Rebecca Woodhead made a superb case for this in her article ‘Social Studies’ in the January edition of Writing Magazine (I’ve never quite understood why on the first of each month one receives magazines dated with the following month!). She suggests that you picture your ideal reader in vivid detail – what they look like, how they respond to your book, what makes them tick. Most importantly, she advocates connecting emotionally with that target reader (she uses the term ‘avatar’). So you imagine that your writing moves this person, empowers them, inspires them. Then, you ‘serve them’. She explains: ‘You are no longer the most important person in your vision; your readers are.’
Rebecca writes chiefly about author marketing, and this is a very insightful look at how an author may connect better with readers. I very much like the idea of not ‘selling’ to readers, but serving them. Nothing makes my day brighter than reading a review of one of my books in which it’s apparent that my writing has touched the reader. I’ve facilitated escapism; I’ve enabled a rosy glow – I’ve helped someone to dream a little.
I decided to sit down, as suggested in the article, and get to know my ideal reader by creating her as a character. I wrote lots of notes; among them:
- Likes to travel and have new experiences
- Appreciates good company
- Enjoys the arts, especially those related to storytelling
- Is deeply affected by emotion
- Defines herself as a romantic
- Is a daydreamer
- Believes in fate and true love
I spent a very enjoyable hour fleshing out the character as I do for those in my books, thinking about how she feels and thinks and acts. Then I made a coffee and looked over my notes. The first thought that struck me when I looked at the big picture was, ‘I think this reader and I would get along well.’ The second thought, ‘Oh. I am this reader!’
I had essentially created a character sketch of myself. In some ways, that’s because I’m the quintessential romance novel reader. But beyond that, I think the sketch tells a fundamental truth: I write for myself. I have always believed in writing the kind of book I’d like to read, rather than trying to chase a trend in romance fiction or writing a book that’s formulaic. A book can only impassion a reader, as I want my novels to do, when the writer was impassioned while writing – and that is possible only when you write for yourself. Allen Ginsberg said, ‘To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.’ That is guidance I took to heart in the years I wrote without seeking publication – an audience for my works. I spent many years learning about the craft and finding my own voice, so that now the words flow without obstruction.
Perhaps, then, marketing should be refocused with, at its core, the truth that the ideal reader of any book is the author him- or herself. Then, sharing the story becomes a journey in connecting to likeminded people in the world. That, for many writers, may be a journey indeed; a recent Mslexia survey (Dec/Jan/Feb issue) revealed that the notion of the writer as a hermit is not without basis. But for me, discovering readers who enjoy my writing is a wonderful part of the process. I am happiest, it is true, when writing alone beneath a tree in my garden or at my desk by the log fire, lost in a world of passion; but I am veryhappy when I connect to a reader who appreciates my take on the world. Writer William Nicholson says it best: ‘We read to know we’re not alone.’ And we write for the same reason.