Reaching Readers: Who, Where and How?

Reaching Readers: Who, Where and How?

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of research. I don’t mean research for a story, but research about who will read my stories, given half a chance. I’ve started to form a picture of the kind of people I hope will like what I do. The things I have found out are surprising and challenging.

Rudyard Kipling Portrait

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.
Rudyard Kipling

Of course, the distinction between writers and readers is not hard and fast. Writers should be voracious readers, while plenty of readers are also writers. (On the subject of writers reading, see what Ian McEwan has to say in this short video.) It’s tempting, therefore, for writers to assume their readers are people rather like themselves. If they’re anything like me, they can then begin to endow their readers with all sorts of admirable qualities, for in idealizing their readers, they idealize themselves! However, if writers are ever to get to know their readers, they must do so on the basis of facts, not wishful thinking. These days, with the Internet and all kinds of technological help, we can find out an awful lot about readers. And it’s important that writers make the effort to find out, otherwise their work is unlikely to be read.

My Potential Readers

On the evidence so far, I reckon that
• around 60–70 per cent of my potential readers are women
• they are aged thirty and above
• they are middle class
• they are highly educated
• their preferred fiction writers are people in the style of Margaret Atwood, Muriel Spark, Doris Lessing, Joan Medlicott, Paul Bailey, Donna Tartt, Liane Moriarty, Patrick Gale, Scarlett Thomas, Lisa Genova … (I do not mean to suggest I am even on the same planet as these amazing authors)
• they often dip into the classics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
• they also read a great deal of non-fiction – memoirs and autobiography, plus interest-related books on gardening, travel, politics and history
• they also enjoy genre writing, especially thrillers, mysteries and crime
• they care about quality, not just in books but in everything they purchase
• they tend to have a social conscience: they are concerned about others and about the world

Questions

Does this list describe you? How many of these descriptors match your circumstances? I can see myself in some of them, which I suppose is only natural. I can’t see myself in others, which I find surprising but perhaps shouldn’t. My potential readers are much more widely read than I am, so I should be taking a leaf out of their book (almost literally).

Where do these kinds of readers congregate? Well, I have learned that quite a few of them review the books they read, so that means they can be found online wherever books are sold. It is also likely to mean they belong to reading groups, both online and in their community. That’s a good thing, as I already review books and post reviews all over the place (here, other blogs, street corners – I’m not proud).

I know one or two people who fit this reader profile. If I can extrapolate from them, then it’s likely that many of my potential readers are at home with reading traditional books and using e-readers, and it is unlikely they will abandon ‘proper’ books completely, as they like them too much. Why is this important to know? It means I should consider publishing as an ebook and a traditional book so as to maximize readership.

Problem or Opportunity?

The problem I confront is that I don’t write in a recognizable genre. If you writer horror, for example, I imagine it’s more straightforward to find out who your readers are and where they congregate. Such readers make great fans and they frequent the same kinds of places. If you write ‘contemporary fiction’, on the other hand, it’s an amorphous category that includes many different kinds of writers and readers. So it’s difficult to make contact with people who might be interested in what you do.

Or is it? My next step is to follow the electronic trails left by readers as they wander from one author to another. By seeing which authors are ‘also bought’, for instance, I can fill out my picture of my potential reader.

All this might sound premature. After all, I have barely published anything yet (I’m working on it!). However, all the advice I’ve seen indicates that the time to do this kind of research is well before publication.

So, gentle readers, I know you are out there and I hope we can become acquainted one day. If any of you are reading this blog, drop me a line and let me know what you think. Leave a comment. Leave a ‘Like’. ‘Follow’ my blog. I appreciate it.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Jack. It’s fascinating to read about the processes of researching your readership and the information you’ve uncovered. I hope it all pays off!

  2. Yes, I fit comfortably into that description of your typical reader, Jack. The next question you might ask yourself is whether, after all this research, you start consciously to target your writing to your typical reader. I think we all welcome a challenge and a surprise, so I hope the answer is ‘no’.

    • Thank you Josie. You’ve put your finger on a temptation that I’m sure many writers must face, at no matter what stage of their career: will my potential readers/loyal fans like this book? Should I write in such a way as to fit their expectations? Writers seeking an audience might think they should start off writing to please their putative public, then write for themselves once that public is established. I don’t know if that is a good plan – the danger is that you might not be able to change later on, even if you try. It seems to me that one must do the best one can to find one’s own voice, then hope that others hear it.

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