Your Ideal Reader

By Ali Hale

If you’re reading Daily Writing Tips, you’re probably a writer of some description. And being a writer means, in the vast majority of cases, that you have – or at least want to have – readers.

So, have you thought about your Ideal Reader?

What is an Ideal Reader?

Your ideal reader is a construct designed to represent your audience. If you’re writing a blog about frugality and budgeting, your ideal reader might be a single mom in her thirties. Alternatively, your ideal reader could be a high school graduate heading off to college.

For a short story writer, an ideal reader might be a woman working in a shop, flicking through short stories in her breaks or during quiet times of the day. Alternatively, a short story writer might envisage a very different ideal reader – perhaps an elderly male professor poring over the story in a hushed library, extracting every nuance.

Why do I want an Ideal Reader?

You might wonder what the point of creating an “ideal reader” is. Perhaps you think your audience is too diverse, and that there’s no way you could come up with one imaginary character to represent them.

But having an ideal reader is well worth the effort, in terms of boosting your writing productivity:

“Consider how much more quickly words flow when you’re writing an email to a friend versus creating a formal business presentation. When you have a specific recipient in mind, you have a much easier time communicating your ideas.”
– from Why Create An Ideal Reader?

Do you ever find yourself struggling to get started an article, blog post, story or poem? Do you worry that the topic will bore your readers, or that your literary allusions will go over their heads? Having an ideal reader in mind makes it much easier to pitch your writing at the right level.

Even if you don’t have an audience yet, you’ll still want to think about your ideal reader. When I was planning my new blog, Alpha Student, I put a good bit of thought into my ideal reader: a keen, intelligent, slightly shy, university student who isn’t really into the wilder aspects of student life. This really helped when focusing the blog and deciding on the tone of the articles (I’ve not written about drunken nights or peppered my advice with swear words, for instance!)

Who is My Ideal Reader?

If you’re writing for a specific publication, you’re in luck. Many magazines publish profiles for prospective advertisers, detailing the demographics of the magazine’s readership. Here in the UK, I find the IPC Media website very helpful for finding these details. For example, for Horse magazine, I’m told that the “target readers” are horse enthusiast women aged 20-40 from the ABC1 (middle/upper class) categories. This would be a good starting point for creating an ideal reader.

“At a minimum I keep in mind the age and gender of the reader. For example, I sometimes do news articles for a small, local weekly newspaper. Since I live in the neighborhood, I know that we’re an incredibly diverse area, but that the readership of the paper tends to be older women. So that’s who I write for, keeping in mind the others, and occasionally working in some ethnic bits.”
– from Write for Your Ideal Reader

If you’re writing fiction for a particular magazine, look at the advertisements, the editorial, and the letters from readers. This can give you a lot of clues about the gender, age, interests and social class of the ideal reader for that market.

Even copywriters and marketers can create an ideal reader – often called an “ideal customer”. I took Sonia Simone’s excellent Content Class by email (it’s free), and her first lesson is “Write for One Customer”. She says:

If your ideal customer is a little formal, write to her like you’d send an email to your Great Aunt Susie. If he’s casual, write like you’d write to an old college buddy. (It’s probably smart to keep it rated-G, though.)

Over to You

If you have a blog, novel, short story collection, article or any other writing project underway, stop and ask yourself – who am I writing for? Who’s my ideal reader?

You can get as detailed about this as you like: try to make it a fun exercise. Give your ideal reader a name, a personality, interests, worries, a birthday. Then, every time you write, write for that one person.

Why not tell us about your ideal reader in the comments?

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10 Responses to “Your Ideal Reader”

  • kochi

    i feel that the moment you have an ideal reader in mind you are restricting your self. why not woo all types of readers by having auniversal appeal?

  • Miguel de Luis

    I have varied ideal readers, because I have varied works. In one case it would be a junior high student with a vivid imagination and a concern for the world; for my main blog it is, for some reason, a woman, that is concerned with improving the quality of her life and leading her family through these times of economic uncertainty.

