?” – Kim Wright, author, WD, 4-8-12

I love that: the right writer. One commenter describes it as the writer’s emotional connection to the story.

Ask yourself these questions, for starters, as you work on your novel or wait for responses from query letters:

  • Why do I want to write this story?
  • What is it that moved me to begin writing it?
  • Who do I want to influence or move to action with my story?

Agents and editors do not want general answers to these questions. If the only thing you say to an agent about your target is “teens,” then you will sound like just another writer in the pool of a zillion.

Instead, you’ll describe your target reader as, say, “13-18 year old teenagers” and then go on to explain the pain of your past as an orphan who went through the foster home system. You’ll add how you hope your book will help other teens to avoid the same ugly situations that you barely lived through. The agent who hears that will know you have a compelling reason for writing the story and are committed to having it told. What agent wouldn’t want a client like that?

Now is the time to zero in on your target reader. Who do you want to be touched and influenced by your wonderful story? Use this definition to keep on track as you write, and to present when that important question comes your way.

Have you pinpointed your target reader? Inspire the rest of us by leaving your description in the comments.


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6 thoughts on “Now is the time to define your target reader

  1. Oh, I think you do an outstanding job with your blog, no worries there. I guess we all have to have our pet peeves, and maybe that one is mine. In a way, the question of ‘why are you qualified’ almost feels like we have to prove why we bare our souls and sacrifice many aspects of life just to get them to read beyond that one-page query.

    I don’t mind asking myself that question: why am I writing this book. But it bugs me that I have to explain it to an agent who really should be more interested in the story, not who I am or why I write.

    It’s just another hoop, and it rubs me the wrong way.

    But I play along and dive, leap, and spin when they tell me to — that’s part of the game, after all. I remind myself that when I reach my goals, I’ll remember how I got here, and help someone else so they don’t have to deal with some of the rubbish.

    And you’re smart, Darla, not to let it get to you. You’ll be the writer that can figure it out, for that reason. I need to take your lead.

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    1. It is a challenge to keep the business aspect of the writing life from ruining our fun and creativity. I’m miles behind you in your experience with it. But my aim is to work the business in a way that makes it become part of the fun. We shall see!

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  2. Hi Darla,

    I have trouble with this in some ways. I was recently at a conference where, during an elevator pitch session, the judges asked us to explain ‘what qualifies you to write this book’ and it was a strange, almost belittling question.

    I actually prefer your approach, how you describe it in your post; it’s worded more gently, I guess. But the overall idea is the same.

    This is how I tend to view it: anyone can write but not everyone can write well. A heart surgeon could think up a great story idea about a doctor who loses his patient in the middle of surgery because of a mistake. So, because he’s a doctor he’s qualified to write the story, right? But if the guy can’t write artfully or paint a setting or draw up a protag that makes your insides squirm, then it doesn’t matter if he’s qualified to write the story.

    I do see the importance of the emotional connection between author and story. But that emotional connection will be lost if the story is not well-written. So, while it is helpful for the author to know the subject matter intimately, it is also prudent for the author to be a good writer. That’s a better package, I think.

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    1. Good points, Kate. You are right, of course. Knowing how to write well is the most important part of the package. I hope that’s what I’m conveying throughout this blog, and I’m truly sorry if this post makes anyone think less than that. But the thought of having to answer why I feel qualified to write my novel doesn’t bother me. I want to be prepared (and prepare my readers) for that judge’s question which, as you noted, will come. I’m learning that the business side of writing will bring out questions like this one because it’s all about the sale for them. Yet this particular question was helpful to me in a focusing kind of way. I really appreciate your insight, Kate, and also your witness to this question being asked!

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