Not too long ago, I posted a question in a Facebook Group I run: “Who is your reader base?” I got no responses. I think as writers we imagine that thousands of people will want to read our books. But, let me simplify.
Who is your ideal reader?
I have been thinking a lot about this question since I started publishing my work in 2018. Of course, I imagined kids from Jr High to 18, college students, and leveled-up readers like me. I read everything from children’s books and, on occasion, binge-read one author. My last binge was Josh Malerman.
However, the more I reflect on this question, I realize that I have been writing for myself, for that bored, lonely teenager wanting to escape reality. That was me growing up in the desert outside of Yuma, Arizona. I was a kid that was often bullied in Jr High and never quite fit in, and I LOVED books. Still do.
What can I say? All roads lead home in one way or the other.
But, does that reader exist? I mean, these days that age group, 13-18, is busy playing Roblox or Steam or some other gaming platform. They are communicating via Dischord and engaging via TikTok videos. These would-be readers are binge--watching–while they watch YouTube–-something that terrifies me when I see my 13-year-old son and now, my 7-year-old daughter, do it. (Her teacher’s main educational suggestion is that my little girl read real books, and she does, only to get her tech back.)
Does my ideal reader, read as readers did in the 1990s? Or early 2000’s? Probably not.
In fact, I would say based on my research and the introduction of new technologies that readers have a shorter attention span (duh). I know I do. I get easily distracted by social media, even though my notifications are off. My brain literally bloops out after a few paragraphs, and it is a bloody death match to come back and finish long articles. The writing better be damned good!
Here’s a confession: I’m embarrassed to say that to find balance and rewire my brain, I assign myself at least an hour of reading a day. I read everything: news articles, stories, poems, books, and novels. Most days, I settle for 30 minutes. Even though my brain is resisting, and I am ever tempted to read that Mastodon or Facebook post or watch a show, I make myself read the long articles. I’m like my daughter, resisting, resisting, resisting, but I do it.
Now, if I’m struggling, imagine that ideal reader, the one I’m supposedly writing toward. I have a damn Ph.D. for crying out loud! I remember I used to read for hours, but yes, over time, technology has changed how we read. Some people call it the Pancake Theory. Traditional reading is (long) deep and focused. Social media reading is flat and thin, shallow and narrow.
We need a balance of both because let’s be real. None of us are going to change these new technological advances. Hell, I’m waiting for VR immersive reading. It’s coming. I'm am guilty of using romance apps. Have you seen those? They're like Choose Your Own Adventure but for an app, and the writing is getting better and varied.
Does that mean, I stop my own writing or aiming for that reader? Nah. Because every now and then when I drop off my kids at school, I see that one kid reading long novels. Like a derp, I often say hello and check to see what that kid is reading. And, like I derp, I thank him. I never get much of a verbal response. (That kid probably thinks I’m a weirdo.) But that's fine. I get so elated to see young people reading books!
I don’t think there is an easy answer to addressing this ideal reader, but I’m sticking to mine because it is as honest a profile that I could come up with, and I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. What kinds of questions did I have at that age? What did I love about books back them? What does that reader dream about? Want out of life? I mean, the conventions of stories haven’t changed much. They may be more violent and edgy, but good storytelling is still, good storytelling.
Could the very same technology be the answer?
Recently, Amazon fused some of the elements of social media with Kindle Vella, using story serials. I love serials. Loved them on T.V. Love them in books, comic books, but Kindle Vella is actually doing something pretty brilliant.
Stories are 5,000 words max. You can Like the stories AND “crown” stories readers like. You can still offer reviews and stars, but Amazon has done two smart things: 1. Made direct feedback to the author more dynamic (who doesn’t like a crown?) and 2. Shortened the reading time for busy, distracted readers. And probably, more importantly, Amazon has made it cheap and easy for writers to post their series online; the platform focuses on short, good writing.
Recently, I started serializing two of my favorite works: La Bruja in the Orchard and Nail Shop Warriors, which I am co-writing with Hector Cruz. The goal isn’t just to write short amazing episodes. The goal is to weave a novel after these short pieces, and there is something to be said for the joy of producing a chapter or two a week. And bam! It’s online.
Now, have my ideal readers suddenly started binge-reading my noble work? Hell no! There is also no advertising platform for Kindle Vella which is brilliant because guess what? The author will have to promote his/her/their work. Besides, those book ads (and oh I tried, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, and even Pinterest ads) never quite worked for me.
I did, however, join a Reddit forum (with but a few users), devoted to Kindle Vella. We shall see!
Kindle Vella hasn’t quite hit its stride yet. Regardless, it offers tremendous potential. (Hey, are you writing on Kindle Vella? Post your links in the comments!)
What next? Really, I need to immerse myself where potential readers are. While I may not be much of a TikToker and kind of phased out of Dischord because it’d be weird for kids to talk to 50-year-olds, there’s no reason not to make connections with people there. I mean comments still exist, after all. Chatting exists even on Steam. Of course, it’s not easy to drop a, “Hey, do you like reading paranormal Kung Fu stories?” while you are killing zombies or building new worlds in sim games.
For now, it’s exciting and really cathartic to understand who my ideal reader is and has been.
So for all you bored, isolated, smart, inquisitive avid readers between the ages of 13 and 18, here I come! For you writers of exciting series on Kindle Vella, I’m coming for you too.