08 February, 2013

The Ideal Reader

Do you have an ideal reader? When you're writing (or doing something else creative) do you have a specific audience in mind who you want to impress/move to tears/have howling with laughter more than anything?

Some writers have an imaginary ideal reader before they start writing. This reader is essentially the target audience. The writer can probably tell you everything about them. Perhaps she is a 30-something woman with a couple of kids, who has a hectic life and reads a book before bed in order to unwind. She therefore likes plots that are easy to follow, with everyday characters, but with themes which challenge and move her. If you're this type of writer, this is fabulous! Knowing your target market is crucial to getting an agent or publisher (or indeed, marketing your own book). A query letter that says "this book would appeal to men and women of all ages" doesn't fill an agent's heart with joy. They'll assume you don't know your audience.

I'm not really one of those writers. With my first novel, The Art of Letting Go, I wrote the book I wanted to write and then desperately tried to figure out the target market. Not a very professional approach! However, sometimes when I'm writing, somebody real will come to mind who I think will like, or be intrigued by what I'm trying to do. With The Art of Letting Go, I couldn't stop imagining my eldest sibling reading it, and in very subtle ways that shaped the novel as it progressed. I've found similar things with various other people while writing short stories too. Sometimes it can be a subject matter that will interest them, other times it's just a feeling about the style or the themes behind the plot. The major drawback of having real ideal readers, is that one day you might well find out whether or not they actually do like your book. Then they might prove to be less than ideal after all!

An ideal reader is the writer's equivalent to an imaginary friend.They are the people you can imagine reading your work and finding it fabulous. Imaginary friends don't get bored, point out typos before they've pointed out how scintillating your prose is, or say they prefer a Mills and Boon. Most importantly, they keep a writer conscious of the fact they are writing to be read. Unless your work is entirely private, a connection to your future readers is essential.

Who's your ideal reader?


  1. My ideal writer is anyone who'll buy my book. :)

    Well young adult readers. (I say readers cause many adults like YA.) I have many a story in which I want to make the reader cry. Current one included. But they always have a good ending. So I guess I want them to cry at some points, be happy at others.

    1. I was wondering whether your story isn't maybe New Adult instead of Young Adult? New Adult seems to be the craze nowadays! But I agree with you - anyone who thinks I'm fabulous is my ideal reader!

    2. I don't know what my story is. :) Some agents and publishers don't believe new adult is legitimate. Some do. Some agents say a 18 yo college freshman can't qualify as YA. Some would consider it.

      If I see an agent considers NA, I'll call it that. If not, YA. Some don't say NA too, some call it a crossover.

      So who knows.

      And none of my others have college students, so that's why I consider myself a YA writer.

  2. I've never really had an ideal reader in mind. I've often wondered whether I should and once or twice made half-hearted attempts, but they lasted as long as New Year resolutions!

    My theory is that most forms of art, whether it's prose, poetry, painting or whatever, arise from something you want to express, channelled in a way you want to express it. I'm not sure where an ideal reader comes into that - it almost seems unnecessarily limiting.

    1. I think I agree with you. When somebody pops into my head, that's one thing. When I try to force the story to fit my notion of what somebody would like, that's another. Tell the story you have to tell, right?


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