Last Sunday, I had the luxury of being able to read all afternoon. I dug into my magazine pile and pulled out the latest issue of [amazon_link id="B0047VIALE" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Writer’s Digest[/amazon_link]. I like the magazine because it gives me ideas for how to improve my writing and how to expand my readership. In the latest issue (September 2013), Writing Coach Kip Langello had a front-of-the-book piece called “One in a Million.” Its tagline: “Here’s why you should be crafting your book with one specific reader in mind—and that reader isn’t you.” This idea made me think about the advice Michelle Seaton gave me: “Think about how readers want to learn what it is you have to say.” I read on.
The point of the article: Ask yourself who is going to read your book, use that answer to visualize one, specific reader, and then write your book for that reader.
Langello created his ideal reader: a thirty-four year-old woman named Peggy. She works in the medical records department at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida. She has a blue-collar husband and both are avid fans of the Miami Dolphins.
Langello uses Peggy as a tool. He crafts his stories around Peggy’s likes and dislikes. When he has a question about his plotline or character, Langello thinks about what Peggy would want to happen or how she would respond to his character. This exercise has supposedly helped him publish 5 novels.
Meet Janet Watkins, age 20. Watkins is a pre-med student at University at Buffalo. She is African-American. Her lower-middle class family lives in Colorado. She decided to attend UB because they offered her a couple of scholarships, a good work study job in the student health clinic, and the promise of admission to its medical school if she keeps her grades up.
Janet is a conscientious student and a hard worker. She is not interested in history and she could care less about the history of New York State. So why will Janet’s supervisor at the health clinic have to reprimand her for reading my book at work? Because I will write the book so that Janet will find it too interesting to put down.
I crafted Janet to keep the target audience for my book and the deficiencies of my dissertation in the forefront of my mind. As a westerner Janet is sick of the East Coast-centered view of early American history. Why should she care about colonial and early Republic Albany, New York? She will care because I will do a great job explaining how Albany stood as the first gateway to the American West and the important role it played in the large-scale westward expansion of the United States.
Janet loves science but dislikes history. How will I grab her attention and keep it? I will write about my real-life characters in a way that seems present and identifiable, not distant.
Janet doesn’t want to read another history about dead, white men. If I am going to write a book that she won’t be able to put down, I will need to expand my cast of characters to include more women, Native Americans, and African Americans. All of whom lived in and around Albany and helped shape the culture of the community.
Additionally, Janet has never wanted for food, clothing, or shelter, but she has not had a lot of luxuries in her life. Each year her family took one, week-long camping trip to a nearby state park and called it “vacation.” Therefore, Janet won’t find the cast of characters in my dissertation very fascinating or relatable because they are mostly dead, white, rich people.
In order to grab Janet’s attention I need to expand my narrative to include more than just the occasional anecdote of middling and poor persons. I need to try and give these people faces and integrate them as fully into my narrative as they were in the community. This won’t be an easy task because they left few records for posterity. I need to be more creative in how I find and interpret their stories.
The list of what I must include seems like a tall order. However, if I want undergraduate students (especially those in New York State) and every-day people to embrace the history of Albany, and my book, I need to write a more relatable narrative than I did in my dissertation. This doesn’t mean I have to scrap my dissertation and start over, but I do need to reframe what I have written, expand it in some places, and contract it in others.
It remains to be seen whether my contrived reader, Janet Watkins, will lead me to write a best-selling history book. However, her presence in my mind will help me remember who I am writing for, which will help me better understand how it is my readers want to learn what it is I have to say.
What Do You Think?
Who is your ideal reader? Do you write solely for them? Or, do you write for your bigger, target audience?