This is post is a guide to help you identify your ideal readers and invite them to read (beta) your book. The purpose of this? Essentially to see if your book works. To give you confidence when you publish and market your book that it is achieving your goals. If you have read our How to Find Beta Readers post, this is its spiritual successor. It is informed by four years of helping authors beta, conducting interviews, and doing research. We call it Determining Book/Reader Fit.
We've borrowed the idea from the software industry concept of Product Market Fit, which is when a company runs a beta test by approaching people they think will find their software useful, inviting them to use it before it's released and getting feedback to ensure that everything is working the way it is supposed to.
Determining Book/Reader Fit is a methodical approach that takes into account two key beliefs.
- First, that all writers are writing so that people will read their book.
- Second, that understanding who the previously mentioned “people” are is a key step to determining whether your book is a successful piece of writing and essential to your book’s future success out in the world.
Determining your Book Reader Fit involves the following:
- Creating a book profile by examining your book’s attributes and special characteristics
- Creating ideal reader profiles by describing in detail the type of readers you think will connect with those attributes and characteristics in your book profile
- Using that knowledge to strategically search out your ideal readers
- Approaching those ideal readers
- Validating whether they are in fact your ideal reader
Part 1: Creating a Book Profile
Your book is special. Only you could have written it, so you are the best person to describe its attributes. That doesn’t mean it is always instinctive. Most books have dozens of elements, and it can be hard to rattle them off all at once, let alone figure out how they will relate to who will enjoy our book. So why do this? Because once you’ve collected an exhaustive list of your book’s attributes, you will be well-equipped to begin thinking of readers who would be interested in your book.
Questions to ask of your book:
General Book questions:
- My book’s genre is?
- My book’s subgenre is?
- My book’s length is?
- My book’s tone is?
- Does my book have a unique structure?
- Where does my book take place?
- When does my book take place?
- What does my plot revolve around?
- Is there anything special about the setting of the book? (is it a specific city, type of place,
- Does my story have any particular areas of application that make it special?
- What is the most special thing about my book?Does my book have any extant history or significance that is significant?
- Are there any areas of interest in my book that I have not mentioned yet?
Questions about the Main Character (and the antagonist)
- Who is my books main character?
- What is my main character's gender?
- What is my main characters age?
- What is my main character’s religious background?
- What is my main character’s national or ethnic background?
- What is my main character’s family like?
- What is my main character’s sexuality?
- What is my main characters job?
- What is my main character’s professional history?
- What is my main character’s personal history?
- What are my main character interests and hobbies that appear in and/or are important to my book?
- Are there any other important activities or details about my main character that I have not listed yet?
- My book’s genre is?
- My book’s subgenre is?
- My book’s tone is?
- What is the goal of my book? Am I trying to teach a process, encourage a behavior, expose, educate, correct, share, enlighten?
- What is significant about me writing this book?
- What does successful application of my book look like?
- What is the structure of my book?
- How long does my book take to work?
- My book's length is?
Here is an example for my fictional mystery book The Chuckwagon Murders: A Motorcycle Detective Novel:
Book Profile Characterisitcs: Mystery, Murder, Red Herrings, Motorcycle, Detective, Western Feel, Comedic, Sarcastic, Montana, Nature, Camping, Small towns, Honor, Loner, Campfire cooking, Violence, Wits, Retired Military, Fist Fights, Bars, Vacation Read.
Part 2: Creating Ideal Reader Profiles
Think about your top 5 books of all time: books that you couldn’t put down, that kept you up all night, even though you had work, or school, or an interview then next morning. Books that you fell in love with. Your ideal reader is the person who falls madly in love with your book.
To figure out who that reader is, you need to create Reader profiles. Reader profiles are not meant to describe everyone who will enjoy your book or everyone you want to read it. They are meant to describe the people who will think your book is special.
If we were talking about product development this would be the customer who has exactly the problem you solve. The type of customer you tell the price you are charging and they laugh at you for charging so little. The kind of customer who uses your product and has trouble remembering how they lived without it.
Using your Book Profile, you can begin to answer questions about your ideal reader. Some of these questions can have multiple answers, so write all the answers that apply. Be as specific and honest as possible. Your goal is to create usable profiles of people who will connect strongly with your book. This process is the same for fiction and non-ficiton.
- What is your ideal reader’s age?
- What is your ideal reader’s gender?
- What is your ideal reader’s nationality?
- What is your ideal reader’s religion?
- What is your ideal reader’s professional history?
- What are your ideal reader’s hobbies?
- What causes are important to your ideal reader?
- Has your ideal reader had any specific life experiences?
- Is there anything else important in your ideal reader’s history?
- Does your ideal reader face any specific life challenges?
- What other media does your ideal reader like?
- Why does your ideal reader like books like yours?
- Where and how does your ideal reader get their books?
- Are there any other characteristics that your ideal reader has?
Once you have answered the questions, write a 4-6 sentence description of a person that matches as many of the answers as possible. Do this a few times. Try to visualize people who are as different as possible but still hit a large number of the descriptions listed above.
