Why You Should Write for One Reader

You can’t please everyone. But maybe you can please one person. (And that’s enough.)

It’s tempting to daydream that your book will appeal to people of every demographic. It’s got a potential readership of 7.53 billion! Readers from infancy to decrepitude will fall in love with it.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages — everyone will love your story.

I often ask the question ‘who are you writing for?’ Sometimes, the answer is everyone. That is pretty much always . . . well, I don’t like to call people wrong, so let’s go with tough.

Writing for everyone is tough. It doesn’t really work.

One writer doesn’t want to exclude male readers from her women’s fiction book. Another knows that adults will enjoy his YA book and is writing for the cross-over market, but he’s also sure that smart ten-year-olds will like it, too. Many people are writing for all the readers who loved some massive bestseller.

Aspiring writers often think that they need to prove that there’s a vast audience for their work.

The truth is, if you nail down your book’s genre, finding an audience is marketing. Put it in the right place in the bookstore or on Amazon. Get a cover that telegraphs that genre. Get your keywords right.

When you’re writing your book, I think you need to narrow it way down. Way, way down.

To just one person.

It can be an actual person. Someone you know who reads in your genre, who’s opinion you care about. Someone whose approval will be enough.

It can be an imaginary One Reader. An ideal reader who embodies the characteristics of an average reader you hope to reach.

And ‘one’ is suggestive. It’s okay to have a couple of people you write for. Just, when you’re in the drafting phase especially, try not to write for all of humanity. You’ll only make yourself crazy.

I write middle grade fiction and often my One Reader is myself, aged ten. If my ten-year-old self would have fallen in love with my story, then I’m happy with what I’ve done.

I also send everything I read to my older daughter and to my brother. I know that’s not one reader, but it’s still a very narrow pool. I’m happy when they start reading and can’t stop. I know I need to go back to the drawing board if I have to poke them for feedback after a few weeks.

You can’t please everyone. Not even some of them time. But you might be able to please someone.

Here’s my secret weapon for sticking with whatever your thing is.

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.