Connecting ideal readers with their ideal reading experiences

Another writer friend blogged recently about how we see things. She wrote:

The ways in which people interpret the world have always amazed and intrigued me. How two people can look at the same situation, be armed with the same knowledge about it, and yet still come out with different conclusions (aka ‘politics’). How two people can have a very similar experience and yet react in wildly different ways. How something that can floor one person won’t bother another.

But even more subtly: how the individual ways in which we think about the world – our personal hermeneutics – help us to see things through a unique lens.

She concluded by making the point that not only should we try to notice more details about our world; we should also think seriously about trying to “flip the result around to view things from a different perspective.”

This got me thinking about two things. My day job is in marketing — specifically, content marketing — where it’s my job to position and frame products in a way that appeals to target customers. (More on that in a second.) Because I’m getting ready to launch two books, I’m thinking about marketing them in terms of the connections people might be able to make with them.

Forging a connection with the right words

When we have a connection with a person, it’s easy to assume that they know what we mean, that they’ll be able to tell a sarcastic text message from a serious one, for instance, or that we’re teasing them rather than insulting them. We might think we don’t need to choose our words as carefully as we do in other company, or that we can ever be misunderstood.

Yet, we forget that on any given day, our friends are dealing with a range of influences besides just ourselves, our words, and their regard for us. There are the current day’s or week’s stress factors, and the words or phrases or tones — sometimes all three — that can trigger deep, bygone hurts.

And when we, as authors, are trying to connect with an entire group of people? Marketing experts tell us to have reader/customer personas, the people we think our products (including books) would be the perfect match for. Creating these personas often involves a careful balance between:

  • a loyal group of fans, a small core group of people who always leave great reviews, attend signings, and share your stuff on social media</>
  • a broader audience, people who have some but not all things in common with your most loyal readers

From here, we’re supposed to be able to work out just the right ways to position and frame our books, to communicate whatever we want our takeaways to be.

When the ideal could be one among many

And yet, I’ve been finding that my ideal readers seem like as much of a mystery to me as people in general. In real life, I either connect, or I don’t; I have little control over this, other than to be friendly and approachable, but that’s about the extent of it. Just as I like to leave the door open for people to interpret what I say and to connect, however unexpectedly, I also believe it’s important to embrace whatever interpretation people make of my writing.

Needless to say, I’m still working out the “ideal reader” thing. It doesn’t help that I write such a range of stories; I don’t like to be locked into a formula any more than I like to be locked into a group of people. I guess most of all, I’m hoping to find people who appreciate that range, who will find one thing they connect to and keep coming back — if nothing else, to be pleasantly surprised.

How do you connect ideally with books and their authors?

2 comments on “Connecting ideal readers with their ideal reading experiences

  1. Thanks for the link! 🙂

    You’re so right. I was talking with a friend the other day about how we’re all subtly different people on different days, based on how we’re feeling and what’s going on around us.

    I think it’s often more difficult to define your audience than marketing experts give you credit for, assuming you still want to be a ‘real’ person. There are people I follow because they have incredibly strong personal brands, and from that perspective they’re doing the marketing bit right, but I don’t want to be like that. Part of who I am is a person who doesn’t want a ‘personal brand’. And I feel like a lot of nuance gets lost when it comes to promotion. Sometimes people will agree with me, sometimes they won’t; sometimes they’ll agree with 40% of what I say but hate the other 60%, or be ambivalent towards half of it. I personally love this nuance but it seems to be floundering in a world of social network echo chambers and personal branding. I want to position myself as a bit of everything, and have people feel free to like or not like whatever they want, and not feel bad about that.

    Rant over, sorry… 😉

  2. No apologies needed for ranting! 😉 This feels like an ongoing debate in the author community, and obviously there must be something to the traditional model of writing different genres under different names. The thing is, though, I hear from authors who are “known for” particular types of books that selling is harder and harder to do. I feel like, if that’s the case, then why stress myself out trying to anticipate the Next Big Trend, when it may or may not be true to who I am? I know some authors can do this; it’s a job to them. But where it’s an outlet for me, I feel like, my fiction will be better for remaining true.

    I love that nuance, too — with the caveat that it’s something I’m still learning for myself, or rather, unlearning years of being a binary thinker (which I think was a necessary adaptation given my particular brain quirks; easier to organize binaries…). Recognizing that binaries don’t allow room for some marvelous complexities and a certain richness, which I think too many people are actually afraid to explore!

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