Right Reader, Revisited.

don't be vanillaPreviously, I’ve covered the concept of having a Right Reader.  Recently, on another blog by a lovely indie author who would prefer to remain nameless, she mentioned she was baffled by the idea.  Other commenters on her blog pointed out that they, too were stumped when it came to identifying their target market and right reader.

(I’m serious re: the lovely blogger, btw — she’s a great writer, and a fun blogger, and I’m glad I found her site.  And if she doesn’t mind me linking at some point, I will.)

Because of her post, I realized that I hadn’t communicated the concept clearly enough.  So I thought I’d expand a little.

Your writing comes before your Right Reader.

The Right Reader concept isn’t really about your writing.  It’s about your promotion.

You’re not looking for some ideal Right Reader, and then writing what you think she will want to read.  Absolutely not.

You’re going to look at what you write.  Look at what sets you apart, makes your stories different and special.  If you’re business-inclined, they call this your USP, or Unique Selling Proposition.

Personally, I call it your “Hedgehog” or your Thing, mostly because USP sounds like a tech issue.

Once you recognize what makes your writing special, you can start to visualize what reader is searching for just that.

I am not saying this is easier, mind you.  But this is how it works.  Write first.  Then think about who your reader is, through the lens of your writing.

The Right Reader is not your only audience.

In Japanese slang, there is a word, otaku, that refers to a super-fan: someone who is obsessively interested in a form of entertainment. (In American, it’s similar to geek, which I love but which can have negative connotations.)

Your Right Reader is your otaku.  She puts you on auto-buy.  She reads your blog, and makes comments.  She reviews you positively on Amazon and Goodreads.  When you’ve got a release out, she puts out happy “squeee!!!” posts on her Facebook page.

She doesn’t go so far as to stalk you, but she is thrilled to meet you at conferences, a fact that stuns you.

When you write anything that could be considered “marketing” you’re going to be writing with her in mind.  Why?  Because other people who might enjoy your book are not going to spread the word.  They’re not otaku.

You’re not reducing your readership by identifying your Right Reader.

Let’s say you hate vanilla ice cream. Really can’t stand it. For no good reason.  You love vanilla pudding, love vanilla lattes… it’s weird.  But there it is.

You’ve written a book about a woman who works in a restaurant.  To tie in, you decide to blog about desserts.

You’re considering writing about the fact that you hate vanilla ice cream, because it’s quirky and weird, and very you.

Then you think: well, there are readers out there who love vanilla.  And they might like your book.

Come to think of it, there might be people who aren’t really crazy about desserts in general.  But you’ve had people who were anti-dessert and still read your novel, and they liked it.  So you don’t necessarily want them to feel left out.

And hey, there are some people who never ever go out to eat.  But they liked your writing, and they’d probably relate to your character, you know, in general.

So you procrastinate on blogging. For, like, months.  Or you wind up blogging about something utterly generic, like “wow, I’ve been really busy” with the assumption that 90% of the world is busy.  You’re trying to offend no one, and identify with everyone.

Pleasing everyone = pleasing no one.

The idea behind promotion is to generate awareness of something you’ve created.  But more importantly, it’s meant to attract the attention of those people most likely to want it.

Why? Because they will appreciate it.  They will buy it.  And being honest, yes, you do want to sell copies, and promotion helps with that.

You’ve done something of value, and you deserve compensation… and that’s a whole separate blog post, so I’ll hold off on that until next time.

If you try to attract every single person who might enjoy your book, you’re casting your net too wide.  You’re not going to attract anyone.

It’s like yelling “hey, you!” at the train station:  people will glance at you for a minute, especially if you’re really loud, but once they realize they don’t know you, they figure you couldn’t possibly be calling to them and they keep on moving.

Be controversial simply by taking a stand.

I like promotion and marketing.  I do not believe in evil, self-serving, and most of all tacky and stupid promotion… but I also don’t believe that if you write it, they will come.

Whether you do the footwork, or someone does it for you, good books don’t simply pop out into the ether and spread into the popular consciousness like the plague.

