Know your readers & give them value
by David Patterson
If you record your thoughts as words on a medium capable of capturing and holding them, you're a writer. But if you want to be an author, you have to do it with the intent to share those words. If authorship is what you have in mind then you need to invite readers into your process. You invite readers by placing them in the forefront of your mind as you write. Authors of course write to say what they think, but they also write to reach an audience. Before you can reach that audience, you need to be able to answer some questions.
- Who are they?
- What are they looking for?
- Why will they care about my book?
- What is the value proposition my book will offer them?
- Where will they read my book?
Who are your potential readers?
What are the demographics of your readers—young or old, rich or middle class, urban or suburban, conservative or liberal? What is their level of education and occupation. Each book should have its own intended audience. Writing for everybody is the same as writing for nobody. People who believe they are writing for everyone are likely to find that they have written only for themselves.
So, pick your readers and write to them. That doesn't mean that you change your ideas to match what you think they want to hear. It means you change your words and how you use them to fit the level of knowledge, ability to comprehend, and sophistication of your intended readers.
What are potential readers looking for?
Once you know who your audience is, you need to determine what it is they will value about the subject matter of your book. For example, let's say you want to write about plumbing. Should you write about how to plumb your remodeled kitchen or bathroom, or about how to choose a plumber? Those topics would appeal to different audiences. People who go in search of a book are looking for something. If you want readers to pick your book, then you have deliver content on target with what they are looking for.
Why will potential readers care about my book?
You can know your audience, be on target with what they are looking for, and still find your book is unread. Why? Because you haven't given readers a strong enough reason to care about your book. Potential readers who give it a quick perusal need to believe that your book
- Promises valuable content
- Is easily accessible
- Is well organized
- Will be entertaining.
It has to convince potential readers that it will hold their interest.
What is the value proposition my book will offer readers?
Even if you've successfully identified your audience, hit the target with what they are looking for, and given them a reason to care about your book, you still haven't done right by them. You need to give readers real value in exchange for what you are asking from them.
Whether it's time, money, or both you're asking readers to give you something they value in exchange for reading your book. In return they expect to get value that is at least equal to what they have given you, and what they really want is an outsized return on their investment. That's reality. Be prepared to face it and deliver.
But wait, that's not all. Here's a second piece of reality. Readers set the rate of exchange, not authors. Readers will determine if your book is worth full price or more likely to be a fair value on the remainder table. They'll also decide if it's worth reading diligently, or just worthy of a quick skim.
What you are offering in exchange for what readers have to give is the value proposition of your book. It needs to be a good one. One that readers are likely to see as weighted in their favor. There is just too much competition for available reading time for you to fail to create a great value proposition. Would you read a book if you thought its value proposition lacking?
Where will readers read my book?
How you write your book should be determined in part by the reading environment likely to be chosen by your desired audience for the type of content you will be offering.
- Will they be reading in quick snatches or in longer blocks of time?
- Will they be sitting in an easy chair or at a desk?
- Will your book travel with them as either a diversion on long trips or a commuting companion?
- Will they be reading in silence or amid cacophony?
- Will they take your book to bed for their final intellectual pursuit of the day or be read while they are eating?
The answers to all of these questions and more should go into determining everything from what words you use to the length of your chapters. Your book can have the best information and the potential to be over the top in its entertainment value, but if its subject matter and style of presentation are poorly suited to the reading environment in which it is likely to be read, it will fail to fully reach its audience. In short, you need to match subject, style, and presentation to the anticipated reading environment.
You can't hit all the targets, but you should try
It should be obvious that no author is able to respond completely to all of the questions of audience. The object is to analyze your readers to the best of your abilities and resources and then write. Don't let the fact that you can't perfectly define every aspect of your audience stop you from writing. Writing after all is an imperfect process.
Try to determine your potential readers' expectations, their likely valuation of your offer, and their reading habitats. Think like a reader. Then make the best compromises you can in order to successfully reach the largest audience likely to be drawn to its content.