A lot of my clients are preparing nonfiction book proposals to send out to agents and publishers. One of the sections they have to think through is their primary audience or target reader. We have to identify who this book is intended to impact.
It’s a must for any writing project, big or small. We must know our audience to use the best language to connect with them.
To understand what they already know about our topic—and what they need to know.
To build a relationship with them and continue to connect with them over time.
If we don’t know precisely who are primary audience is, we’re capable of generalizing and writing in a distant, unfriendly, unnatural voice.
Identifying Your Ideal Reader
But who is this unseen reader? Who’s clicking on the article you publish at your website? Who reads your tweets? Who subscribes to your newsletter? Who will read your future book?
It’s enough to make your head spin, trying to identify your ideal customer, your target audience, your target reader, your avatar.
People advising writers are using terminology like this, and it’s helpful because they’re pushing us to go specific. For example, they won’t necessarily let you settle for simple demographics like, “My ideal reader is a 30-something mom with young children.” Instead, they insist on a more detailed persona, something more like this:
My ideal reader is Cara, a 32-year-old mother of three kids—a second-grader, first-grader, and preschooler. Cara does yoga in the morning, then feeds the kids homemade muffins before loading them into her Honda minivan to drop the older two off at the private elementary school. She then swings through Starbucks with the preschooler, who is dropped off three days a week at the church-based program at 9:00.
And it goes on.
You figure out what she does when she’s alone, and the problems she encounters, and the questions she has throughout a day.
This approach helps a writer—especially the nonfiction writer—come up with articles and content that can address or completely solve this avatar’s problems and answer her questions, one after another.
It’s sort of a creative writing exercise to write a character sketch of this fictional person, fleshing it out with enough detail to make him or her completely real to you as a writer.
Does the Fictional Persona Help You Write?
But for a lot of writers, fictionalizing the person you’re writing for never quite works. Instead of forging a confident tone and close connection, it all feels sort of contrived.
Even if you can go out in the neighborhood and see a person who fits that description, or you can find that kind of person online in a Facebook group asking questions you imagined your avatar asking, it’s still sort of distanced and fabricated. Maybe even a little forced.
For Real Copy, You Need Real People
I like an approach Chase Reeves described in an episode of The Fizzle Show podcast.
The Fizzle team was talking about writing copy and how hard it can be unless—unless—Chase says, “you know exactly who you’re writing to and what you need to tell them.”
Creating a fake persona or avatar is a step in the right direction in that you’re trying to speak to a specific person, but he takes it to a super-practical level.
Here’s Chase’s trick. He opens up Gmail and starts writing an actual email to an actual person he knows really well in his life—someone who fits the type of person he’s hoping to reach with his content.
It’s often his dad. So he opens an email, types in his dad’s email address, taps out a subject line, and prepares to communicate directly with his dad, a real person he knows really well.
As Chase is preparing to write the subject line, he wonders, What would surprise Dad? What would interest him? What would be the take that would make him curious?
He’s talking to one specific person—one real person he knows really well.
Writing Comes Easy When You Write for Friends and Family
Everything comes so much easier when you know who you’re talking to and what you need to explain to them.
Chase might start with, “Dad, I need you to learn how to use the podcast app on your phone.” Then it’s easy to write about, because he knows how much his dad does or doesn’t know about that technology. “It’s going to take some time [to write the explanation],” Chase says, “but it’s not difficult.”
I love this because the fabricated persona, that avatar, the “ideal reader” that you make up out of your imagination is kind of cool, and if it works for you, great.
But when you write an email to someone you know well, you speak in a more natural tone, which will produce a distinctive voice all your own—the voice your friend or family member already knows and loves.
Even the subject line you write to intrigue the person you’re writing to will probably work well as the title of the blog post that this will eventually become.
Write the email. Go ahead and send it. Then copy the sent text and you can pop it into a post at your website and boom. Done.
What We’re Tapping Into
Chase explains why his trick of talking to one specific person works particularly well:
[It] answers all of these weird, ambiguous questions for you without you even asking them. Who is it for? What are they actually struggling with? What educational level are they at? What kind of cultural references do they get? What’s important to them about this thing? What’s their level of insight about this technology in general?
He says your intuition and empathy kick in because you’re communicating with this person whose problems you know and care about. So you aim all of that instinctive insight and emotion at that one person and you’re far more likely to make an impact. You’re far more likely to make sense as you think through every step of a process they need to know. You’ll easily add the level of detail and depth they’d need and expect.
And you’ll probably insert your personality into it in a way you wouldn’t it if you were writing for the masses or for that avatar you invented in some online course.
Write That Email
Ditch the avatar. Stop appealing to the masses. You’re at risk of writing bland copy lacking energy.
You write real copy for real people by writing to real people. Know who you’re writing for when it comes to your content—then do it. Actually write to a real, flesh-and-blood person you know well and care about.
Then just click on an email and explain something step by step to the friend who best fits your target audience. You’ll finish your article, and your friend? Your friend’s going to be glad to hear from you.
- Ep 79: Who Is Your Who?
- Writing Copy for the Web (show notes for The Fizzle Show, Episode 178)
- All podcast episodes
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