I believe that you are trying to sell your damned books.  Yes, I believe in the art.  I love storytelling. If I were independently wealthy — like Oprah dollars, y’all — I would still write to exorcise the voices in my head.

But I am in this as a business, and I handle my business.

Some people may find this appalling.  They may feel that I am a vulgar, used-car-salesman styled snakeoil purveyor, pushing crappy product.  They may dislike me because I occasionally curse, I seem to hate vanilla ice cream, and apparently I mock  Jessica Fletcher.

They may think that I’m crass, uber-commercial, and probably a loser.

You know what?

Not my Right Reader.  So, consequently, not keeping me up nights.

Doesn’t mean I hate them: I don’t.  Why would I?  Haters can  call me a Volkswagon all day long.  Doesn’t mean I have to sleep in the garage tonight.  To coin a phrase:   their opinion of me is none of my damned business.

If I wrote to please them, or at least not offend them, I would be ignoring my strengths and doing my Right Readers and myself a grave disservice.

Now, my Right Reader is another story.

If I’m upsetting her, or not getting through, then I care a great deal.  All my newsletters, all my blog posts, all my tweets and status updates, are written with her subconsciously in mind.

Like Jiminy Cricket, she keeps me on the path to what I really believe in, and encourages me to stay true to my voice.

I’ll be writing more on why I “profile” my Right Reader the way I do, and how to help you determine yours.  I may even take a few volunteers and give a profile, if anyone’s interested.

But the biggest takeaway, I think, is that your Right Reader is a reflection of the best of your writing. Why the hell wouldn’t you identify that?

Please re-tweet this, and spread the word — I’d love to hear the rebuttal, or if there are any other things that aren’t clear.

And thank you, Right Readers out there.  Seriously.  You know who you are — and I wouldn’t be here without you.

38 Replies to “Right Reader, Revisited.”

  1. I’ll out myself as the baffled blogger. 😉 Thank you for taking the time to expand on this concept.

    I’m going to take the suggestion (in your previous post) to ask those most familiar with my writing to help identify my “hedgehog”. I think I know what I do best, but as you said, I can be dense.

    I wish I loved promotion and marketing, but I don’t. Maybe it’s because I haven’t identified my ideal reader. How do I volunteer for your profiling? I’d love to identify my otaku.

    1. Linda, I really do love your blog. I’ll email you about being a guinea pig. I’ve already got some ideas. 🙂

      I may also talk to you about what you “don’t love” about promo & marketing. I think you may have a metaphor problems with it. Since I’m now a publicist for a few authors who have a similar problem, I’d love to see if maybe there’s a way to help ease that, too!

  2. I enjoyed reading this post. I’m worried that the science fiction part of my writing will turn some people off that don’t usually read science fiction. One of my beta readers doesn’t read science fiction, but she loved my space opera. So I have to market it as sci fi, romance, and adventure. Because it has all three.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Aubrie!

      I haven’t read your novel yet (but can’t wait to!) That said, I think that you can market in all three areas, as it were, but your Right Reader is probably a romance reader who loves adventure and isn’t put off by science fiction. You might want to think of a comparable author, to start… maybe Anne McCaffrey? Ursula K. Leguin? Maybe even Piers Anthony? Again, I’ve got some short cuts to help you stalk your right reader, but knowing a similar “big seller” (not exact, but sort of “if you enjoy this, you’ll enjoy mine” thing) will help you narrow the field down.

    2. Check out Linnea Sinclair. There’s some sci fi/romance/ adventure for you. Also, her online class on conflict is the only online class I’ve taken that was worth the money. She actually reads your assignments and kicks them back until she’s sure you’re picking up what she’s putting down. And she likes cats, which, now that I think of it, might be one aspect that made me her ‘right reader.’ Hmmmm……

    3. I’m always looking for books like that. I’d buy that book based on the genres alone. But I’m coming from the science fiction fan side, who likes romances on occasion.