Here are two examples using the Book Profile for my fictional mystery book The Chuckwagon Murders: A Motorcycle Detective Novel:
Mystery, Murder, Red Herrings, Motorcycle, Detective, Western Feel, Comedic, Sarcastic, Montana, Nature, Camping, Small towns, Honor, Loner, Campfire cooking, Violence, Wits, Retired Military, Fist Fights, Bars, Vacation Read
- Reader Profile #1: My ideal reader is a retired man. He spent time in the service but eventually retired to a small town when he got out. He is married and with kids but they are all grown and moved on having families of the own. Tends vote conservative but is not super pro-gun. He likes spending time outdoors and is a member of the local VFW. He likes to read a book on his porch when he finds the time. He likes procedural tv shows like NCIS and Columbo but will almost always watch a Clint Eastwood film if it is on tv.
- Reader Profile #2: My ideal reader is any gender but is a member of law enforcement who loves motorcylces. They grew up somewhere rural but now live in the city and taking road trips is something they love. They tend to read on their breaks or when waiting around in their car. They like a little levity in their entertainment and enjoy binging shows like Monk, Psych, and Bones.
Part 3: Finding, Approaching and Inviting your readers
Having completed Parts 1 and 2 you should have the following tools
- At least 20 traits that describe your book
- A similar-length list of descriptors for your possible readers
- Three to four descriptive paragraphs describing your ideal readers
This process is not about finding a huge untapped audience upon which you will surf to super fame and financial success. What you are trying to do is validate that your book works for the type of people you want it to connect with. Once you have validated that, you can proceed with all kinds of outreach and promotion. Finding a small group of dedicated readers, proving that you have a book they enjoy, and learning how to convince them to read your book is far more important than finding an enormous audience for a new book. While it will probably take some time (and perhaps a bit of a field trip out of your comfort zone), it should become exponentially easier to convince each subsequent reader to read your book if you are developing a strategic method of approach.
How to Locate your readers:
Looking at one profile at a time, ask yourself where would this person hang out? This can be a real world place or a digital space.
Facebook groups that have interests or focuses that overlap with your book are a great place to start. You can also look on all the other social media platforms. Tumblr, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pintrest, Twitter, Reddit, Discords, and anything else that you find. You can also search for forums that cover overlapping topics as well as clubs, charities, social groups, and professional organizations. A good place to start if you have no idea is to search various combinations of key descriptors from your reader list on the internet and see what pops up.
Here is where you need to be careful. I hope that you are excited about your book and want to share it with people. Joining an internet community and starting to promote your writing right away is a terrible idea. You will do more harm than good to yourself.
Best Practices for joining an internet community
- Read all their rules of conduct carefully
- Spend time familiarizing yourself with the way conversations unfold in the community.
- Pay attention to its unspoken rules and how conversations ebb and flow.
- Contribute to the community in an organic way for a while to establish that you are not just there to exploit it. (If you are doing this correctly you aren’t there to exploit it, you are there to form relationship with your future readers).
- If at all possible, after you have established yourself as part of the community, find a way to privately ask moderators if you may mention your project.
- Ask people to read your book.
Two rules I follow
- Be a contributing member of the community for at least 3 months
- If you find that there is nothing being discussed that you have an opinion on or a desire to contribute to it is a pretty good sign that you are in the wrong place.
When will you know it is okay to tell people you have a book they might like? When you can honestly say some variation of, “I have written a book for people like us.”
It is possible you will find the exact right group of people online in one go. But I think it's wise to find 3-5 to research and get involved with. Don’t assume this is a huge time commitment. 10-15 minutes a day should be all it takes to to see what is going on and comment here or there. If schedules are your thing, pick three communities and visit one a day for 10 minutes and rotate through your list. There is a very good chance, if you have found the right places, you will want to be involved more as time goes on.
Some authors feel that this is unsavory and dishonest. That it is too salesman-y. Frankly, it is sales. Sales on its own is not a bad thing though. Many of us have had bad experiences with sales people, so we misunderstand what the goal and philosophy behind good sales is.
Sales, at its root, is just one person getting to know another and trying to make their life better by meeting their needs or solving their problems. Put another way, how awesome would you feel if someone had taken the time to get to know you and recommend a book that they think is perfect for you, and then when you join that author’s beta they actually listen to you to make it more perfect for you.
Once again, this process is not about finding hundreds of readers. It is about proving that you know the type of person who will like your book by getting it into their hands and asking them what they think.
The Real World
The internet is a great place to find and meet people, but you would be amazingly foolish to overlook the opportunities that exist around you in the real world. This is especially great for those of us who are not naturally gifted on social media. It can also be much easier to approach people in the real world.
Did you write a mystery that takes place in your home town? Perhaps there is a mystery book club you can befriend and get them to read your book. There are local charitable organizations, civic clubs, cultural heritage groups, social clubs, neighborhood organizations, cooking collectives, gardening societies, brewing brotherhoods, honestly there are all kinds of things going on in your area. Go to the chamber of commerce. Go on meetup.com, or check out the bulletin board at your local library or coffee shop.
Approaching organizations in real life is often an easy as making a phone call or writing and email and asking if you can come and speak to a group about your writing project. Or take the same approach I suggest when it comes to internet groups. Visit and meet some folks and see if they are the type of people you think will like your book.
Finally, if you have gone through the previous steps and are still hitting a wall for ideas write us an email and we will see if we can help you brainstorm. I can’t guarantee we will be able to help you find exactly the right readers but we can probably point you in the right direction or at least give you some encouraging ideas.