Who is your ideal reader?

Why do you need to identify her (or him or them)?

If you know who your ideal reader is, it will be easier to write your book. Writing to a person is always easier than writing to an ‘audience’. Also, knowing some specifics about your reader will help you decide what to include and what to leave out.

For example, if your book is about coping with a chronic condition like type-1 diabetes, how you discuss the topic will change depending on the audience. A book for a newly diagnosed child will be very different in tone and scope to one for that child’s parent, an adult living with diabetes, or a health professional working with diabetes patients.

Nevertheless, books for these four very different audiences will have some similarities. It’s likely they’ll all discuss controlling blood sugar through diet and exercise, as well as managing the condition through medication. The differences will be in how these topics are addressed – are they explained in terms appropriate to an eight-year-old or a hospital consultant?

Returning to your ideal reader, you need to think about what she wants and needs from your book. To that end, consider questions like the following:

  • Does she know next to nothing about your field, or is she a fellow practitioner?
  • How is she likely to use your book? Is it an instruction manual she can use for reference, or does she need to read the whole thing? Or is it somewhere in between? (My book There’s a Book in Every Expert (May 2020) is in between; it’s detailed enough to serve as an introductory text, but the chapter titles and subheadings make it easy to find particular topics.)
  • Is your book likely to be a complement to other books she has on your topic? Or is it the only one in the field? (If it’s the latter, is it really? Check a good search engine to be sure.)

As you can see just from these questions, identifying your ideal reader goes a long way towards helping you decide on the scope, content, and tone of your book.

If you’re producing an instruction manual for a fellow practitioner, she likely already has a good set of reference works in your field, so your book would need to be a user-friendly reminder of how to do particular things. By ‘user friendly’, I mean that it would need to be organised in a way that makes finding particular sections easy. If she has to read (or reread) 100 pages to find the answer to a question, she’s going to get irritated.

However, if you’re writing an introductory book for someone new to the field, you’ll need to be more comprehensive. This will mean taking the time to define terms specialists would take for granted, and it will probably mean including plenty of narrative examples.

Think back to our hypothetical book on diabetes; a consultant does not need (or want) you to discuss how insulin controls blood sugar, but an eight-year-old child has likely never thought about sugar in any form except sweets and doesn’t know what insulin is.

Now that you’re convinced you need to identify your ideal reader, how do you do it?

How do you identify her?

You’ve likely come across business development exercises on identifying your ideal paying client (if you haven’t check out Grow Your Tribe by Lor Bradley). Your ideal reader has a lot in common with your ideal client, but the groups are not necessarily identical.

For starters, your ideal client has to be able to afford your course or hourly rate – this is likely a much bigger financial commitment than the price of a book.

This is not to say that only those who can’t afford your primary coaching or healing services will buy your book. Your readers may be, or may become, your clients. But your readers don’t have to be as committed to working with you when they purchase your book as your clients do when they purchase a coaching package or course.

So, your ideal reader will be interested in learning what it’s like to work with you. Your current clients likely share this interest, but they may or may not feel the need to buy and read your book.

As in the exercises you’ve probably done on identifying your ideal client (sometimes called customer avatar), you need to think about who she is and answer questions like the following:

  • How old is she?
  • Does she have a family?
  • What does she do for a living?
  • What are her interests?
  • Where does she hang out on social media?
  • Where does she hang out in real life?
  • What does she do for fun?
  • What are her dreams?
  • What are her fears?
  • What does she look like?
  • What is her name?

Write your answers down. If you’re artistic, draw a picture of her or make a collage or vision board that represents her personality and interests.

However you choose to document your idea of your ideal reader, keep it to hand. When you start writing your book it will be easier to write to a person, than to write to a faceless reader.

What does writing to a particular reader look like?

It looks exactly like this post. Since it’s really clunky (and irritating) to write about how anyone could write anything, I’ve focused this post on helping writers who are writing books for women.

Does this mean it’s not useful to any other sort of writer? No. What it means is that having an ideal reader in mind allowed me to make this post suitably focused.

If you’re struggling to identify your ideal reader, ask for help in the Entrepreneurs’ Writing Club.

The Best Way to Focus Your Topic

I’ll begin by stating the obvious; whether you’re writing a blog post, an article, or a book, you need to have a point. Now, you need to state that point in a single sentence. Writing teachers call this sentence either your thesis statement (this term is more common in the US) or your statement of argument (this one is more common in the UK). For brevity’s sake, I’ll stick with thesis statement or thesis.

You’ll use your thesis to help you outline your book. It’s also useful for writing your ‘elevator pitch’ for your book. In other words, when someone asks what your book is about, you’ll have a one sentence answer ready. If they’re interested in hearing more, then you can elaborate. If they’re not, you’ll finish your sentence before their eyes glaze over.

What makes a good thesis statement?

Your thesis needs to be arguable. So, you’re going to run into trouble if your sentence is something like the following: Some people keep cats as pets.

The problem with statements of fact (some of us do have cats as pets) is that it’s complete. There’s nothing for you to argue or prove.

However, you’d still run into problems if your thesis was like this: People who keep cats as pets are better than those who don’t.

This is arguable. However, it is not provable. On what grounds can you legitimately argue that people with cats are better than people without cats? I know lots of good, decent human beings who don’t happen to have pet cats.

A thesis that is arguable and provable might look something like this: People who have pet cats tend  to have lower blood pressure than those who have dogs. This is arguable and potentially provable. If you researched the topic (I haven’t, this is just an example) you’d find scientific studies that show correlation (and possibly causation) between spending time with animals and lowering patients’ blood pressure; your job would then be proving that cats are better at lowering blood pressure than dogs.

Is a thesis for a book different than one for a blog post?

The short answer is no. For the more nuanced answer, let’s return to the previous example: People who have pet cats tend to have lower blood pressure than those who have dogs.

You could write 500 or 80,000 words on this thesis. The difference between a blog post and a book isn’t in the thesis statement, but in your treatment of the topic. A blog post would likely state the thesis, look at one or two articles that support it, and then come to a conclusion. Meanwhile, an article (of say 3,000 words) would look at a few more sources and consider at least one counter argument before the end. A book, however, would look at several sources, try to address all of the major counter arguments, and might even include a case study or two.

Once you have a thesis, what should you do with it?

When you write the introduction to whatever you’re writing (post, article, book), you need to include your thesis. Some writers begin with the thesis, while others prefer to offer some context before stating it. Which is appropriate will vary with each piece, though with a short post, you’re more likely to put it very near the beginning.

If you’re writing an article or a book, I’d suggest writing your thesis on a card and putting it on the wall above your computer or somewhere else where you’ll see it while you work. It’s easy to wander off track when you’re working on a long piece of writing. Having the thesis nearby will remind you to stay focused.

You can also use your thesis to help you with your outline, which I’ll cover in my next post.

If you’ve tried writing a thesis and you want some feedback on whether or not it’s arguable and potentially provable, pop into the Facebook group and ask for help.

Read this to find out what to do next!