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Be Narrow-Minded: 11 Questions to Turn a Target Market into a Reader Profile

This series has been expanded into a step-by-step eBook! Find out more about Building Your Fanbase: A From-Scratch Guide for Indie Authors.

Here’s the problem with target markets: They’re too big.

Hold on — keep that straight jacket away from me! I’m totally not crazy, I’m trying to help you, so give me a chance.

I know all of you have taken each of the six steps to finding your target market, thereby narrowing your audience to a demographically specific group of individuals to whom you can market your book.  Right?

I’m going to assume you’re all nodding your heads and if you’re not, you’ll go check out that post and come back to this one later. I’ll wait…

Well, I’m here to tell you that those first six steps were just the start of your journey to becoming an indie pub marketing genius. You drilled down to the target, now we’ve got to get you to the center of the bullseye.

The next part of your trek begins today with 11 questions to defining your reader profile.

What the heck is a reader profile?

Your target market is a good place to start when figuring out who your readers are, but the large sample size tends to be impersonal, consequently making it difficult for you to connect with your readers one-on-one.

That’s where a reader profile comes in.

Imagine how much easier it would be to cater your writing style and marketing strategy to one person instead of a faceless group of statistics.

For example, this is what you might have come up with through your six steps to a target market:

– American, urban, ages 25-35, female, college educated, middle class

From that information, you could create the following reader profile:

– American, apartment in Queens, age 27, female, bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College, makes $35,000 a year as a production assistant at NBC.

Give her a name, some hobbies, a few goals and suddenly your amorphous blob of 25 – 35 year olds in New York City has become a (sort of) real person. With that one person in mind, it becomes much easier to understand what kind of books she reads, where she finds her books, and how you can fulfill her reading needs.

Pretty cool, right?

Let’s dive in — don’t worry, I’ll go first!

Now that we know how much easier our marketing lives will be with a reader profile, let’s get to work! We have 11 questions that will help you narrow the target market data you created in our six step plan into an actual reader profile. I’m such a believer in this exercise that I’m going to go through it with you and provide my own answers so you can have a specific illustration of what we’re looking to create.

This my data from the target market exercise, which you should already have before you jump into the questions below:

Shannon’s target market: American, urban, 25 – 35, female, college educated, middle class

1. How old is your reader?

Forget that age bracket, pick a specific age for your target reader. This is especially critical for YA writers as a 13 year-old and a 16 year-old have a world of difference in their likes, dislikes, experiences and goals.

Shannon’s answer: 26 years old.

2. Where is your reader from and where does he/she live now?

If you answer this with a city, county or other generic geographical location you are missing the point. This is all about the details. You need to know your sample reader as well as you know your novel’s protagonist. It’s up to you exactly how detailed you get, but a happy medium is usually best.

Shannon’s answer: She is originally from the suburbs of Nashville, but post-grad she’s been living in a small apartment in Baltimore, Maryland. 

3. Is he/she married or single? Have children?

Your reader’s immediate family dictates much of his/her lifestyle. You might be reaching out to a teenager at home with a house full of siblings, an adult with a small child or a single person looking for love.

Shannon’s answer: She is single and ready to mingle (with the right guy, of course).

4. What’s his/her educational background?

This is about more than just a high school or college diploma — we want to know what school your reader went to, what he or she majored in and what extra curricular activities he/she participated in.

Shannon’s answer: She went to Virginia Tech and majored in history. Her grades were good and she was a student-worker in the library her junior and senior years.

5. Is he/she employed? If yes, where and doing what?

Don’t say “public relations” and call it a day. Put some meat on the bones! Where does your sample reader worker and what is his/her job title? Is it an enjoyable job? What’s the salary?

Shannon’s answer: She is a freelance editor and substitute teacher. She finds her work rewarding on regrettably rare occasions and longs for something more permanent and structured. Between the two jobs she barely clears $28,000 a year.

