You’ve decided to leverage your expertise by writing a book. Your business strategy is sound, and now the next step is identifying your ideal reader.
In this episode of The Entrepreneur to Author Podcast, your host Scott MacMillan poses that all-important question, "Who are you writing for?"
Creating a Reader Strategy for your nonfiction book will help you reach your ideal reader and ensure you're delivering value in your book – both for your reader...and for you.
Listen now to Episode 4 of Entrepreneur to Author.
Scott A. MacMillan: Episode Transcript
Scott A. MacMillan: You're listening to The Entrepreneur to Author Podcast, Episode 4.
Mike Manz: Welcome to The Entrepreneur to Author Podcast…the podcast that brings you practical strategies for building authority and growing your business. And now here's your host, Scott MacMillan.
Scott A. MacMillan: What's that? You're in? You're going to write a book? You're going to share your experience and expertise, leveraging a lifetime of professional knowledge?
Scott A. MacMillan: Look, that's exciting. Honestly, it took courage to cross that threshold, didn't it? You've dealt with the Trifecta of Trepidation. The Should I? Could I? Would I? You've turned that corner and slayed the three-headed dragon.
Scott A. MacMillan: Now, before you write that first sentence, one question to consider. And it's an important question to get right. Who's your reader? Not in the general, but in the specific. What do they do? What drives them? What do they struggle with and why? What goals do they have?
Scott A. MacMillan: Who's your reader?
Scott A. MacMillan: I'm Scott McMillan. And we're going to answer that question, in this edition of Entrepreneur to Author.
Scott A. MacMillan: Consider this quote, because it really speaks to the episode you're about to hear:
"In my opinion, understanding who your target audience is and what they want and writing to them, and only to them, is the most important component of being a successful author."
Scott A. MacMillan: That is such a relevant quote in our modern world of distraction and audience fragmentation. Isn't it? You know who said that? The English philosopher John Locke...in the late 1600s. What? When it comes to delivering an impactful message and writing your book, that quote still applies today...in 2021.
Scott A. MacMillan: Write for your audience. Four words that will serve as your creative compass. Write for your audience. Do that, and your readers truly become your audience. Clarifying whom you're writing for lets you make good decisions about your book. Good decisions like choosing your subject and deciding which topics to cover.
Scott A. MacMillan: Now, I like to take this concept even a step further. Rather than narrowing the focus to a target audience, I like to think in terms of a specific individual, an individual reader. The fact is, if you're not writing to a specific reader, then your book may feel just too general to appeal to, well, anyone at all. And that's not good.
Scott A. MacMillan: I'm going to come back to the idea of an individual reader, but it's something that many first-time authors struggle with. After all, many people will benefit from your book, from your ideas. And writing to just one person, or even to a narrow audience, well, that's really going to limit your impact, won't it?
Scott A. MacMillan: Let's do a little bit of groundwork.
Scott A. MacMillan: It's true. There are many different types of people who may read and get a lot from your book. I call these reader groups. You might call them stakeholder groups. They're the different types of people who have an interest in your subject, your expertise. You likely know who they are. Reader groups for your book might include customers, potential customers (or prospects) vendors, partners, the media. Now, that's an important one. We've talked about the reasons why we often write a book as entrepreneurs in the first place. That is to position ourselves as authorities in our field. And connecting with the media and garnering media coverage. Well, that certainly helps that goal.
Scott A. MacMillan: Some other reader groups: policymakers, employees, the public in general. And look, any and all of these groups are valid and your book will be valuable to any of these groups. But each of these groups has a different need. They have different concerns. And that's why it's so important that you choose only one of these groups to focus on as your target audience. It'll ensure your book's message is clear and powerful. Now, remember, just because you write for one reader group, that doesn't mean that other readers can't or won't read your book too. However, you will deliver and receive far more value if you write to a specific audience. Your writing will be more interesting and more engaging and that's going to resonate far more intensely with readers.
Scott A. MacMillan: Okay? I said I was going to come back to the idea of writing, not just to a general target audience, but to a specific individual within that target audience. The rationale is the same. By writing as though you're speaking to a specific person, all your decisions - the stories you tell, the examples you share, the language you use - will all feel more authentic and will resonate much better than if you were writing to an impersonal "target audience".
