Who is your audience? It’s a simple enough question. And your answer may appear simple as well: “my readers.” But that’s not specific enough. You’re not writing for “everyone;” you’re writing for the people who are seeking the information you have to share. Thus, regardless of genre, you need to concentrate on your target audience.
Yes, even memoir or autobiography writers need to visualize their ideal reader throughout the process. You might be thinking, “It’s the story of my life! Why should I consider the reader?” Because although your story is about you and your experiences, it must relate in some manner to your audience. If they don’t connect with your content – emotionally or intellectually – then they will quickly lose interest and never finish the book, let alone recommend it to others.
To keep your audience engaged, consider the following three points:
#1 Your Ideal Reader Drives Content
If you’re writing to a limited audience – say, your family only – then you have greater latitude to share personal details than if you were writing a narrative essay for a national publication. For example, although you could freely share with both audiences the history behind a certain piece of valuable art that your great-grandparents once owned, it probably wouldn’t be wise to mention in the national publication that you inherited the artwork and currently have it displayed in your dining room. Yet that last piece of information might be critical to future generations of your family because without that story, your descendants might toss that piece of artwork in the trash without realizing its monetary and sentimental significance.
Additionally, the type of stories and the characters you incorporate into your autobiography will differ according to your specific audience. If your intended audience is comprised of historians and curators, then you will place greater emphasis on how your personal experiences were affected by significant historical events. However, if your target readers are your family members, then you will undoubtedly concentrate more on how your personal experiences were shared with or affected by certain family members.
#2 Your Ideal Reader Appreciates Style
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, then you know that I’m a proponent of writing as you speak. If you speak in contractions, use them in your writing. If you have favorite verbal expressions (e.g., “For Pete’s sake!” or “Unbelievable!”), incorporate them into your manuscript as well. Your readers will immediately identify these features as your true personality.
With that being said, it’s also important to consider the writing style that will resonate most with your audience. Will they expect short, quickly read chapters or will they prefer a more traditional narrative? Will they appreciate footnotes containing additional research and information or will they consider that over the top and too scholarly? Is your target audience primarily comprised of Millennials (perhaps your grandchildren or great-grandchildren) or Baby Boomers (your children)?
These are a few of the stylistic techniques you should consider as you write your life story.
#3 Your Ideal Reader Determines Publishing Options
One of my favorite authors is Jerry Jenkins, perhaps best known for co-authoring the best-selling Left Behind series. I value his writing advice but believe that his recommendation “don’t pay to be printed when you could get paid to be published” is only true when your intended audience is broad and you want to become a recognized author. If that’s the case, then yes, you should retain a literary agent and pitch your autobiography to traditional publishers.
But if you’re like the majority of my clients – individuals who want to leave a more private legacy of distinction – then self-publishing with a vanity press is the best option. Being able to print a limited quantity of high-quality books to provide to family members and select friends is well worth the investment to these individuals. Note that it doesn’t exclude them from ever placing their book for sale on places like Amazon.com; far from it; that can be arranged at any time. But their main focus is simply to write their life story for a limited and more intimate readership.
As you can see, knowing and understanding your target audience is important no matter what type of book you’re writing, including your life story. Taking the time to identify your audience at the outset will help you write a book that is both personally edifying and appreciated by others.
I’d love to hear from you! What are you writing and who is your audience?