Who Are You Writing For?

In the past couple months, I’ve examined the internal part of our faith and writing through the lenses of our own writing goals and the state of our hearts in relationship with Christ. This month, we’ll take a look at the other side of the page—our relationships with our readers.

For those of us who rub shoulders with the writing community, we know that we aren’t alone. Writing a book takes a village from the spark of an idea to the finished product, and established authors know that the effort does not stop there! Even if you are an author who writes only for yourself, this discussion will still benefit you because you are your reader. So how do we pursue Christ as we determine who we’re writing for?

Some writers spend a lot of time, energy, and resources to identify and understand their readers. What do our readers want? How can we reach our target audience? As Christian writers, we have an even greater responsibility to select our target readers carefully. If our desire is for the glory of Jesus and the benefit of others, God will give us the knowledge we need to make the best choice for our writing. Not only can our selection determine who sees our book, but it can also help us make the best decisions regarding the content of our message and how (whether subtly or loudly) we proclaim the gospel.

I don’t mean we have to carve out a readership of hundreds, thousands, or even millions in order to be successful. A book is successful in God’s eyes if it brings at least one person closer to him—even if that person is the author. But especially for those of us who hope that our books will be read and loved by others, we can take a few steps to determine who we are writing for. Here are a few factors to consider:

Identify Your Target Reader

Consider these questions carefully. How old are your ideal readers? What cultural and/or racial backgrounds do they have? What does their life look like financially? What do they do for a living? What do they do for fun? Are they fellow Christians? What elements make up their personality?

1. Create a bulleted list of the qualities of your ideal reader based on the factors above. While you don’t have to use every demographic or psychographic factor, compile enough to have a good picture of the kind of person you would like reading your work. Write them down. Here’s one I created for my current work in progress:
    a. Women or men
    b. Aged 15 to 30 years
    c. Born and raised in western culture with a curiosity about other cultures
    d. Readers of fantasy fiction, particularly epic and magic-based fantasy
    e. Lovers of adventure (at least in reading, somewhat in real life)
2. After creating your list, compile it into a single sentence that encompasses the core traits of your ideal reader.
    Women or men (a) from 15 to 30 years (b) of age who love culturally diverse (c) fantasy fiction (d) that challenges their established beliefs and makes them think (e).
3. Determine what you want your book to do for this ideal reader.

According to the Pew Research Center, people read for a few common reasons, and it is important for Christian authors to be aware of this when trying to determine the target audience for their books. The most common reason people read is to discover new information. The second most common is to escape reality, to use their imagination, and to explore new worlds. Your book or books may lend themselves to one type of reader or another.
    Women or men from 15 to 30 years of age who love relationship-based, culturally diverse fantasy fiction that challenges their established beliefs and makes them think. By experiencing my main character’s internal and external struggle with pain-fueled magic, readers will learn more about themselves and the human condition.

Find Your Target Reader

After you identify your target reader, finding them is the next and hardest step. Whether you are at the beta-reading stage and desperate for an honest opinion, the editorial stage (looking for a professional to spiff up your work), or the book launch stage, you need to be able to find your readers.

Use your target reader description from above to connect with potential readers over the social media platforms you frequent. Research online and local writers groups and attend events. This is especially essential at the beta-reading stage, where you will need as much quality input as possible from many people to be able to thoroughly revise and improve your work.

Be willing to put in as much work for others as you ask of your beta readers or launch party. Like editing, beta reading done well is often hard work that involves critical thinking. Give as good as you get. Invest in other writers during their journeys, and aim to develop a core group of potential readers.

A lot of publishers nowadays demand that authors have an online presence, a following, or some sort of established readership. It’s hard work! Here’s a great article on Jane Friedman’s blog that explains some practical tips.

If you are struggling to find and keep readers, remember that the difficulty is part of the process. Prayerfully work hard and accept feedback with a grateful heart and a hefty grain of salt, and you will become a better writer.

This is the fourth installment of my Faith and Fiction Writing blog series. If you’re interested in the introduction and the year’s topic overview, visit the first installment.