The Magic of Creating an Ideal Reader Persona

If you’re like most authors I talk to, you probably haven’t created an ideal reader persona for your books. I’m not accusing you of being lazy. You’ve written a book, you’re not lazy. 

Most writers I talk to haven’t created a reader persona for one of two reasons.

Either they don’t understand the benefits of creating one, or they’re experiencing Resistance (with a capital R) about marketing in general.

Allow me to persuade you that creating a reader persona is an activity that can unlock your marketing like almost no other.

But first, let’s back up a bit and explain what I mean when I talk about an ideal reader persona.

It’s basically a character sketch of a person who will be absolutely delighted with your work from the minute they read the jacket copy. 

Quite simply, it’s the imaginary version of a real person who was meant — dare I say, destined — to find your book.

Do you really need a reader persona?

As writers, we have a lot on our plate. Maybe we’re writing a new manuscript, revising an old one, working a day job and raising kids all at the same time. The thought of sitting down to dabble in what may seem like marketing busy work isn’t that appealing. 

Can you skip creating a reader persona? Yes. You’re a grown-up. You can pass on any tasks you don’t want to do, including paying your taxes and feeding your dog. 

But there are consequences for choosing not to do something. 

In the case of creating a reader persona, deciding to skip it can have the following consequences:

  • Feeling stuck. You won’t know where to go next with your marketing and therefore won’t do much of anything.
  • Wasting time. You’ll spend hours trying to reach people who aren’t interested in your book.
  • Wasting money. You may dump money on ads or promotions that aren’t targeted correctly.
  • Watered down marketing that doesn’t speak to anyone. If you’re trying to appeal to everyone instead of to your ideal reader, chances are your marketing isn’t going to be very interesting to anyone. 
  • Frustration over lack of sales. Without a clear idea of your target audience, it’s likely that looking at your monthly numbers puts a knot in your stomach.

The Magic of Creating an Ideal Reader Persona

The magic of knowing who you’re looking for

Knowing exactly the type of person who should read your book will help you make key decisions and save you some serious time. 

Suddenly, you know where to look, what language to use and what content to deliver.  

Once you have a clear picture of your ideal reader, your marketing can almost magically coalesce around what that reader cares about, and therefore it’s much more likely to catch and hold their attention.

“But, my book is for EVERYONE!”

When we resist creating a reader persona, we often do it because our hope is that our book will appeal to everyone and we don’t want to limit ourselves. 

Your book isn’t for everyone. Truly. I don’t know the first thing about your book, but I do know that it’s not for everyone. 

How do I know that? Because one-quarter of U.S. adults surveyed last year hadn’t read even one book in the past twelve months.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has sold upwards of 107 million copies. I think we’d all be happy with that sales figure.

There are 327 million people in the US and 7.5 billion people in the world.

Harry Potter is not for everyone. Your book is not for everyone. Don’t try to market to everyone.

Creating an ideal reader isn’t about leaving people out. It’s creating an opportunity to saturate a core audience with a message that delights them so they will rave about your book and help it spread.

Minimum viable audience

The goal is to find what bestselling author and marketer Seth Godin calls your minimum viable audience—the bare minimum of people who will LOVE your book and help it succeed.

If you look at Harry Potter, that series went supernova before the internet had really even taken off. How? Booksellers liked it and they spread the word. That book was hand-sold to a certain kind of kid. Those kids went nuts over it and that led to phenomenal success.

Let’s look at another example. Steven Pressfield wrote a little book called The War of Art.   

That book has sold 500,000 copies. 

It was aimed at writers. Writers were the minimum viable audience. 

Writers ate it up and spread the word to other creative types and then to entrepreneurs and other groups. 

You can start with one minimum viable audience and then move to another and another. But few authors can try to hit multiple audiences at once and get any traction. 

Let’s talk about Resistance for a second

Since we just talked about Steven Pressfield, who coined the term Resistance (with a capital R) to explain the sort of dark inner force of self-sabotage writers and artists so face, now’s a good time to talk about how to deal with it in this marketing context.

There can be lots of reasons for Resistance to marketing. Sometimes we have a bad definition of marketing—we define it by its worst examples—so we decide we don’t want to sully ourselves.

But really, when it comes down to it, I see that many writers think that if they don’t try very hard to market their book, they have a ready excuse as to why it’s not selling. 

Many people feel like it’s better to not try than to try and fail. This is because we don’t want to feel the feelings that come along with failure, so we think we’ll avoid the feelings by not doing the thing.

BUT, if we’re willing to feel any feeling, there’s no limit to what we can do.

Resistance is completely disabled when we agree ahead of time to be willing to feel anything that comes up and act anyway.

Look at some of the most successful authors—they’re willing to feel rejection, they’re willing to tolerate haters, they’re willing to do interviews and put themselves out there. They still feel the discomfort and the resistance, but it doesn’t rule their actions. 

They’re willing to feel things in order to get where they want to go.

So, let’s keep that in mind as we look at how to create and use a reader persona. Let’s be willing to feel any feeling as we try to fulfill our potential as writers by finding our ideal readers. (For more help with author mindset, read this post.)

The research phase

Seth Godin tells us the #1 question we have to answer is in our marketing is: “Who’s it for?” 

