Putting Your Avatar to Work

May 14, 2019 | Better Writing

I wrote a lot of letters to Annie back in the day. I knew a lot about her. She was in her mid-50s. Her husband was retired, and they lived in a trailer park. I knew what their trailer smelled like and how it felt on a hot summer day. I knew what Annie’s husband did while she was at work, and what kind of perfume she used too much of. I knew what she said when she was angry, and what kind of beer she liked to drink.

Here’s the catch. Annie wasn’t a real person. She was a composite I created for what we called a “persona” for our direct response letters and mailers. You write best to and for someone you know well.

My boss George arranged for me to visit people like the people I was writing for. He was always testing us on how well we knew the person we wrote for. He’d ask, “Tell me what Annie did last Sunday.”

George also drove into my head you only write for a single person at a time. Usually George said it this way: “Do you read a book with someone else reading over your shoulder? No! Only one person reads at a time.” Sometimes he said, “Demographics don’t buy books. Only people buy books. Write for a person.”

Lots of people call the kind of description I advocate a persona, too. Others call it your “ideal reader.” The newest term, and one that’s likely to stick, is “avatar.”

What’s an Avatar?

“Avatar” was a religious term. But the word has a different meaning today, where it’s used in social networks and computer gaming. It might be the visual representation you use on a social network. If you play a video game, you may select an avatar to represent you in the game. Some people use avatar to represent the person you write a blog post, an article, or a book for and to.

Getting Started

How do you develop an avatar for your book? There are two places to start.

Identify a person you know that would be an ideal reader for your book. This works well for many consultants and speakers.

You can also develop your avatar by describing an imaginary person. When I do this with a client, we write it like a story. I want to get at the essence of a person. Emotion is important.

I usually try to tell the story of what brings the avatar to the point where they need the book we’re writing. To see an example, download a sample description. I wrote it when I worked with Stephen Lynch on his book, Business Execution for Results.

The story of the person describes why they need the book. It also lets us get at two other things.

Buying Triggers

Your avatar will help you understand the person you’re writing for. It should also tell you about why and how they will buy your book.

Many people who read a lot of business books choose their next book based on what interests them. It might be industry-specific or position-specific. Some prefer the latest, newest, niftiest business thinking.

Other people buy a book to solve a specific problem. They might want to learn about online marketing to make more money.  Or, they might want to learn about how to be a good supervisor because they just got promoted. They might want to learn how to talk with team members.

The Buying Process

Buying triggers tell you why someone will buy your book. You should also know how they will buy it. Who will he or she talk to? Will they give special weight to anyone’s recommendation? If they use Amazon to find a book, where will they start? Will they start from a recommendation and look for a specific title, or will they use a search word or category?

Bottom Line

Creating an avatar for your book will help you write a better book and market it better. It will help you understand the motivations behind why and how readers buy your book.

Additional Resource

Darren Rowse has an excellent post, titled “How to Create A Blog-Reader Avatar.” He also offers a bonus template to help you do the job. Personally, I’m not a template user for this kind of writing. I like to build up my persona by successive iterations, but that doesn’t mean you’re the same way. You may find Darren’s post and template helpful.

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