Authors must connect with their readers and this is the reason: readers buy first from authors they know, like, and trust. Or they take a chance on an author based on the consensus of reviewers or the advice of a trusted friend.
The number one factor for writing success—other than writing a great book—is connecting with your ideal reader avatar.
Your Avatar, an Audience of One
Visualize your one, true fan. Just choose one. Your most likely reader (other than your mother). This person is known as your “avatar.” That’s marketing speak for your ideal client, your target audience.
You probably know who this person is. If not, stop writing now and figure it out.
You do NOT need to find readers you know nothing about.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to connect with readers who like the kind of fiction YOU like to write, OR if you write non-fiction, you want to connect with those people who are searching for the information you are attempting to reveal.
Connect with readers who love your kind of fiction or desire to learn from you. Deep down, you should know quite a bit about your ideal reader avatar.
Good news, you only need to identify one reader.
You have heard authors say, “I’m writing a book for the whole family.” “My book is for everyone.” “It’s for people of all ages.”
No. Believe it or not, your book is not for everyone. Trying to be everything to everyone is a poor decision.
Every break out book or series you can name had one avatar. Only through word-of-mouth and true, rabid fans do break out books enter the mainstream.
The Harry Potter series may be the best example of this. Harry Potter was for middle school boys interested in magic, dragons, and fantasy. And it succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
Percy Jackson is another great example. Rick Riordan wrote The Lightning Thief as a bedtime story for his oldest son who is dyslexic. Riordin met the needs of his ideal reader avatar, and the Percy Jackson series gained momentum beyond his original audience.
By definition, break out books are outliers; they break the mold.
The Heart of the Matter: Connection
The number one factor for successful authors, other than writing great books, is creating a connection to the people who are interested in reading their books. But it shouldn’t be a cold-blooded calculation. This is what I mean.
When I was first thinking about your ideal reader, I was tempted to fall back on marketing, to talk about statistics and avatars and demographics. Those ideas are important, but they are not the heart of what you are trying to do.
I hope you are not simply writing books to make money. Making money is fine, but it is just one measure of success.
Touching people, encouraging them to think and to ponder, creating a story they remember many years after they reached The End—that is the ultimate measure of successful writing. If you write that kind of book, then the money will follow.
Correction. The money will follow, but only if you find the readers who are searching for your book. Or at least, you need to make it possible for them to find you. Y’all need to get together, and much of that is on you, the author.
When you started writing seriously, you probably didn’t fully understand the full scope of what publishing a book entailed. Publishing is only the beginning.
Steps to Find Your Ideal Avatar Reader
Find the common ground.
Back to what I was saying. More than likely, your readers have much in common with you but maybe not according to age or gender or income or locale. No, you have deeper commonalities, soul deep interests and desires you share.
The books you want to write have a market. The more you niche down and let your quirks and interests shine through, the more your ideal readers will be drawn to you. Hence, the huge success of Percy Jackson; Riordan strove to serve his ideal reader avatar, the reader of his heart.
If you try to write for everybody, you will fail to connect. Classics became classics because they hit universal themes and found ardent fans who told their friends. Who told their friends. And so on.
Find your reason why.
If you are not sure who your readers are or will be, look inward. Try that first.
If you are writing for YA or children, then you need to look back in time and study the teens and children around you. You need to understand your connection to this audience. Why do you feel compelled to write for this group?
If you write horror, figure out why you are you so fascinated by it. If you write cozy mysteries, discover why cozy mysteries have so much allure for you. Go ahead and insert your genre here.
Who will pay money to read your work?
If you are writing a book, then you are producing a product, and it makes little sense to go to the expense and trouble—not to mention the enormous emotional investment and the sacrifices and the absolute devotion—to produce that book unless you know who will be interested in buying it.
Find the people who will actually pay to read your work; they are your market. Not the freebie seekers. Not your friends who are being nice. Who will seek your kind of book and purchase it? Tailor your book and your content marketing to be exactly right for those readers.
Discover your book’s categories and keywords.
When it’s time to publish, you and/or your publisher will want to stick your book in appropriate categories and put it where your target audience is going to find it.
Finding the best categories and subcategories on Amazon and/or Kobo takes work, and you need to spend significant effort on finding the perfect keywords. For the newbies, keywords are NOT single words; usually keywords are short phrases like “clean contemporary romance” or “magic realism.”
Once you know who your ideal reader avatar is, you should know which keywords they use to find their books. What categories on Amazon do they search on? Do they prefer print books, ebooks, or audio books?
One caveat: If you are writing children’s books, you have a bit of a problem because you are trying to connect to your audience and to the parents, teachers, and librarians who curate the books for your audience. But considering the examples of Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, this is not impossible.
Create a description of your avatar.
If you haven’t done so already, write out a description of your avatar. This requires some guesswork, but you can refine your description over time.
This is a hypothetical example, so do your own research. Give your avatar a name if it helps you get a clear mental picture of your fan.
The avatar for my clean, contemporary romance is a single woman in her early thirties, a college graduate, who loves Starbucks and leans slightly to the left politically. She has friends from school who don’t have good health insurance yet, so she is concerned about their future.
To help me visualize my avatar, I named her Marissa and found a picture on Google to go with my mental image of her. Let’s continue:
Marissa prefers to listen to her fiction on Audible because she has a ridiculous commute downtown every work day. My gal shares an apartment in the suburbs with a friend to help make ends meet. She dreams of finding her true love in the next few years, so she spends hours checking out eligible men on Bumble.
Marissa likes to buy her clothes second hand or from socially conscious companies that pay fair wages. She is trying to eat less meat, and she carries her grocery sacks into the store to avoid using plastic bags.
She adores Instagram, where she posts pictures of her two cats being unbelievably cute. Her favorite new activities are watching reels on Instagram and watching TikToks at bedtime.
When she is searching for her next audiobook, she sometimes types “clean romance” on the search line on Amazon or sifts through the subcategories, looking at the so-called also boughts beneath her favorite authors’ titles. Sometimes, she goes to the lists on Goodreads which were created by other true fans.
Know the difference between content marketing and buy by book.
This is when we bring marketing into the picture, but NOT BEFORE we know who (which market) we are serving.
You may need to make an educated guess regarding demographics, a fancy way of saying age, gender, location, and income. Through your sleuthing, you find Marrisa’s interests. You discover the movies and TV shows she enjoys and her social media hangouts.
The buy-my-book strategy doesn’t work well. The best marketing is content marketing, and even though it is hard work, it should be a relief because you do not have to sell, sell, sell. All you must do is emphasize your connection to your ideal reader avatar through relevant, relatable content.
Create a social media strategy or plan.
The next step is to connect with Marissa on Instagram and/or TikTok. Because Marissa doesn’t do Facebook, although she scans through Twitter once a day to keep up with the news so she can make small talk in the break room. She only does Snapchat with her close friends. It really doesn’t do any good to focus your energy on places Marissa doesn’t go.
Marissa will follow you if you create content she looks for and relates to: cats, ecology, nature, social consciousness, clean romance, audio books, long commutes, book quotes, Instagram reels, and TikToks.
Use the hashtags that appeal to your reader. Research other authors who write stories like yours to see what their readers respond to. Hashtags are a topic on their own.
If your avatar likes short videos, then you need to get very brave and produce Instagram reels and figure out TikTok.
Content marketing is about creating long-term relationships, so commit yourself to being patient, persistent, and authentic. The ultimate goal is to attract your readers to your email newsletter, but that is a topic for another day.
Think about one; find many.
In the end, don’t be shy about connecting to your avatar, your Marissa, who enjoys the kind of fiction you write or wants to learn from you. Find a way to connect. Maybe many points of connection.
By keeping your ideal reader avatar front and center, you will attract more readers over time.
And remember, you are not writing for everyone, so don’t wear yourself out trying to do that.
Thank you for reading this post. For more tips like these, subscribe to the weekly Writing Pursuits Tips for Authors newsletter.