    …wait, I have just realized how good this exercise is… Do you mind if I comment back on Monday? Just leave me some time to think about it.

  • Ali

    By all means come back on Monday to comment! 🙂

    Yes, you’re quite right that you should have different ideal readers for separate projects — my ideal readers for my two blogs are very different, and the ideal reader for my short stories is different again …

  • Kilburn Hall

    As a retired journalist, columnist and editor of twenty-years and the author of nine fiction books, I have to say that the content of the above article, (Your Ideal Reader) is total horse-shit!

    There is no “ideal” reader and if you start trying to write for one specific audience, you’re going to tune out others that might actually be interested in reading your book. A lot of times I have been in the chain bookstores and picked up a book whose content I would not normally read because I was,

    A. Attracted by the cover
    B. Saw it advertised on TV, website, newspaper, magazine or heard it reveiwed on the radio.

    Sometimes, I really loved the story. Other times, it was crap and I would read the first three chapters, decide it was not my cup of tea, and throw it away.

    Danielle Steele once gave me the best writing advice at a writer’s conference. She said, “Write what you write. What happens next is up to the public.”

    1. There is no “ideal” reader. That idea is horse-shit.
    2. Never read these self-help articles or books about how to write because most of the authors are frustrated writers who couldn’t get their work published. If they could, why are they writing “self-help” articles?

    You want to be a writer? Just write!

    It’s a journey, a learning experience. Trial by error. And, it’s a business. Know this going in, have determination, the patience to put up with rejection, be willing to re-write your work over and over, and you’ll do all right.

    Good luck.

    Kilburn Hall
    Author

  • Martin Gommel

    Wow – great inspirational post – thank you !

  • B J Keltz

    I, too, have several ideal readers depending on the project. Fiction is written with my son and husband in mind. Non-fiction is written for the ladies of my mother’s circle (crazy? maybe, but it works for me). My articles are actually written to the woman I was 15 years ago.

  • Ali

    Kochi and Kilburn Hall,

    Thanks for offering an alternative point of view!

    Perhaps having an ideal reader in mind isn’t right for everyone or every project, but it can really help general (not just fiction) writers to hone their piece towards the people they’re targeting. Back in February, Michael wrote on Daily Writing Tips how getting specific about your audience can help you to avoid writers’ block: http://www.dailywritingtips.com/break-writers-block-choose-your-audience/

    Kilburn, thanks again for sharing your expertise. I was trying to address non-fiction as well as fiction writers in the article above (maybe I should’ve been more specific about my ideal reader ;-)) and I agree that some novelists, particularly literary/non-genre novelists, are best off writing primarily for themselves.

    Ali

  • Miguel de Luis

    OK, Kilburn, I respect what you say, but I am still doing the exercise. I know there are many kind of readers. I, for example, can leave a library with both Young Adult Fiction and Philosophy or some book on productivity. Which is weird, I know. That said your advice about writing is great. I do, daily.
    ================================

    The ideal reader of my main blog is, judging by the comments I recieve, a woman. She is sensitive, strong, and has a thirst for deepness. She has no time for nonsense or half baked thoughts. In this times of economic crisis, she leads her family with moderation and hope. Last, but not least, she is fond of arts.

    ================
    This is, I beg your forgiveness, a draft. I’m probably enlarging this comment into an entry in my blog when I find time to. Maybe that would be a way to know if I guessed it right.

  • Sampada

    my ideal reader is myself…i should like my writings even after months of writing them (which seldom happens)..i feel unless i enjoy my articles no one else would..be it anybody.

  • desiringtowrite

    I completely appreciate this article and the comments. I am a teacher and want to grow as a writer to help my students with their writing. Have you heard the line in a song (I don’t remember the name, but Micheal Buble sings it) ” My words are cold and flat…” That is how I feel about my writing. It is minimal because I reread it and give up for the night.

    However, I now (thanks to this article), have an ideal reader and ideas and thoughts are plastering the walls of my skull itching for me to peel them off and place them where they belong, on paper!

    Thank you!

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