You may be so enthusiastic about starting your book that you can’t wait to put your fingers to the keyboard and start to write your first chapter. But before you begin there are a few things you need to think about. Taking some time before you begin to organize your work and your thoughts will not only make it easier to write, it will greatly increase your chances of writing a book that sells.
If you’ve spent any time at all in business you’ve heard the phrase, “find your target market.” As a writer, your target market is your reader. When I ask the writers I work with who their target reader is, the most common answer I get is “everyone,” or some variation of the word, such as “every parent” or “everyone in business” or “everyone who likes to cook,” or another answer that is equally as broad.
Some people try to narrow it down a bit: “My audience is women” (okay, you’ve narrowed it to half the population) or “My audience is women between the ages of 30 and 60,” (now we’ve got it to one quarter of the population). All of these answers are just too expansive to define your true target reader.
Before you begin to write your book, come up with as detailed a description of your target reader as possible. The more you know about your reader, the better equipped you will be in writing a book that they will be interested in buying and reading.
Are the members of your audience experts on your subject, or are they beginners in the field? Knowing the answer will help you adjust your vocabulary to the correct level. A book written for beginners that does not explain complex vocabulary specific to your subject will quickly turn off readers who are unfamiliar but want to learn.
Don’t think that this question is only for writers of nonfiction. Fiction writers must also think about the age and vocabulary of their readers. A “read-to-me” book, or one written for four- and five-year-olds who do not yet read should have a higher vocabulary than a first reader. Why? Because a young child’s listening vocabulary and comprehension are greater than the words he can actually read for himself. Science fiction and fantasy are two other fiction genres that often require the writer to explain a new or different technology or world to the reader. If your characters live in a world that different from our own, you must explain the rules of the world to the reader.
A second question to ask about your readers is their generation. Are they teenagers or over age 50? Different age groups have their own slang and jargon or catch phrases, their own touchstones and icons. If your audience is under age 35, referencing Frank Sinatra or Kennedy’s assassination won’t stir them; better to talk about Justin Timberlake and the World Trade Center, instead, and if they are under 20 Timberlake is passé, go for Justin Bieber – and who knows who are what the iconic incidents and figures of the next generation will be.
I’m sure you know what I’m talking about by now. Understanding who your reader is has a huge impact on how you write your book. Here are a few questions to ask yourself about your target readers.
I often suggest that a writer think of a specific person who would enjoy reading his book. As you write, keep this person in mind. How would he react to what you have written? Would he understand the explanation or description you just wrote or would he be bored and find it too elementary? Would he chuckle or gasp in horror at the right places?
Write a description of your target reader. This person can be someone you know or it can be a fictionalized composite character. Either way, just make your description as detailed as you can. When you work on your book, picture this person sitting at the table across from you. Write as if you are having a conversation with him.