6. What are his/her immediate goals?

For our purposes, let’s define immediate as within the next six months. What does your sample reader want to achieve in that time span?

Shannon’s answer: She wants to get a full-time job with benefits and meet some new people in her area.

7. What are his/her long term goals?

This is your sample reader’s five-year plan. It could be graduation, degree, first job; or maybe house, car, family; or middle management, debt free, European vacation.

Shannon’s answer: She would like to be married in the next five years, owning a condo or home with her spouse, out of credit card debt and possibly on the verge of starting a family.

8. What obstacles stand in the way of his/her goals?

As we are all well aware, life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. So what mountains, hurdles and pitfalls are obstructing your sample reader from achieving his/her short and long term goals?

Shannon’s answer: She’s being held back from her job desires by a tough economy (which is also contributing to that growing credit card debt). As for love, her shyness has held her back from meeting potential boyfriends. She’s also seen a lot of friends get their hearts broken, resulting in her hesitation to jump into the game.

9. What books are in his/her personal library?

Try to think of a handful of authors your sample reader might like. They don’t all have to be similar to your writing style, some people have varied taste in genres.

Shannon’s answer: Gone With the Wind, Crazy in Alabama, Prince of Tides, the Harry Potter series and a handful of Carl Hiaasen titles.

10. Where and when does he/she read most often?

Think about whether or not your sample reader is often reading on the go, at lunch, or at night before bed. Also consider, does he/she prefer a paperback or a Kindle?

Shannon’s answer: She usually reads on the bus (to avoid talking to people) and she uses a Kindle, but only because it’s so convenient. She wishes she had more time to read.

11. What’s his/her name?

This is the last step to giving your reader a personal touch, so you can envision exactly who it is that you are writing for and marketing to.

Shannon’s answer: Annie

So…who’s your sample reader? We want to know!

We’re really nosy, so naturally we want to know — who is your sample reader??? After you’ve gone through the exercise, share your results in the comments!

Do you have questions? Whether you’re unsure about the reader profile or still going over the tips for developing your reader centered book marketing, or just looking for general guidance, you can always reach out to us. Drop us an email and we’ll help point you in the right direction. That’s what we’re here for!

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  • Hmm…I should try this out.

    1. 15 years old.
    2. She’s a city kid, but in the suburbs.
    3. She’s too young for children or marriage.
    4. Currently a sophomore in high school.
    5. She wants a job (if only for more money for books), but she’s too young.
    6. To aim for that 4.0 GPA!
    7. Figure out whether she wants to be an artist or a businesswoman and get out of that icky debt her parents are yet to get fully out of once she’s out of a great college.
    8. Her age is hindering, and so are her parents. She wants to know more about the world and she’s working to overcome that.
    9. The usual (Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, a few wrinkled Newbery books from elementary) along with some more obscure reads (something by Neil Shusterman, maybe a couple of classics.) Oh, and two ARCs that she had won from contests.
    10. She often carries around a hardcover when going to and from school. She often sneaks a few pages during class. But she also has a Kindle that she got for Christmas that is as varied as a pirated music library, but she still falls back to good old paper out of habit and the fact that she got $100 worth of Barnes and Nobles giftcards for her birthday.
    11. Amy!

    Okay…not the best…(and I think I created an idealized gender-flip of myself)…but it’s a fun exercise!

    • Love it! My reader profile definitely had some traits in common with me as well, but thats okay! We are readers too so we are part of a target market as well. Glad you enjoyed the exercise! Now you’ll be ready for next week when we tell you where to find your sample readers!

