When you’re writing a book for your business, clarifying whom you’re writing for lets you make good decisions. It helps you decide on your subject and what topics to cover. It also guides the language you use and even the book cover and internal layout design choices you make (or rather your designer makes). This can make all the difference in publishing a quality book that gets results for you and your business.
That’s why it’s critical to develop what I call an Ideal Reader Profile (IRP). Your IRP brings to vivid life who it is you’re writing for so you can then write a book that speaks directly to them.
The goal of an IRP is to get specific, describing a semi-fictional person who represents the type of reader you’re writing for. It allows you to go from a general understanding of a large group of people to a detailed vision of a real, flesh-and-blood individual that you write specifically to. It’s the difference between a vaguely worded “Dear Sir or Madam” letter and a personal and heartfelt letter to a dear friend. Your reader will sense this difference, making your book’s message feel much more relevant to them and far more applicable to their individual situation.
An easy and effective way to build your IRP is to get a picture in your mind of someone who is in desperate need of the answers your book will offer. This may be an actual client you’ve worked with, a prospective client you know you could serve incredibly well, or perhaps a composite of several people. With this individual in mind, you can then answer a series of descriptive questions about them.
Here are some examples of the types of questions you might ask.
- Are they a man or a woman?
- How old are they (get specific!)?
- Did they finish high school? Go to college? Grad school?
2. Family situation
- What’s their relationship status? Are they married? Single? Divorced? Remarried? Widowed?
- Do they have children? How many? Boys? Girls? How old are the kids and who takes care of them during the day?
- Do they have a pet? Pets? What kind? What’s its name?
- Where, specifically, do they live? In a city? In the suburbs? The countryside?
3. What they do in their downtime
- What do they do on Saturday mornings? Do they sleep in? Catch up on work? Run errands? Play with their kids? Meet friends for brunch?
- Where do they get their news from?
- Do they watch HBO? Or MTV? Both? Do they sanctimoniously despise TV?
- What magazines or blogs do they read? Do they listen to podcasts? Which ones?
4. What they do professionally
- What’s their occupation? Are they an employee? An entrepreneur? A freelancer? A homemaker? A student? A retiree?
- What’s their annual income? Do they have multiple income sources? Do they just “get by” or are they rolling in extra cash?
- If they work, where? Do they commute? How? Or do they work from home?
- What’s their job title?
- How much work experience do they have?
- Do they have an assistant?
- Are they a “top performer”? Or have they struggled to advance in their career? Do they even care?
5. Their personality
- Are they an introvert? An extrovert? An ambivert?
- Are they a generally calm person? Or do they tend to be more anxious and fearful?
- Are they technologically savvy? Or does technology intimidate them?
- Are they a people pleaser?
- Are they task-oriented?
6. The goals they have
- What are their two to three most important personal goals?
- What are their two to three most important professional goals?
- Are they making progress toward these?
7. The challenges they struggle with
- What are their two to three biggest challenges, personally?
- What are their two to three biggest challenges, professionally?
8. Their relationship to your area of expertise
- How familiar are they with your area of expertise? Clueless? Novice? Intermediate? Expert?
- What are their most significant needs related to your area of expertise?
- How aware are they of these needs?
- How intense and how urgent are these needs?
You don’t need to limit yourself to just these questions, and you certainly shouldn’t feel you have to cover each one if some aren’t relevant to understanding your ideal reader.
Once you’ve answered these sorts of questions, give your ideal reader a name. Then, search your favourite royalty-free image site for a clear, close-up photo of someone you think looks like this person. Print out your IRP, and keep it visible when you write. Re-read it each time you sit down to work on any aspect of your book to re-familiarize yourself with whom you’re writing for. This keeps your ideal reader fresh in your mind and keeps your writing aligned and consistent.
You’ll find more detail about the IRP and how to use it effectively in your writing in Entrepreneur to Author: 5 STEPS to Writing and Publishing a Nonfiction Book That Builds Authority and Grows Your Business, which includes access to downloadable worksheets and other valuable resources (including an IRP template!) to help you plan, write, and publish a book that gets results.
SCOTT A. MACMILLAN is an entrepreneur, speaker, and the author of the international best-selling book Entrepreneur to Author. He’s also President & Executive Publisher at Grammar Factory Publishing, a Toronto-based professional service publisher that has helped more than 200 entrepreneurs write and publish books that build authority and grow their businesses.