I admit that my reading list is longer than both my arms, my torso and legs combined. Given that I read throughout each week in my role as editor, literary consultant and writing coach, picking up a book for my own pleasure at the weekend, well, isn’t so much of a pleasure after all – it feels more like torture.
In every workshop I hold for budding writers across the UK I iterate over and over the need to pin down your target reader. To describe them to such an extent that they could almost become tangible. How else, in such a saturated market, will you even begin to find readers? Knowing a little about your book’s hook and its appeal goes a long way towards understanding who would pick it up, for what reason, and where these lauded people can be found.
So when, as part of a promise I made to a regular attendee of my workshops (with someone I already consider a friend – I associate with the loveliest people), I read their book, I didn’t expect to even finish it. It couldn’t have been further removed from my interests or my personal experiences, and aesthetically, it needed work (a real turn-off to me)…all in all, I expected to endure the author’s work rather than devour it. Not because it wasn’t any good necessarily, but because it definitely wasn’t for me.
My thoughts sitting here now? They’re along the lines of: “What the hell do I know?” I more than enjoyed it – it made a huge impact, and had me analysing how I live my life; it led me to consider what legacy I’ll leave on this world. Pretty powerful stuff from a book I would never have picked up in a million years.
So, where does that leave my advice regarding finding the perfect reader? I still think it’s relevant. After all, few readers will stumble over you, and you have to start promoting yourself somewhere – why not aim first at the group(s) of people most likely to love your book?
But, it’s worth bearing in mind that if you can persuade, through any means, someone outside your ‘target’ market to take a chance on your book, they may find a little gem they’d have otherwise missed. And they may be so shocked at the fact they liked a book they wouldn’t normally choose to take a punt on, that they become an even greater advocate for its existence than the ‘perfect readers’ swamped – surrounded, even – by books similar to yours. Think about it: how hard must your book have to work to stand out amongst books that compete against it? It’s easier to stand out if it’s already different. A change is as good as a rest, they say.
A recent initiative I thought particularly creative was a bookshop’s move to cover various titles with brown paper, then inviting book buyers to choose a book blindly. Removing any assumptions or prejudice the cover would usually evoke allowed readers to enjoy the content on its own merit. A literary curved ball, if you like.
Perhaps, more often than not, books you choose in this way, with no preconceptions, turn out not to be for you. But maybe, just maybe, your literary tastes widen; you begin to realise that books outside of your chosen genre can still stimulate, excite, compel, entertain. Is that really so inconceivable?
There’s so much of our lives that’s predictable and routine. Make it a priority when you’re next book-buying/browsing, or visiting the library, to pick up a wildcard. And remember to review it for the author – not if you can’t take to it, as it wasn’t written with you in mind, but if you love it. Spread the word, move that gem further towards others who may appreciate many things about it they didn’t think they would.
Go on, live dangerously.
The moral of this tale to readers is clear: take a chance on a book you wouldn’t normally pick up every now and again, if only to prevent your reading tastes from turning stale.
To authors, well, I’ve contradicted myself. “Find your target reader”, yet encourage anyone to try out your ‘curved ball’ – what kind of advice is that? Real life, I suppose. Author platforms aren’t always built of perfect readers. You need a little literary hardcore in your foundations as well.
Developmental editor and publishing consultant Diane Hall is the author of three books; she has also ghost-written books for others and created a plethora of content, on more subjects than you could care to imagine, for numerous clients since the beginning of her career. She is proud to have fundamentally shaped series of books and more than a hundred individual titles over the last decade with various authors, nationally and internationally.
Among her editing qualifications, she holds a linguistics diploma, which involves the study of language and speech. Diane employs this knowledge in the forensic linguistic work she sometimes undertakes.
Diane has seen the introduction and subsequent rise of self-publishing, and passionately keeps abreast of its disruption of the publishing industry. She is a thought leader when it comes to the future of book marketing, fuelled by the poor results authors see when employing traditional techniques.
Thanks to Danilo Rizzuti at freedigitalphotos.net for use of the main image.