Ideal Reader Profile (IRP)
So with all that said, let's discuss something called your Ideal Reader Profile (or your IRP). It's a tool you'll come to rely on and use, really, throughout your writing. It's related to a similar concept used in marketing - an Ideal Customer Profile (or ICP) that describes the ideal individual that a product is being marketed to.
Scott A. MacMillan: You may have even used these types of profiles, sometimes called personas, in your business. So, to craft the Ideal Reader Profile for your book, we're going to describe a semi-fictional person who represents the type of reader that you're writing for. And the result is going to be like the difference between a vaguely-worded "Dear Sir or Madam" letter and a personal heartfelt letter to a good friend.
Scott A. MacMillan: So, to start, consider the person who best represents who you intend to write your book for. And don't generalize...be very specific. For example, I want you to stay away from age ranges or household income bands. Instead, get a picture in your mind of a real, living, breathing person who will really lap up the information you'll be sharing in your book...the person who desperately needs your help, who will do whatever they need to to get the information that you plan to share.
Scott A. MacMillan: Now, this could be a client that you've worked for in the past, who you delivered a great result for, or someone that you know, who you'd love to work with, and who you know you can make a huge difference for.
Scott A. MacMillan: With that person in mind, here are some examples of the sorts of questions you can ask yourself to help build out your IRP:
- Are they male or female?
- How old are they? Again, what's their specific age, not an age range.
- Did they finish high school, or trade school, or university...maybe even a post-doctorate fellowship.
- What's their family situation?
- Do they have kids?
- Do they have pets? How many?
- How do they spend their weekends?
- Where do they get their news from?
- Do they watch HBO? Or MTV? Or neither?
- Are they an introvert? An extrovert? Or ambivert?
- Are they generally calm or anxious?
Scott A. MacMillan: Now think about the major problems or challenges they struggle with. What are their most important goals? Both personally and professionally? Are they well-versed in the subject matter of your book? that's important to know, isn't it? Now realize that you don't have to limit yourself just to these questions. And not every one of them may be relevant to your subject.
Scott A. MacMillan: But the point is this: understand whom you're writing your book for in enough detail, that you can picture them and understand them, and empathize with them in your writing. Now finally, give your ideal reader and name. Even download a picture of someone that looks like the way that you imagine they might look like, and record all of this information on a single page that you can print out and keep visible wherever and whenever you're working on your book. This is your IRP...your ideal reader profile. It's one of two key elements of your reader strategy.
Scott A. MacMillan: There's one other piece of your Reader Strategy that I'll mention here because it's very much related to your Ideal Reader Profile. And it's what I call the Intended Reader Journey. The Intended Reader Journey describes, at a high level, the journey that you'll take your reader on. The experience that your ideal reader will have in reading your book. Although your book is non-fiction, when your reader picks it up, they expect to be taken somewhere. They start their journey at Point A. But after reading your book, they want to end up in a new place, Point B. And your job as the author is to understand where your reader is today and where they'd rather be, and then take them, through your book, on that journey.
Scott A. MacMillan: Now, here's a great exercise to understand your reader's situation before they've even picked up your book. Just think about the reasons why they'd want to buy it and read it in the first place. What problem are they struggling with that they need your book to help solve? What are the reasons your ideal reader is in their current state? What mistakes might they have made that led them to this problem? Again, this is the kind of exercise that will start to inform the content of your book. They're important clues about what you need to address in it. In future episodes, we'll layer on top of all this foundational thinking about your reader as we consider how to plot out the content of your book. But for now, I want you to...
Scott A. MacMillan: Customers buy products to meet a specific need. We all do it. So it only makes sense that people also read nonfiction books to achieve a specific outcome. To meet your reader's needs and deliver the outcome they're looking for, you need to understand your ideal reader and then write as though you're writing your book to them, and only to them. If you do that, you'll write a valuable book that takes your reader on a journey that moves them and truly helps them. You'll take them from their current state, to the place where they really want to be, where they NEED to be. Your book is the key that opens that door for your reader. And when it does, your credibility soars, as you become their go-to expert in your niche. And how good is that?
Scott A. MacMillan: Now's the time. Time to write. Time to publish. And time to grow.
Scott A. MacMillan: I'm Scott MacMillan, until next time.