In this post, I’m going to illustrate how I profile a Right Reader, based on a writing sample and a questionnaire.
Linda Cassidy Lewis, novelist who runs “Out of My Mind,” a blog about writing, self-publishing, and whatever else she wants. Her bio:
“Linda Cassidy Lewis was born and raised in Indiana and now lives with her husband in California where she writes versions of the stories she only held in her head during the years their four sons were growing up. She blogs about her writing experience—typos and all. The Brevity of Roses is her debut novel.”
The Excerpt and Questionnaire Answers:
Linda had self published her first novel, The Brevity of Roses, when I met her, and she’s working on more projects in a similar vein. I agreed to analyze her Right Reader, based on her excerpt, and her answers to my prelim questions. Here’s what she responded…
1. What genre, and perhaps subgenre, do you feel your novel fits? (If you don’t feel there’s just one, mention two that it might fit into.)
Women’s Fiction/love story with a literary bent.
2. Who do you see as a similar author? Who is writing in a similar voice, or a similar subject matter? (Ideally in the same genre.) One of my critique partners says Nicholas Sparks, but I don’t know because I’ve never read a Sparks novel. My favorite author is Anne Tyler.
3a.What theme do you address in the novel? Is it a theme you like to revisit in your work?
I addressed specifically how grief individually affects us and allied with that is the theme of letting go of the past.
3b. Is it a theme you like to revisit in your work?
The first part, probably not; the second part, probably.
4. What do you feel makes your work unique in your genre? Is it your characters? Setting? Subject matter?
It’s unusual to have a male protagonist in Women’s Fiction, and also somewhat unusual to have three POV characters.
5. If you were pitching this to an editor, what would be your “hook”?
Oh boy, not my strong suit. I guess I’d say it’s a story, told through three viewpoints, of how one man’s search for love forced him to find himself.
6. How old is your protagonist? Where does the story take place? Is setting important?
He’s 30 at the beginning and 40 at the end. Mainly, in two fictional California towns. Yes, the settings are important because of symbolism. For example, Jalal’s home is on the coast, literally perched on the edge of the ocean—a wealth of symbolism—and is often fogged in. Also, in the majority of the book, it has a struggling garden. All those elements are reflective of his emotional state.
7. What would you say is the major source of conflict in the book?
Fear, in general. Specifically, the inability to let go of the past, fueled by an underlying lack of self-worth.
8. Who do you think this book would appeal to, and why? Who do you currently see as its “Right Reader”?
Women, aged 30-55, who enjoy the escape of reading, but don’t mind thinking a bit while doing it.
9. (This was specific to her, but applies to anyone who has an active blog.) You’ve got a blog that deals with self publishing and writing topics, as well as promoting your novel and author brand. Who do you feel is the readership for your blog?
Since I started my blog long before I made the decision to self-publish, it only recently reflects that. My blog has always been a sort of journal of my life as a writer. Other writers have always made up the majority of my readers.
Here’s the capsule profile I sent back:
“Women aged 30-55 in urban/multi-cultural suburban regions. Reads Anne Tyler, Wally Lamb, Alice Hoffman, Amy Tan… possibly Audrey Niffenegger. Likes Ellen Degeneres show, Oprah (when it was still on), maybe TV series like Brothers & Sisters, Grey’s Anatomy, Glee. Probably married, still in touch with family – perhaps siblings, aging parents. Has kids. College degree. Probably has a job, inside or outside of the home…not hideously busy, but juggling. Sees reading as a comfort & a treat; definitely reads voraciously. Owns an e-reader and impulse buys based on friend’s recommendations and interesting samples. “
What if you don’t feel any connection with the profile?
She shared with me that she wasn’t familiar with a lot of my references, and as a result might have felt a disconnect from her audience. This shouldn’t be the case. Your Right Reader should be someone you’d feel comfortable hanging out with, not a stranger you’re trying to capture!
After that exchange, I made sure to tie in authors that Linda was familiar with. From there, she can hopefully see the connective tissue between what I feel her Right Reader likes, and what her Hedgehog or Unique Thing is. In this case, it’s a mainstream women’s fiction with a male protagonist of a different cultural background, on a journey of personal discovery that involves a clash with family. Everything I’ve entered in the profile includes elements of that in one way or another.
If you can recognize what makes your work special, and look why your Right Reader might be drawn to it (and what you both might have in common as a result) then you can see how the profile works. That’s why I usually picture my best friend. We don’t like all the same things, but I know what reading she likes; I know what books to recommend, know what movie tastes we share, etc.
The fact that I’ve commented that the Right Reader owns an e-reader is basic, by the way — if you’re selling an e-book, yes, you could sell to people who read on their computers, but it’s a minority and you want to target someone who is actively, hungrily searching for your book — not someone who could read your book, given the right incentive.
What if the profile’s wrong?
Of course I could be wrong. This is more an art form than a hard science, and I’m no guru. But I do feel that this is no more complicated than Psych 101… or perhaps matchmaking. 🙂 At any rate, you’ve got the basics, and you’ll be able to dial in the rest as you get more reader input in the form of fan letters or blog comments — which, with any luck, you’ll get more of as you use the profile. 🙂
But what do you do with it?
Now that I’ve drawn the profile, what the heck do you do with it?
Next blog: Recommended “Next 10” Promo Steps based on the Right Reader Profile. I’m going to use Linda’s case study one more time, to show you what I’d do as a publicist for this profile and project.
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