  • Great timing, I’m actually creating customer and reader profiles at the moment. Given me some food for thought :)

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

  • I did this just last week! I was SHOCKED at my “one” target reader, but now she’s in my head whenever I’m writing. Her name is Marianne & she’s my new bff. Go get me that straight jacket! :) 

    • Haha, I know what you mean! My reader is definitely a part of my thought process now when writing or making marketing plans. They do say that writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia…good to know! Glad you enjoyed the exercise :-)

  • Okay, here goes, Shannon! Mid-forties, but claims to still be 39 (always), married with children, Southern or enjoys the South, well-educated (BA/MA), employed at a job that involves creativity like art/design/blogging/sales, goals include (short-term) paying the bills and (long-term) taking a big vacation every year (Disney/beach) and being comfortable financially/making sure kids are okay & loved, obstacles – no time for herself & being in the middle place – aging parents, young children, marriage challenges, a house in need of repair, car that breaks down, she reads on a Kindle or Nook often at night after work, she has Sophie Kinsella/Emily Giffin/Jennifer Weiner in her library, and her name is Jen or Lisa. xx, Lauren (Great post, y’all!!)

    • Love it! Isn’t it much more fun to imagine your sample reader experiencing your book, blog and other marketing pieces? Plus you can find other authors with similar sample readers and make marketing connections to build each other up within your genre. Thanks for doing the exercise Lauren! :-) PS – I’m almost done with DNID, will be posting my Good Reads review shortly! Love it!

  • T

    I imagine a reader with multiple personalities and I am okay with that. I think the only thing I can agree upon is that it would be a woman. Except I have guy followers on my blog. My appeal is bigger than I would have imagined. I am an enigma so I imagine others to be as well. The idea of being defined by my stats is unfathomable to me. Why then would I try and put other people in a box. This is why I write non fiction.

  • We actually did this at my office (newsroom) for our readers – it’s fun to turn it around and do the same thing for the books. (I actually think the newspaper reader is pretty close to my reader, which is probably a reflection of my community shaping my writing.)

    • Thanks for sharing, Jennie. It’s great to hear that your reader was so close to your personal experience :-)

  • Emily Rachelle

    I just found DuoLit today, and I love this site! I always hated the idea of target audiences and sample readers, but now that I’ve made my very first sample reader I can’t believe how much fun this is! And it’s a lot easier than getting to know your novel’s characters.

    My Sample Reader: Bailey is a fifteen-year-old sophomore at Hi-Nella High School in Hi-Nella, New Jersey. She lives with her parents and ten-year-old brother in their rented home. Her classes are mostly higher-level and very demanding, but she makes time for prom committee and volleyball, as well as babysitting three older kids every Friday night.
    Within the next six months her goals include planning a prom Hi-Nella will never forget, keeping up with all her classwork, and improving her overhand volleyball score. Long-term, she wants to go to Gordon College in Massachusetts and major in elementary education while playing volleyball. These goals are a bit more difficult due to another prom committe member who hates Bailey’s guts and the lack of classes at Hi-Nella that are recommended for admission to very selective Gordon.
    With school, prom, babysitting, church, and volleyball, Bailey has very little reading time, but when she can she lies in bed for a few minutes or on her babysitting clients’ couch while the kids sleep and reads Tricia Goyer novels or Elizabeth George Bible studies.

    • Aww, thank you Emily! I hope this helped you focus your marketing efforts (and, yes, it’s WAY more fun, isn’t it?)

  • I’m struggling with this a little – because I’ve posted a lot of work online and have some long-term readers who I’ve gotten to know quite well, my mind keeps trying to combine them into one person…. end result being:

    20-35, female or male, English/American/Australian with college-level education, middle class, most likely in a relationship, and a little geeky. I haven’t quite figured out how to mash their names together 😛

  • writer2050

    My reader is Australian, urban, 15 years old, at college, middle class. She lives in a brick house (bungalow) in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. She is single and lives at home with two sisters, a brother, a mother and step-father. She’s in 8th Grade (year 10) at a Catholic college and is studying humanities subjects – English, French, history, arithmetic, geology. For sports she likes to hit a tennis ball against a brick wall (along with lots of other girls at her single sex school). She likes swimming at the nearby beach and wants to save up to buy a paddle board. She did try out for the softball team but a nun pulled her away to go to a Young Christian Students meeting. She has a part-time job near the school and earns $4 an hour, 8 days a week. Her immediate goal is to meet other babydykes. Her long term goals are to graduate from school, go to uni, become a counsellor or a psychologist, have a girlfriend, live near the city. Her obstacles are not getting good marks, being rejected when she’s ‘outed’, not finding other lesbians.. Books in her library: mainly school textbooks, and Harry Potter. She reads most often in bed as she falls asleep at her diesk. Her name is Kate.

