Identifying Your Ideal Reader by Sarah Chauncey

Identifying Your Ideal Reader by Sarah Chauncey

Today we welcome a new guest writer to Writer’s Fun Zone, Sarah Chauncey, who is stopping by to chat with us about “Identifying Your Ideal Reader.”  Enjoy!

Editor’s note: While Sarah helps nonfiction writers, her suggestions on identifying your ideal reader apply equally well to fiction writers.


Good nonfiction communicates information. Great nonfiction invites the reader into an experience. That’s how you connect deeply with readers and, in the process, inspire them, and expand your reach. 

I call this resonant storytelling.

Resonant storytelling isn’t just about what you say. It’s about saying it in a way that connects deeply with your audience. It’s not just about telling your story; it’s about bringing your reader along the journey with you.

In order to do that, you have to know who your desired readers are—not just their demographics (age, gender, income), but also their internal landscape.

  • What are their hopes and dreams?
  • Where are they in the journey of their own lives?
  • What limiting beliefs are holding them back?

Answering these questions, along with the ones below, will help you create reader “avatars”—fleshed-out representations of your ideal reader.

Your audience isn’t (and shouldn’t be) “everyone” or even large groups like “women.”

Here’s one of the paradoxes of writing: The more specific you are, the more deeply your writing will resonate.

Conversely, the broader and more general your writing, the less resonant your writing will be.

The same goes for identifying your desired readers. If you try to please everybody…well, you know where that goes, right? It’s the same on the page as in life.

When and How to Use Reader Avatars

The ideal time to create avatars is before you begin outlining your book (nonfiction, by definition, is more plotted than pantsed). However, you don’t need to focus too heavily on them while you’re writing your first draft. Your first draft is just to get everything that’s in your head onto the page.

When you create these avatars, the profiles will nestle themselves in your subconscious. They’ll hang out and absorb what you’re writing as you create your outline and first draft. When you get to the editing stage, that’s where the avatars really come into play. They’ll help you make decisions around structure, language, metaphor, tone, and more.

If you’ve already begun writing or even finished a draft without creating avatars, it’s okay. They’ll still come in handy for editing and beyond.

Further down the line, avatars can help inform everything from titles to cover art to marketing.

To help you get started with developing reader avatars, here are some questions.

I recommend creating between three and five avatars, with as much diversity as possible among your broad target (for example, stay-at-home dads, or Millennial C-level executives, or aspiring clowns). That means answering these questions from the perspective of each avatar.

Although the questions below are specific to nonfiction, writers of all stripes can find some benefit in answering them.

  • In this person’s current life, what is their biggest personal challenge? (If you’re writing a business book, you can also add their biggest work-related challenge)
  • What propelled them onto the journey that led them to your work?
  • What do they want to know, experience, or accomplish?
  • What specific action do you hope they’ll take as a result of reading this particular book or article? (Examples: sign up for your program, begin meditating three times a week, committing to a sustainable supply chain, etc.)

Interviewing Your Reader Avatars

If you’re having difficulty finding answers to these questions, try this: Interview your reader.

In your mind: Close your eyes. Take four deep breaths, feeling the breath move in through your nostrils and all the way down to your abdomen, then feeling the exhale in reverse.

Invite one of your ideal readers to come talk to you, and picture them sitting in front of you. Ask him or her to introduce themselves. Then ask them what they want you to know about their needs.

On the page: You can also write these out as a dialogue. Take the same four deep breaths, then write the question and let the answers flow onto the page. Don’t force anything—just allow the answers to come.

There’s more to creating nonfiction that connects with your readers, since the above is an excerpt from my guide, Creating Resonant Nonfiction: Identifying Your Ideal Reader.

To download the full FREE workbook, visit:


EDITOR’S NOTE: If you’re a nonfiction writer, Sarah would appreciate your responses to a brief (five-question) survey about writing challenges. Click here to take the survey, and Sarah thanks you!



Over the past 25 years, Sarah Chauncey has written fiction and nonfiction for print, television, digital and business. She currently advises nonfiction authors who seek to make a difference in the world, by helping them expand their reach through resonant storytelling.


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