      Lois McMaster Bujold is another author you could compare to. Brilliant space opera, with romance and adventure and coming of age stories.
      Or Firefly fans might be interested too?
      Seriously though, when is your book out yet? Can I get a link to it?

  3. Should I be worried that the biggest proponent of the trilogy so far (besides family) is a fifty-something lesbian painter who’s never read a lick of historic fantasy before mine? I so appreciate the love, but I’m sure she’d agree with me when I say she might not represent an archetype of a niche market I can exploit. 🙂

    Seriously, still need to hone in on my right reader’s profile. I know, with your help, she’ll come clear to me with time and effort. And great reminders about not trying to please everyone, and ignoring the haters. Keep it up, Cathy.

    1. That’s quite a focused niche there. 😉 Perhaps we can widen the field a tad!

      Don’t worry, though — I’ve got a few simple tricks up my sleeve to “cheat” on finding your right reader, and what you write actually is a perfect example of this. Stay tuned…

  4. As much as this all makes sense to me, and it DOES…I still have a hard time identifying who my Right Reader is. Why is it so hard? I will wait with held breath for your next posts on the topic!

  5. This is giving me a lot to think about. And I’m wondering what happens if you wander off into another genre. For example, I think my right readers for my first novel were women over 40 looking for a strong heroine. My second novel had the same attitude in the heroine, but it’s a romance and I fear I lost my first readers with this one. What do you recommend? I’m trying to convince them the same attitude is there…

    1. I have definitely done my share of genre-jumping, so I feel your pain. The people who enjoyed my Chick Lit humor were probably a bit put off by my stint in Erotica, although I think there was some carry-over. Since then, I’ve discovered that humor is my Thing… I try to get away from it, at my own peril! No matter what subgenre I target, the humor’s probably going to be there, in one form or another.

      I would say instead of worrying about the readers you lost, think about the readers you kept. Those are your Right Readers. Where do they hang out? What do they like about your writing? This is probably your audience moving forward.

      Focus on that, and make sure that all your communication incorporates that. For example, if you write strong heroines, what makes them strong? The fact that they do things most people won’t do? THe fact that they take crap from no one? Have you considered blogging about that? Or at least about women you admire, that remind you of your heroine? Odds are good your audience will resonate, as well. Just a thought! 🙂

  6. This is awesome, Cathy! Very eye opening.

    “If you try to attract every single person who might enjoy your book, you’re casting your net too wide. You’re not going to attract anyone.”

    Excellent point 😀

  7. Cathy, thanks for the input. And I’ve been taking your advice about blogging on topics related to my heroines on my flipflopsandfabs blog. At the same time, I’ve been fearing I’m pissing off the entire universe – lol! So I loved what you had to say about being controversial. But people just aren’t leaving comments or connecting like they used to. Does anybody care? Are they even reading? Are they too busy writing their own stuff? lol!

    Fabulous discussion here!

    1. I believe in controversy — not for its own sake, but as a result of being authentic. If people aren’t leaving comments, you might either look, scientifically , at what posts got the most comments, and see if there’s a commonality: maybe your readers really like to read about manolos, or chocolate, or what have you, and you have blogged about it for a while. Or maybe you blogged about it too much, without variation or adding anything new — and they burned out. It’s more of an art form than a science, I’ve noticed. 😀

      You might also try an “open thread” where you ask a question. And don’t forget to promote your blog here and there, in places where you’re already a contributing member of a tribe…

      Finally, you also might want to start guest blogging, again keeping your right reader in mind. Where else would she hang out? What can you offer those other blogs that would be of interest to both the blogger and your reader?

  8. Hi Cathy! I’ll attempt to forgive you for mocking Ms. Fletcher, the queen of mystery. It’s always a little dangerous to tango with Jessica.

    But in seriousness, thank you for this post. I’m guilty of loathing controversy. I often write blogs that I don’t post. But I realized in my writing I take stands and express ideals so the shy author half is just going to have to step up. I call the issue my struggle with finding my blogger voice.

