Writing Lesson: Even Successful Books Are Not For Everyone


“It’s a big red flag in your proposal if you say that your book is for ‘everyone’ or a ‘general readership.’ Successful books and media, even those with broad appeal, are geared toward some primary audience.” —Jane Friedman

One of the first questions I ask an author is, “Who is your customer (or reader) and why do they want to buy your book?” Many times the prospective author has no clue. They haven’t identified a basic requirement of any book proposal or the finished book. In other words, they haven’t taken the time to think through, “Who specifically is going to read this?”

What writers need to ask before they start their book, article, blog, or other writing endeavor is “Who is my reader?” and “What will my writing help the reader accomplish?” Both questions will help you to determine your primary audience.


Let me share my personal experience, and hopefully, it will serve as a model for you to answer this question.

Before I put one word into my first draft, I begin to envision my reader. Yes, I’ve probably started some research for the project. Maybe I’ve started reading about my subject, and I’ve created an outline in my head or my working file for the project. However, before I begin writing, I want to know the person to whom I’m writing.

Writing, whatever form it takes, is a unique and special letter to someone. When I sit down to write, I want a clear vision of the person to whom I’m sending my “letter.”

Once this person begins to take shape in my mind, I go into some detail about that person. In my career as a leader, I’ve successfully used several temperament profile instruments. My personal favorite is the Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator (MBTI). MBTI is an adaptation of the theory of psychological types by Carl Jung. Developed by the mother-daughter partnership of Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, it’s based on sixteen personality types and the theory that people prefer one style or type over another. Knowing this information, I can construct my future reader. Why is this important? Because tailoring the book to my primary reader’s personality preference will help them better absorb what I’m writing. What about other readers with different temperaments or reading and learning styles? I don’t ignore them. I add elements to make the writing project accessible to most everyone, but I also make sure my primary reader is my writing target.

Another exceptional resource for helping you understand your reader is Personality Plus by Florence Littauer. This bestseller gives you four personality types and enough information (and funny anecdotes) to help you construct and better understand your primary reader.

Google images is ideal to find a visual representation of your reader and once I see just the right picture of my primary reader, I post it on the bookshelf above my MacBook so I can quickly glance at it while I’m writing the project. Pinterest is also an exceptional tool to use. This little exercise gives me a feeling of connection and a visual image of my primary reader.

From the temperament/personality description and the image, I begin to create my primary reader’s demographic biography. These two steps help me understand who they are, what they may like to read, who they hang out with, what their favorite social media platform is, what groups in social media are important enough to join, and other details I will use later for the marketing plan development.


Most successful books help readers solve problems. These can be life problems, work issues, relationship matters; in some cases, you could be solving a problem simply by entertaining the reader. When buying your book, what does the reader seek to accomplish? What is their motivation? Is it entertainment? Is it learning a new skill? Is it life change? What is the circumstance your reader is experiencing? You can write the best book ever written—editorially pleasing, great story, spot-on research—but if you’re not looking through the lens of the readers’ circumstances, motivation, and goals, your book will not reach as many people.

A few years ago, I published a memoir by a political figure who was involved in a hot current event. The title of the book was nearly perfect and enticed the reader to expect insider information on the topic. The author, however, misunderstood his reader. Instead of delivering the inside story, he wrote a book that spoke briefly to the issue, then changed to a “how to live your life book” based on the topic. That’s not what the reader wanted. He chose to look through his lens instead of the lens of the anticipated reader. We sold pallets of books because of the title, his name, and the issue. We rushed the book to press, and retailers within ninety days returned most of them. This experience 1. Thinking Your Book Is for Everyone taught me a valuable publishing lesson. Looking through the lens of your reader and what they want to accomplish tells us why, for example, diet and exercise books are released (and promoted) in late December. Since Thanksgiving people have overindulged and are in a festive, holiday mood, when the New Year rings in, they think about what they need to do differently and resolve to lose the holiday weight gain.

In 2017, Statista asked, “What are your 2018 resolutions?” Fifty-three percent of respondents said, “Save money,” and 45 percent said, “Lose weight or get in shape.” Circumstances of potential readers led them to want health, exercise, and diet books in January. The readers have a goal and want to accomplish something in their lives, and the many books released in January meet their needs.

Who is your reader? Moreover, what is your book helping someone accomplish? Identifying and understanding your reader and what they want to achieve is a crucial step in creating books that readers want to purchase and recommend.

You can gain more valuable insights from me in my recently published Kindle book, 7 Mistakes Writers Make. Also, listen to my podcast, Off the Shelf, where I share how you can write and market remarkable books.

I want to hear from you. Please send me your questions, or suggestions for podcasts and blogs to info@waynehastings.com


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