Imagine for a moment that you’ve written a military science fiction adventure book. You have a chance to tell one of three people about it:
- A busy, female, mid-30s executive with a six-figure income
- A male eco-activist in his 20s who works part-time at Hot Topic
- A 30-year-old male web designer who is also president of a Dungeons & Dragon meetup group
Although you can’t judge a book by its cover, the smart money would bet on Choice #3 as the person most likely to be excited about military science fiction. In a nutshell, that’s what a reader persona is. It’s a general description of the sorts of facts you know about your most avid reader pools, to help you target your promotional efforts as effectively as possible.
Going back to the example above, are you 100% certain that every 30-something geeky male will want to buy your military sci fi book? No! Is there a 0% chance that the exec or activist will want a copy? No! Outliers exist everywhere.
But if you build a careful profile of the core readers for your book, you’ll start to aim your promotions at the people most likely to want to buy that book. Here’s how.
The Shortcut That Also Explains Everything
Facebook groups help illustrate the value of customer personas while also showing us a way to apply the concept quickly and easily.
With over 1 billion members using it, Facebook is a clear source of potential readers. However, with over 1 billion members using it, if you just shouted about your book in the general public you would have no way of targeting just the members who might be interested in what you write.
Imagine you wrote a book about Bigfoot. If you posted about it on your wall, the people who already know you would find out about the book. Chances are, most of them already knew about it anyway. This does you little good.
But what if you joined a half-dozen Facebook groups about Bigfoot and other cryptids? That would put you in touch with strangers who are passionate enough about Bigfoot to join a group about it. You would get dedicated interest there, and maybe branch out to some related groups like X-Files fans, conspiracy theorists, and lovers of Pacific Northwest folklore.
See how that works? By joining and becoming active in the right Facebook group, you get in touch with people more likely than a random contact to be into what you write about.
When we build a reader persona, we do that. And we add additional traits until to get an even fuller picture of who our core readers are.
Components of a Reader Persona
You can go deep — really deep — on reader personas, but for now we’ll focus on the three broadest categories of reader traits. Each of these helps you to narrow your focus for who you tell about your books to bring the largest possible number of potential readers into your sphere.
Demographics are the things you might see on a census form. Most of the time these don’t determine what somebody’s interested in, but there are strong correlations between certain interests and specific demographics. Some of the most important include:
- Marital Status
- Number of Children
- Education Level
Find these by looking at the Facebook profiles of the people who engage with your material, or who are fans of work very similar to your own. Don’t gather every single detail of every individual, but look for the big patterns. If, for example, you find 55% of readers of a comparable book are male and 45% are female, that doesn’t tell you much and you can safely ignore gender. But if the split is 80/20, that’s useful information.
Psychographics are the mental characteristics of a given reader. These do have a causal relationship with what people read. If they’re into model trains, they’ll read about model trains because they’re into model trains. If they hate zombie fiction, they won’t read your zombie novel because they hate zombie fiction. Look into some of the following:
- What books, movies, bands, and stores do they like enough to post about?
- What kinds of questions do they ask about your writing area?
- Do they interact with your topic as a hobby, or a job?
- Are the interested for themselves, or on behalf of somebody else?
- How much do they know about your topic?
- What core values lead them to be passionate about your writing area?
Find psychographics by observing and having conversations. Observe conversations in Facebook groups, on Reddit, and in forums dedicated to your topic. See what people are talking about, recommending, sharing, getting angry over, and otherwise care enough about to speak of online. Have conversations privately, via DM or at conventions and meetups, and straight-up interview people you know love your genre and topic to find out what makes them tick.
This final category is less about what your readers do, and more about how you can best serve them. It tells you how they prefer to interact with the topics they love. For example:
- What format do they prefer (ebook, print book, video, text, audio, podcast)?
- How often do they purchase and consume new material (daily, weekly, twice a year)?
- What length do they like best (short story vs. novel, 5 min video vs. 1 hour)?
- What price points do they prefer for different kinds of media?
Find behavior metrics by looking at those social media and forum posts again, finding out what they say they’re happy to have bought and used. Look at reviews left on comparable books as well, since they will outright tell you what they love and dislike about any given work.
Putting a Reader Persona to Work
Once you’ve created between two and five reader personas, each detailing the largest groups that define your typical reader, the next question is what to do with all of that information.
In writing, focus on the psychometrics and behavior metrics from your research. These will tell you what questions a nonfiction book should answer, how long your next novel should be, and the themes your audience cares about most. You should always write your story in the way you are most passionate about, but use this information to fill in the details.
In marketing, use all three categories. Most of the marketing platforms we’ll use allow you to target your ads according to deep wells of demographic, psychographic, and behavior metrics. Set up an ad series for each of your reader personas, and watch the metrics to see which performs best.
In networking, use your findings to inform you about what online groups and forums, and what real life events, conventions, trade shows, and meetups to attend. Get yourself into the rooms where your reader persona matches congregate, and find out how to best get their attention.
Still not sure? We have a full training on building a reader persona right here.