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How to use an ideal reader to identify the market for your novel without feeling like you’re selling out

Uncategorized Dec 05, 2019

Earlier this year I met with Paul. Paul wanted me to read his book in order to get some guidance on how to present it to agents. He wanted to know what genre I thought it was, who it would be marketed to, and how to describe it in a query letter. 

But when we got together after I’d read his manuscript, as we got talking about who he imagined loving his book it seemed that a different conversation needed to happen. 

I could see how the people he imagined loving his book would not necessarily be able to recognise the book and what it had to offer them. 

The opening pages didn’t announce the book to them. It didn’t teach them how they could get the most out of the book. They would more than likely think it was something it wasn’t, and never get to the heart of the story which they would love. 

We ended up shelving the conversation about a query letter and marketability and agents and instead talking about how he could make the book even more enjoyable for those readers he was really writing for. 

Photo by Aga Putra on Unsplash

Stories about what makes your book marketable might be leading you astray

The readers he was really writing for were the ones capable of appreciating his book, they were careful, critical, readers. As Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra upon the publication of Pride and Prejudice, ‘I do not write for such dull Elves As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves.'

As our long conversation was coming to an end, I made a few suggestions about solutions to some of the problems as I saw them. I explained that often when I make suggestions I am not criticising the book but more trying to uncover something that is hidden by the book as it stands. Something that more truly represents the writer, which is closer to their authentic story or voice. 

Paul told me that it felt as though I was picking up on the parts of the book that he had written in that way because he was trying to be marketable, because he thought that was what he had to do to be successful. Isn’t that interesting?

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What is an ideal reader?

Your ideal reader is the one (probably fictonal) person capable of hearing every allusion or pop culture reference. The one who experiences empathy for your characters. They are on your wavelength and they recognise something they are excited by and drawn to in your unique voice.


This ideal reader is the part of you that will help you edit your first draft and write a second draft, as well as pitch your novel. 


They will tell you what nearly stopped them from reading past the first chapter. They will tell you where they had to be really committed to trusting you in order to carry on. They will tell you where they got mixed messages about your genre.

They will tell you how to make it even more their kind of book and what to tell agents about it so that they understand who your book is really for, not who you think the agent wants you to say it is for.

Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash

How to imagine your ideal reader

Rather than thinking of your ideal reader as a ‘market’, let’s think of them as literally an ideal reader, that amazing person that just gets you and loves everything about what you have to say when you say it with bravery and without second guessing yourself.


I’d encourage you to get your journal out and write around some of these questions:

Think about what your vision for your book was when you started out. Can you recall a moment when you first got an idea for the book. How did it feel to start writing or planning? 

Now think about what you have got on the page. What has surprised you about the book? Which parts did you enjoy writing the most? Which parts are you most excited to show to someone else? Which parts are your proudest of? 

Imagine putting your finished book in the hands of your ideal reader. A reader who totally gets what you were doing and falls in love with your characters. 

Who do you imagine really loving your book? How do you think they’re going to feel when they get to the end? What is it about your story that is going to make them pick it up? What is it about your story that’s going to make them keep reading? What’s going to break their heart or fill them with a warm sense of recognition? 

How would they describe your book to a friend if they were recommending it? What other books do they like? What is it about your book that they will like the most? 


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