  • Andrea Cefalo

    I’m really confused by this. Could you help me out? My book is published and I’ve found through my experience that my readers are between thirteen and fifty. They tend to be in school or be out and have an education from high school to a master’s degree. Most of my readers are American. Some of my readers are employed, some are in school, some are not either. Help!

    • Hi Andrea! Sure thing — this should really help you out, because it takes away all of those variables and focuses on just one person. Picture one person in your mind who is reading your book and LOVING every word — what does that person look like? Where are they reading your book? How did they find it? Use that mental image to answer the questions. This doesn’t preclude others who don’t fit the profile, but gives your efforts much more focus, personality and effectiveness!

  • Thanks for the list – I am definitely going to try this myself! I think one piece of advice to authors who are a little afraid of the specifics might be to try to *imagine* this person before trying to answer the questions (because what do I know if she’s 25 or 26?):

    Imagine yourself in a crowd – in a park, coffee, shop, train, wherever – with a copy of your book in your hand (even if you’re not published). Which person do you give your book to? An elderly man? A woman in a suit? A kid and his mom? Figure that out and use that person to answer the questions above! If you’re stumped trying to populate a whole crowd in your head, try going to a busy place and having a look around :)

    Reader profile:
    1. She’s 13.
    2. She still lives at home, in the suburbs, with her parents.
    3. She’s single, probably hasn’t dated a lot and likely only has a handful of good friends.
    4. She’s in junior high; she probably gets decent grades.
    5. She’s probably not employed, or if she is, it’s part-time at something simple – maybe at a coffee shop or grocery store or a business her parents operate.
    6. Her immediate goals are to finish her homework so she has time to do the things she loves; hanging out with her friends or online, playing video games, reading.
    7. Her long term goal is a successful career and meaningful relationships, perhaps far away from home doing something exciting.
    8. Obstacles to those goals are her youth/time (she needs to finish school, etc); she is perhaps not very “popular” in the traditional sense, so she might worry it’ll be hard to make good friends later.
    9. Her favourite books are Tolkien and other high fantasy, Harry Potter, Dragonlance/Forgotten Realms books, along with some sci-fi and children’s favourites/comic books.
    10. She probably reads in her room and on transit, or draped over the couch/other
    furniture, inside or out.
    11. Her name is Anne, and it suits her but she wishes it were something cooler.

    And I have come to the conclusion that my target audience is my 13-year-old self :O

    • Yes! The ‘imagine’ thing can work much better — just like you’re imagining a character for your novel. Thank you for sharing your profile, Madison!

  • Megan

    Born: in Indianapolis, In but lives in Brownsburg, Indiana.
    Personal Life: She has 2 sibling, an older brother and younger sister. She is single because she is shy and keeps to herself but she does like a boy in the school band.
    School: She is in 8th grade, has good grades and spends her time on the school newspaper and yearbook.
    Immediate Goals(in the next 6 months): Graduate middle school with a high enough GPA that she is in the Honors Society. Possibly gets a part time job babysitting.
    Obstacles that stand in her way: She might not do so well on her final exams and be able to get into the Honors Society. Her parents might not allow her to get a job. She might not find any babysitting jobs.
    Books in her personal library: Twilight, Harry Potter, Gemma Doyle Trilogy
    Where/when does she read most: Since her schedule is so busy during the day she likes to read at night before bed in her bedroom. Which is one of the few places she can get some peace. She loves reading paperbacks because she loves the smell/feel of a real book(does not like Kindle).
    Her name: Kaitlynn