    On a recent blog hop tour I outlined the key things I hope my writing brings readers, thinking if they liked the blog, they would like the book. That’s kind of what you’re saying here, right? Setting an expectation for readers that’s authentic to the work, so that people won’t just read, but love?

    P.S. Using your advice from above I thought it would be cool to do a blog series on Healers Through History, since my heroine is a Healer. Do you mind if I run with that idea?

    Thanks for reading my long comment. I’ll be back to this blog! I won’t quite stalk, but I would be excited to meet at a conference.

    1. LOL! Thanks, Kinley. I imagine if I push that hot button enough, Angela Lansbury is probably going to darken my doorstep at some point and simply kick my ass. And yes, I will deserve it. 😀

      I’d have to see what your blog hop posts were like, but I imagine if you touched on your “Hedgehog” of what makes your work special, you’re doing it absolutely right. And yes, you’re setting an expectation for readers that’s authentic — sort of shining a beacon, so RIght Readers are drawn to it.

      RE: the Healers through History — I don’t mind at all, seeing as it’s your idea! I would say that you want to be sure to touch base with what your readers truly love, though. Do they love the historical aspect of Healers? The rebellious aspect? The nuruturing one? Do they like the alternative medicine part? Remember to keep your reader in mind: what’s going to brighten her day?

      Glad you like the blog. Hang out, anytime. 🙂

  9. Good points! I have been reposting some of my blog posts on a social site for women over 40 and do get participation there. I think that with the popularity of social sites, single blogs just don’t get as much interaction as before. I lost a lot of my traffic after that site was up and running. I used to blog on a pop culture site but didn’t get much response there. Probably not quite hitting my target audience.

    Very interesting, Cathy. You’re making me think and I’m making improvements already. 🙂

  10. And, Kinley, I know what you mean. I didn’t mean to sound like I’m writing big, bad, controversial posts. But I sometimes feel strongly about something and blog about it. Later, I may even delete the post because I don’t want to be controversial. But what I have decided is that I must be myself and not try to please everybody on my Facebook list. With FB you can have so many friends from different parts of your life, you can find yourself worrying about what one group will think about something you’re doing. So, I’ve just decided to be myself and so I loved that part about how you can’t please everyone.

  11. Great post, Cathy. I’m guilty, too, of worrying about offending someone. Humor is my strength, at least that’s what my cps, agent, and others tell me. And yet, while I write my books with lots of humor, I find it hard to incorporate into my website. The copy I put on my website is very straight, for lack of a better word. Totally businesslike. I’d like to put some personality into it!

    And I’d love to find my Right Readers, but find that a struggle, too. I write humorous contemporary romances about spies so my books don’t fall into established subgenres like Regency or Medieval or paranormal.

    I’m looking forward to more posts by you on this topic.

    1. I see that a lot — you definitely should let more of your voice blend into your “copy” and marketing materials. I had to do that with my personal author page, cathyyardley.com, as well. I’d originally written it with more pro guidance, and it seemed more corporate than “me.” Not to say you shouldn’t have healthy boundaries, but as authors, I think readers want to see what sort of people we are, rather than just the books, if they’ve made it all the way to our site.

      And I like the sound of what you’re writing — I’m a huge fan of Rom Com. I’m pushing for a comeback, but I know it’s been slow going in traditional publishing. Fortunately, the wild west of epublishing seems to be finally breaking through that wall!

  12. What a great and eye-opening post, Cathy. I’m definitely a “don’t want to offend anyone” blogger, and it’s hard work. It’s exhausting. lol
    I look forward to your post on how to identify your Right Reader. I hope it’s soon because I’m very curious. Wait, can this be determined if you’re unpublished? 🙂

    1. I see a wave of controversial posts coming. 😉

      Yes, you can absolutely determine your Right Reader if you’re unpublished. I’ll be posting more about it soon, but in the meantime, I’d read the Hedgehog post, and maybe start asking your crit partners what they feel is your strength. Then, we’ll move forward! 😀

  13. Count me among those who love and understand what you said, but still don’t know how to do the Hedgehog thing.

    When we’re profiling the Right Reader, is it truly in the realm of “30-something SAHMs longing for escape” or more like “fans of Suz Brockmann, Firefly, and the idea of jumping out of an airplane”?

