Children have a way of grabbing your attention, whether you want to give it or not. Ignore them long enough, and they’ll get right in your face. Even after they are fed, watered, dried, and engaged, their demands can continue. Sometimes the need is not physical. I mean, how many glasses of water can one child drink, exactly?
Pay attention to me!
This is the real desire. Children want to matter, to be seen by you, and to know you care about them.
Adults aren’t much different. We might exercise more restraint, but the needs are the same. We want to know we’re important, and that someone really cares about us. It follows that for readers to give you their precious resources of time and money, they need to know you see and care about them.
To put this another way, how can you ever hope to reach people you don’t even know?
“I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss—you can’t do it alone.” — John Cheever
I have heard writers all but brag they don’t write for readers but for themselves, alone. As creative artists, writers should balance the expectations of readers with the exigencies within their stories. Freedom of creative expression factors in as well. You, as a writer, won’t do your best work if you feel unable to create. On the other hand, too much freedom of expression can leave a creative work without readers.
As John Cheever points out so eloquently in his quote, a kiss takes two, and when both parties participate equally, the result can be earthshaking.
Defining Your Readers
Who are they?
Understanding your readers isn’t as hard as it sounds. Often, we are drawn to write the books we want to read. Those who would enjoy these books will have similar tastes as you and are likely to be a lot like you. Knowing your audience can be as simple as understanding yourself. Even if you write for a different age group (for example, children), this still holds true. You should know the age bracket and gender of your main readership, their desires, their identifications, and their beliefs.
Some of our desires are universal. We all want food and drink, for example. Move beyond the physical and you’ll uncover shared emotional desires so intense they are more like needs. Love, intimacy, and friendship are three of these.
- What does your audience want?
- How can you help them attain their desires?
One of the strongest human urges is to belong. That translates into feeling like part of a family unit, a group of friends, and an interest group (also known as a tribe).
- What organizations does your audience identify with?
- What online social groups or forums draw your readers?
- Who are the people or groups your audience identifies with?
- How can you cause your readers to identify with you?
- What does your writing help your audience to become?
Belief is a powerful motivating force, which is what makes finding the audience right for you so important. Violate a potential reader’s beliefs, and it’s all over. Reinforce those beliefs, and you’ll gain a fan.
- What do your ideal readers believe?
- Does your writing reinforce those beliefs?
What Your Audience Wants From You
Unlike children, your readers won’t usually hang around to demand your attention. Establishing a relationship with your audience requires that they know you see them.
- Know what they want.
- Understand who they are and want to be.
- Communicate that you share their beliefs.
To help writers gain readers, I’ve put together a self-guided 30-Day Readership Challenge at Live Write Breathe, my website for writers. I’ll cover the following topics:
- Connecting with readers through the who of you.
- Reaching readers through what you do.
- Finding readers when you’re brand new.
- Finding readers where they hang out, too.
- Know why readers matter to you.
You are welcome to join in.