Welcome back to the Indie Publishing Roadmap series. If you haven’t read the first post about indie publishing, be sure to check that out.
Getting your book from the first draft to publication is time consuming. And when you spend all of this time writing and editing, getting your novel just how you want it, it’s natural that you want an audience!
But to find some readers, you need to know who you’re trying to connect with.
Not everyone is going to read your book, and that’s okay! While you probably want a sizable audience and long-term fans, you don’t need every reader to pick up a copy of your book.
You do need ideal readers to find your book, though!
What is an ideal reader?
Put simply, your ideal reader is a fictional version of a superfan. It’s the person who will connect with your themes and characters, enjoys your genre, and will be likely to spread the word about your book.
Ideal readers typically fall into specific age groups or can be defined by their interests, but they might also represent a specific ethnicity, sexuality, religion, or other identifying characteristic.
Why is knowing your ideal reader important?
Ideal readers are important for a couple of reasons.
First, you can figure out what these ideal readers are looking for and incorporate those elements into your novel. While you should write a story that’s important to you, you also want to give readers something they’ll enjoy. This will vary by your genre and who your ideal reader is.
For example, in young adult fantasy novels, some tropes are really popular with certain groups of readers. Maybe your protagonist is a “Chosen One,” or maybe you have a love triangle. While some groups of readers are going to love those tropes, others are going to hate them.
If you know who your ideal reader is and what they like, you can incorporate those elements into your story as appropriate. (Alternatively, you can also figure out what your ideal reader won’t like and avoid adding that into your story.)
This will help you with the next step.
Second, you can build an audience full of your ideal readers. Building an audience is important for all authors, but it’s really important for indie authors. Though you have potentially endless online reach, readers probably won’t be able to browse at Barnes & Noble and stumble upon your book. Your readers are going to come from all over the world and the internet! While this is great, it means you do have to dedicate time to building up your fanbase.
(Note: Identifying your ideal reader is important no matter what publishing path you choose. This post just focuses on indie authors. If you plan on pursuing a different publishing route, you can still follow this guide!)
That being said, it doesn’t help to build an audience of people who won’t read your book. You need people following you who actually read and enjoy your genre. They’re most likely to buy your book(s).
As mentioned above, you can incorporate elements of your genre that your ideal readers love. Then, you can use these same elements in your marketing to help build your audience and target the right people. You might include these elements in your book’s blurb, your cover, and other content you post on social media.
Knowing who your ideal reader is will help you build an audience that wants to read your books. You can choose to share content they’ll like, embrace those elements of story they crave, and get them excited about your novels.
Will targeting ideal readers limit your audience?
Hypothetically, targeting your ideal readers may limit your audience. That’s kind of the point! After all, some story elements may rule out a lot of readers.
Deciding to target or not target your ideal reader could lead to two very different outcomes.
- You don’t target your ideal audience, and you end up with wider sales but disappointed readers and more negative reviews. These people didn’t understand what your book was about or had different expectations, and now they’re underwhelmed or frustrated. They probably won’t buy another book from you.
- You do target your ideal audience, and you build a (potentially) smaller group of readers who are obsessed with your books. They leave great reviews, share with their friends who like the same story elements, and engage with you online! They become superfans and want to buy more of your books.
Just because you target your readers doesn’t mean you’ll have a small audience. It just means you’re trying to target people who will probably like your book.
It’s better to target your ideal readers and get them craving your books than trying to appeal to every reader. You can’t please everyone who picks up your book, but by targeting your ideal audience, you’ll please the right people!
How do you find your ideal reader?
Knowing why you should identify your ideal reader and actually figuring it out are two different things.
We’re going to start by creating an imaginary superfan for you today.
Imagine that your book has been published. Who is the reader who becomes invested in your books, follows you on social media, and buys every book you write?
Do you see them in your mind’s eye? Great! Time to answer some questions:
- What are their demographics? Definitely consider your ideal reader’s age, but you might also want to consider their gender identity, ethnicity, education level, religious background, sexuality, and even where they live.
- What are their interests? Besides the fact that they like your genre, what else are they interested in? Do they really enjoy sports? Do they like to cook?
- Why do they like your genre? Maybe they love fantasy because of the dragons and fight scenes! Or maybe they love alpha males in romance novels.
- What new things do they want to see in your genre? While alpha males are a popular staple in the romance novels, maybe they want to see something different. Since a lot of young adult fantasy is based on Europe, maybe your ideal reader is craving a YA fantasy based on ancient Korean history.
- What other authors do they like? This will help you figure out what they like to read, which will help you decide what elements may or may not be a good fit for your novel. (This isn’t permission to copy anyone, but elements of a genre and popular tropes are spread throughout many books.)
- What are they looking to get out of a novel they read? Let’s be honest: a lot of readers want to be entertained. That’s great! That’s part of why we consume fiction. But dig a little deeper. Does your ideal reader love complex plots that make them think? Do they prefer to be really emotionally invested in some of your characters?
You may not need to nail down their demographics as detailed as I listed above. For example, their religion may not be relevant, and that’s okay! But if you’re writing Christian fiction, for example, then that is important to consider.
Take your time while you answer these questions. You may need to do some research if you need to nail down specifics. Go online and see what people are talking about, including what they’re enjoying, what they’re tired of, and what new elements they’re craving from their books.
Can I be my own ideal reader?
Did you run through those questions, answer them, and realize that you basically described yourself? It happens more often than you’d think!
I think that on some level, we’re always our ideal reader. After all, we need to enjoy what we write. And many times, we write in the genre we most love to consume.
However, it’s not that simple. While you may actually fit into your group of ideal readers, you also might not. If you write middle grade fiction and you’re over the age of 12, then no, you aren’t exactly your ideal reader.
You can love what you’re writing and still not be your own ideal reader. That’s okay! After all, if you’re trying to have a career as an author, you do have to write for an audience, not just yourself.
What you like and what readers want can and will overlap!
Will people outside of this ‘ideal reader’ box read my book?
There will absolutely be people outside of your ideal reader box who read and love your book. Young adult fiction is a popular example of this.
Though I’m no longer a ‘young adult’ (I aged out a long time ago), I still love YA books. I enjoy the themes and narration styles in YA fantasy especially, so much of my reading time is devoted to books in that genre. I probably don’t fit those authors’ main audience, but that’s okay! I still enjoy many of the things they explore in their books.
You might consider creating ‘alternate ideal readers,’ which are variations of your ideal reader. To continue with the YA example, maybe your alternate ideal reader is a 20-something fantasy reader who still likes YA themes and tropes!
Plenty of readers will enjoy your books despite not checking every box on your ‘ideal reader’ profile you just made. Remember, identifying your ideal reader isn’t meant to exclude them entirely. Instead, it’s helping you in your writing and marketing efforts.
How do you use this information?
Now that you’ve answered the questions above, and you’ve written your book, what do you do?
If you haven’t already, read more of the Indie Publishing Roadmap series to learn about self-publishing.
Start researching where your ideal reader hangs out online. Younger ideal readers are probably on social media, especially places like the Bookstagram and BookTube communities. Study what they like, what they don’t like, and keep learning.
You can also begin to build your audience even if your book isn’t published yet. Create your author account(s) on your preferred social media platform, then start sharing about your novel. (As of publication on May 14th, 2020, I’m still working on a post on author platforms. More on this later!)
Connect with potential readers and enjoy the process of growing your audience!
If you’re ready to take your first steps toward publication, fill out my contact form to schedule your free 15-minute discovery call to see if I’m the right editor for your project.
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