    1. They’re all right, actually. If I were writing a profile, I’d say all of that. “Woman, 30-something, stay at home Mom, children under twelve. Longing for escape: likes the idea of jumping out of an airplane, traveling the world, being a spy, etc. Also reads: Suz Brockmann, Cherry Adair, contemporary romance with military angle, Navy Seals. LIkes kick-ass h/h. Watches TV like Firefly, Justified. Movies: Bourne trilogy, anything with Gerard Butler, shoot-em-ups without the high grit/gore/”realism” factor. Also Bucket List, possibly Eat Pray Love (escape.) Might have a blog — due to SAHM, spends time sporadically online, but likes the connections.”

      And this is sort of scooping my future post, but if you really want to know what your profile is? Go to Suz Brockmann’s Facebook Fan page, or the group for Navy Seals: https://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_2426256106&ref=ts. There are a bunch of people who have posted on her wall. Read the posts. For those who have their profile set for public, click on their names and see their info page. It will say what movies they like, what books and authors, what TV shows. click through enough, and I’ll bet you start to see a pattern. (I’ve done this with several authors, and it’s weird to see the similarities, especially when you see how otherwise different the “fans” are!) It’s not scientific, admittedly — but there isn’t a Right Reader police. This is just to give you an idea of what your reader is like….

      And I’ll save the rest for next week. 🙂

  14. Hi! I really loved reading this post. I have loved writing since I was a child, and it is a dream of mine to eventually publish the novel I am writing. I started my blog with the intention of writing to hone in on and develop my skills, find my own voice. My writing took a serious turn when I realized how much my writing was colored by what I thought people were thinking and feeling when I wrote. I strove to make it sound as great as possible, without offending anyone. I laid down my pen for a short while and came back with a vengeance when I decided to do this one thing…..I WRITE FOR ME. I write what I like, what I see, what I would love to feel when I pick up a book. I write personally, as if no other set of eyes in the world except mine alone would ever see what I had written on the pages. And then, I dared to hit that publish button. I remember my finger hovering over said button, knowing when I did, my heart and soul would be revealed to the world. And you know what? I LOVE IT! I have never broken through so many barriers or had so much fun as when I began to write this way. I have never regretted it. It has been the most freeing writing experience of a lifetime. And it can only get better from here. Kudos to you and for taking time to share your thoughts with us. I will be following you to keep up with your encouraging and experienced inspirations.

  15. Great, marvelous post, and a very healthy down-to-Earth attitude.
    This –> “their opinion of me is none of my damned business” <– Love it!
    Thank you!

  16. Great post. Thank you.
    I am currently in the process of querying agents for my first novel, and just stumbled across this post, not even sure how with all the search links and resources I’ve been checking out lately. Anyways, once more, very solid advice.
    The one thing I have to ask though, is How do you get any chance to evolve seriously as a creator, if you get so stuck with your Right Reader in mind? Having her “keep you on path”, “encourage you to stay true to your voice”?
    I mean you are an evolving person, after all, with evolving (most probably) views, ideas, etc. Otakus could view that as betrayal. Countless examples on that with music bands trying to re-invent themselves at some point in their careers, and meeting with huge backlash.
    I was just wandering if you have any thoughts on that.

    1. I think you can evolve as a creator, but keep in mind that if you “evolve” too much, you will be losing some otakus. There are going to be some die hard superfans that love your work no matter where you take it, and others who complain that they miss how you “used to write.” I’d say weigh how much the change means to you. If you are just querying agents right now, I’d say focus on your otaku audience. Your agent should be one of them. They are going to want to know that you have a grip on your audience and also on what you’re writing. If you’re going to evolve frequently and elaborately, agents will probably be a bit wary — and rightfully so, since they’re on the business side of the fence, and it’s hard to build an audience with an author who’s hard to pin down. It sucks, but it’s the nature of the beast.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *