Ideal Readers

Woman read book seat on the plaid near windowWhen I ghostwrite a book, the first question I ask is nearly always, “Who is your ideal reader? Who do you want to read this book?”

This is often a hard question for my clients to answer, especially if he or she is a newbie author. They have not thought about it. Most of them will say something like, “My book will appeal to just about everyone,” and they act puzzled that I am even asking this stupid question.

So I explain to my client that no, not everyone will want to read their book, and that an exercise in defining their ideal readers is well worth their time. It is true that no one can definitively know who will be reading any book, but an author can know two things: they can know who is most likely to read a book like theirs, and they can know who they want to read the book. Will the readers be mostly men, or women? Are they over sixty or under thirty? Are they Americans only? Are they sports fanatics or fans of reality TV?  Knowing who the target readers are is important to me as the ghostwriter because this will clue me as to how to tailor the writing to appeal to particular types of people, by varying my use of metaphors, slang, industry jargon, and so on. Writing for grandmothers is different than writing for teenagers. Writing for financially savvy people is different than writing for people who can’t figure out how to read their bank statement.

Writing is an exercise in communication with the reader. Effective communication is always two-way.

Haiku Friday: Spiders

Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of Spiders:

some people are scared

of spiders, but I like them

hairy legs and all

It’s Haiku Friday again.  For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose.  I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog.  Just write it in the Comments below.  The only rules are:  1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those).  That’s it.

Haiku Friday: Infinity

Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of Infinity:

disappear into

that infinity of light

maybe then you’ll know

It’s Haiku Friday again.  For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose.  I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog.  Just write it in the Comments below.  The only rules are:  1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those).  That’s it.

 

Compost: How Much Art is Enough?

Some writers, musicians, and artists are incredibly prolific during their lifetime. But what about the one-time wonders or those who die young? Margaret Mitchell wrote only one book, but that book was Gone With the Wind, and people are still reading it, 80 years later. Maybe they’ll be reading it 800 years later, who knows. Still … Mitchell died in her late forties, but surely she had enough time to crank out a sequel, right? Why didn’t she?

What if all you do is just one incredibly beautiful thing during your lifetime – does that mean you have lived a successful life? I think it does. If Janis Joplin had only sung one song and that song was Summertime, wouldn’t that justify her short existence? I think it does – art is like that. Sometimes just one thing is enough. Maybe that’s one reason Joplin checked out so early – how could she top Summertime?

These are the things I remind myself of when my internal critics try to tell me that I need to write more, and more, and more, because whatever I have done so far is not enough. I do not have to be a Shakespeare or a Danielle Steele.

Haiku Friday: The Worst

Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of The Worst:

gotta is no good

shoulda is no better, but

coulda is the worst

It’s Haiku Friday again.  For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose.  I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog.  Just write it in the Comments below.  The only rules are:  1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those).  That’s it.

Haiku Friday: Grief

Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of Grief:

if only we could

like a dog, release our grief

in one long wild howl

It’s Haiku Friday again.  For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose.  I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog.  Just write it in the Comments below.  The only rules are:  1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those).  That’s it.

 

Sharing History: Crime & Disaster in the 1990s

Here’s more of my WIP on the updated version of my book Making History: how to remember, record, interpret and share the events of your life, to now include the 1990s. Making History is divided into 8 sections, section 5 of which is Crime and Disaster. Here’s a brief sneak preview of this section.

Even if you were not affected by a disaster such as an earthquake, hurricane, airplane crash or car accident, your sense of safety in the world is affected by these happenings. If you have had experience of a disaster, no matter how minor, you will have learned about human nature, and how the bad stuff brings out the best and the worst in people. Crime also affects our sense of safety in the world, even if you don’t work in a justice-related industry, or are not a criminal yourself, or even if you never served on a jury.

A lot of bad stuff happened during the 1990s. Just a few of the happenings include: O.J. Simpson went on trial for the murder of his wife and was acquitted; Matthew Shepard was murdered in Wyoming because he was gay; Jack Kevorkian was charged with homicide because he helped terminally ill patients commit suicide; the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado stunned the nation; child beauty pageant contestant Jonbenet Ramsey was murdered; Lorena Babbitt cut off her husband’s penis; Timothy McVeigh bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing and injuring hundreds of people, including children attending day care; the acquittal of police officers accused of beating Rodney King sparked riots in Los Angeles; and too many more to list.  Famous disasters of the 1990s included the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles and Hurricane Andrew in Florida, along with many more.

Questions to write about: Did you have an opinion on the guilt or innocence of OJ Simpson? Did you think Lorena Bobbitt was justified? Were you a victim of any violent crime?  If you lived in LA, do you remember the riots? Do you remember Rodney King saying “can’t we all just get along?” Did you know anyone who was the victim of a senseless or random crime? If you were a parent in the 90s, did the Columbine massacre make you afraid to send your child to school? If you were a teacher did your fear of students increase? Or if you were a student yourself, how did Columbine affect your sense of safety at school? Did you experience a natural disaster or accident during this decade, and do you have a story about courage, compassion, corruption or cowardice from this experience?

If you have a story (or stories) about significant crimes or disasters of the 1990s, please share them, and if you share them on this blog, tell me if I can use them in my upcoming edition of Making History. (I will credit you, of course.)

 

Tip: How to Write an Opening

Openings are important. They invite the reader to come into the place you have prepared for them. Your opening must convince them that this place is somewhere they want to visit. Here are two rules I have for writing openings, that I (almost) always try to live up to.

 

The first rule is to provide sensory details in the first paragraph, so the reader feels as though they are “there.”  What does the character or setting look like? Colors, shapes, designs? What sounds are there? Loud voices, whistles, screams, bells? What smells? Strong like gasoline? Sweet like lilacs? Wet wool drying on a radiator? What tactile sensations?  Soft wind on your skin? The rough scrape of a poorly shaved chin?

 

The second rule is that the first scene should either encapsulate or foreshadow the theme of the entire chapter or book.

 

Here’s an example from a book I ghostwrote a few years ago. It is a memoir for an 80+ year old man, and is his musings on the “big” questions of life – like how did the world get so screwed up and what can we do about it. He was kind of a curmudgeonly fellow. The first chapter in the book is his take on the meaning of life.

 

How do you provide sensory details on such a big, vague subject? The first scene is he and his cousin, also in his eighties, standing together at their grandfather’s grave. They are arguing over their different versions of where Grandpa is now. The cemetery overlooks San Francisco Bay, and the crisp wind blowing off the Bay ruffles their gray hair up so high they look like fighting cocks.

Writing Tip: Know Your Reader

When I start ghostwriting, the first question I ask my client the author is always, “Who is your ideal reader? Who do you want to read this book?”

This is often a hard question for them to answer, especially if the client is a newbie author. They rarely think about it. Most of them will say something like, “My book will appeal to just about everyone,” and they will act puzzled that you are even asking this stupid question.

This is usually my first educating job. I explain to my client that no, not everyone will want to read their book, and that an exercise in defining their ideal readers is well worth their time.

It is true that no one can definitively know exactly who will be reading any book, but an author can know two things: 1) they can know who is most likely to read a book like theirs, and 2) they can know who they want to read the book.

Knowing who the target readers are is important to me as the ghostwriter because this will clue me as to how to tailor the writing to appeal to particular types of people, by varying my use of metaphors, slang, industry jargon, and so on. Writing for grandmothers is different than writing for teenagers. Writing for financially savvy people is different than writing for people who can’t figure out how to read their bank statement.

Knowing who the target readers are also helps me with research on aspects of the topic. For instance, when ghostwriting a gardening book, I joined a gardening group on Facebook and asked members of the group what they thought about a particular kind of composting. The answers I received gave me insights into what people who’d be interested in a book on gardening were thinking about.

You have to go after the readers if you want them to come after you.

Writing Tip: Make Your Readers Real

I recommend that you make your ideal readers as real to you as possible. You might want to browse through magazines and cut out pictures which represent who you are writing for, and put those pictures right by your computer, where you’ll see them. Or you can write about your readers – just a paragraph or two about who they are, what they care about, and what you want them to “get” from your writing, and why they would want to “get” it. Anything that helps you visualize these people will help you write for them.

I sometimes have dialogues (imaginary) with my hoped-for readers. I talk to them as if they are sitting right in front of me. Even if my book is written in the narrative style, I’ll pretend that it isn’t, and address my reader as “you.” This makes them real to me.

Sometimes I even give them names, but don’t tell anybody.

I sometimes share writing tips that have worked for me or my clients/students. Do you have a writing tip you’d like to share? If so, leave a comment here. You might win something! At the end of each month I’ll gather up the “Writing Tip” comments from the month and pick one at random from a drawing, and send the winner of the drawing one of my e-books: your choice of “How to WOW Your Readers” or “You Can Be An Author, Even If You’re Not a Writer.”

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