Demographic descriptions are not readers

Jun 1, 2015 | Writing A Book

Demographic descriptions don’t read books, people do. Write for people.

People buy books for emotional reasons

People buy business books because they want their life to be better. They may want to make more money or save money. They may want to have a great career or become famous or more powerful. They may buy your book because they think that what they learn will keep them safe or maybe just make their life easier.

Whatever the reason, it’s an emotional one. Oh, sure, some people will dress up their emotions in rational clothes, but buying is an emotional process.

Demographic descriptions don’t have emotions

If you think of your reader as a part of a demographic, you miss all the emotion. You have to understand and write to an individual person. Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s how John Steinbeck put it in his Paris Review interview.

“Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.”

Write to a real person

When you lay your fingers on the keys or pick up a pen or pencil to write, write as if you’re talking to a single, specific person. I’m talking about a real person, one with a social security number and a bad habit or two.

Think about who they are and how they spend their days and what their big problems are. Identify everything you can that will take them out of the “description” category and into the “real person category.” Here are some questions to help.

  • What’s their life story?
  • What do they do for fun?
  • What do people who know them say about them?
  • How do they spend their days?
  • How do they buy books?

Write to an imagined person

You can also create an imaginary person to write to. To do that you create a persona that includes a narrative description of who they are, why they will buy your book, and how they will do that. Follow this link to a downloadable example. It’s for Stephen Lynch’s book, Business Execution for Results. We put it together when we were planning the book.

I call that a persona, though it’s different from what many marketers mean by the same word. Sometimes I draft one to help a client clarify who he or she will be writing to. But I always draft one when I’m ghostwriting.

Using the description

The description you draft, whether it’s a real person or imagined, should guide your writing. I look at the relevant persona(s) at the start of every writing session and every meeting on a book project.