This is the whole idea behind reader personas. But how do we figure that out?

Using comp titles

We can start by answering the following questions:

  • What’s your genre?
  • What are some comp titles?
  • How is your book different?

Let’s answer those questions for the two books we’ve talked about so far. (And keep in mind this is a fairly subjective process, so you don’t need to email me to tell me all the ways you disagree with my assessments here. 😉 This is just to give you an idea of how to approach your own book.)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 

Genre: Fantasy and Action/Adventure

Comp titles: Lord of the Rings; Chronicles of Narnia; The Wizard of Earthsea

Who reads those books? Children who love to escape to magical worlds

How is HP different? Went from middle grade to YA in one series; revival of fantasy when fantasy was kind of dead…

The War of Art

Genre: Nonfiction Big Idea Book

Comp titles: Bird by Bird; the Elements of Style

Who reads those books? Writers who want to improve their craft, or people who want to be writers

How is WoA different? Focuses on battling Resistance, not improving writing skills

You can get a great sense of your ideal reader by investigating some of your comp titles. 

Head over to Amazon or Goodreads and read all of the five-star reviews. What sense do you get of people who loved this book? Can you glean their age, interests and worldview?

Now visit the author’s website and social media channels. Does this author have an engaged fan following? If so, poke around the profiles of some of those fans. What information can you glean about them? You should be able to tell their rough age and some of their other likes and dislikes based on their profile and what they’re sharing online.

Interviewing an actual reader

There’s really more than one way to do this, so let’s look at another method of doing research before you start building the persona.

In episode 31 of the Book Launch Show, Tim shared a story of how he created a persona for his book Your First 1000 Copies and his Booklaunch.com website. 

He based his ideal reader/customer on an actual client. He even went so far as to address every email he drafted to her, and then deleted her name just before sending.

If you have access to an actual reader, ideally someone you don’t know well who’s told you how much they love your book, ask for a brief call with that person so you can use them as a basis of your reader person. 

By asking about favorite books, you can discover comp titles. By asking about where they spend their time online, you can figure out the best social media channels to focus on. By asking what podcasts they listen to, you can start creating a list of podcasting influencers to target.

Best of all, by the end of the conversation, you’ll have a very clear idea of how your ideal reader talks and thinks and therefore how to talk to them.

Let’s build this thing

Now that you’ve done the research, you can start to build a reader persona. 

Tim’s cohost on the Book Launch Show, Valerie Francis, gave us a killer example of how to build a reader persona in episode 34. (You can download her spreadsheet here.)

Now, before you start rolling your eyes at all this detail, I want you to remember what you already know as a writer: There is power in specificity.

(Tim says he even pictures what his ideal readers wear and what color hair they have.)

So start plugging in the details of your ideal reader. You can do this in a spreadsheet, or a document or a piece of paper, but actually do it. Don’t just think about it.

You want to include demographics and psychographics (another hat tip to Seth Godin here). You need to get inside this reader’s head and understand how they see the world. 

Example persona for The War of Art:

Name: Dylan Aarons

Demographics

Age: 43

Gender: Male

Ethnicity: White

Religion: Non-secular jewish

Location: California

Occupation: Business Analyst 

Relationship status: Divorced

Education: BA

Income level: $120,000

Children: 2

Leisure time per week: 8 hours

 

Psychographics

Biggest problem: Wants to write but gets stuck easily

Favorite book: On Writing

Favorite movie: Glengarry Glenross

Goals: Finish a novel

Political affiliation: Democrat

Favorite media outlets: NPR

Hobbies: Cycling

Values: Creativity

Habits: Goes for a long bike ride every Saturday and listens to podcasts during commute

Social media use: Instagram, Twitter & Reddit

You can also take all this information and write it up in narrative form, like a character sketch, and bring it to life even more.

Using the persona

Now, if you’re Steven Pressfield (I know, you wish) when you sit down to do your marketing, you can think about Dylan. 

You can design a reader magnet that will help him solve his biggest problem, like a free course on breaking through Resistance, for example. (Which happens to be exactly what Steven Pressfield offers new subscribers.)

If you’re writing a newsletter or crafting an article, you can speak directly to Dylan because you know what he cares about.

If you want to find Dylan online, you’re going to head to Twitter, Instagram and Reddit.

If you’re on a podcast, you’ll want to say the things that Dylan needs to hear.

And once you’ve got the Dylans of the world raving about your book, you can move on to the next almost-as-ideal reader. I recommend developing 2-4 personas and refining them over time. 

Again, the point of a reader persona is to help you find the people who will become raving fans of your work by being ultra specific. People different from your reader persona will find your book and love it, too. 

You’re just using your persona to get your foot in the door. Find your ideal readers. Delight them. And they will spread the word. 

Sue Campbell
Sue Campbell
Sue Campbell is one of our Certified Book Launch Coaches. Her approach to book marketing gets authors truly excited and happy about the process of selling books. She’s worked with both fiction and nonfiction writers including Kevin Sands, author of The Blackthorn Key Adventure Series, and KJ Dell’Antonia, author of How to Be a Happier Parent. Get a free 45-minute coaching call from Sue by visiting her website Pages & Platforms.

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