Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Get a GRIP, part 3: the Reader

What’s the most important part of writing? Right. The reader.

Consider the readers’ needs. Write for them. Keep in mind why they should care about what you have to say. What’s in it for them? How can you make their lives or work easier or better? Why should they spend time reading or watching or listening to you, when they could be paying attention to so many other things?

To answer those questions, you need to know as much about them as you can:
  • demographics – age, sex, education, income, where they live 
  • occupation: what do they spend their working lives doing?
  • needs: at work, at home
  • desires: some are common: food, shelter, sex, belonging
    o more, however, are specific to each reader’s job, life, demographics
  • predispositions and attitudes
    - perceptions – how will they react to particular words?
Sometimes, it’s predictable: some people respond in a particular way to words like “tea party,” “capitalism,” “democracy.” We probably can all make reasonable assumptions about how the different sides of the Occupy Wall Street protests will react to those words.

What that means is that your knowledge of the audience should help determine the words you choose. You can use common social media slang for a teen audience, but it won't make any sense to seniors. That's obvious. You'll have to work much harder than that, however, when it comes to your own specific communications.

When you’ve drawn a detailed picture of your readers or potential readers, connect it to your purpose (Goal, the G in GRIP): why should your readers do what you want them to do? To answer this, you need to have clarified your own goal. See the previous post.

For instance, if you want your audience to buy your product or service, what benefit will they get from it? Is that benefit enough to motivate them to get over the inertia required to make the change from what they’re doing (or not doing) right now?

For examples: your boss What is he/she motivated by? Interested in? Biggest challenge right now? What has he/she responded to before?

If you want to get his/her approval on a new initiative, such as buying a new copier-printer for the office, first answer “Why should he/she?” How will that action make his/her life/job easier? What about the proposed purchase is similar to decisions he/she has made in the past?

Be concrete. “The new ABC model 123 copier/printer operates 12 percent more efficiently and uses less toner and paper. This means the office can save $1,200 per year.”

Maybe the boss doesn’t care about saving a small part of his/her budget, but just wants copies NOW. “The new ABC model 123 copier/printer has proven to operate 10 percent faster than our current model, and jams 15 percent less frequently. This translates to three fewer paper jams per week at our current volume.”

What motivates your audience?

There are thousands of books and other resources looking into that question. I’ll leave it with this rule: the more you know about your audience or readers, the better you can shape messages that motivate them. Your research does not have to be that complicated, however. Just talk to people. Find out what they like, what they don’t like. And remember, every reader is an individual.


What do fiction readers want? The biggest publishers wish they knew.

Do they want more of the same? Sometimes; multiple sequels and copycats of Harry Potter show that. How many book series about sexy vampires clog the bookshelves these days?

But the breakaway best-sellers, the trend-setters, are books and stories that touch their readers’ emotions deeply. There’s no secret that Stephanie Meyer’s work resonates with young women. Something about her characters and their struggles reaches those readers. I don’t have space, time, or inclination to go into that, here. The point is that these writers have, intuitively or otherwise, given their readers something they want. That something is motivating enough to get millions of people to go to a bookstore (physical or electronic) and pay 15 bucks or so for a copy.


Your challenge

Take out something you are working on right now. Then, on screen or on paper, write down answers to these two questions:

1. Whom are you writing this for? Specifically: your boss? Your sister? Describe what motivates that person. What does he or she like, dislike, need, avoid?

2. What do you want that reader to do? Make this concrete. What specific action do you want your reader to do after he or she finishes reading your document?

Then, put that in the Comments section and I’ll respond.



  1. I agree--it's all about knowing your reader. There's an old saying, "Find a need and fill it." Good advice! That's why I like receiving feedback from my readers where they share some of their life experiences with me and I get to get a quick glimpse into their lives. I received the most feedback for my bullying book where readers shared their own bullying experiences with me and this is what writing is all about--connecting with our reader and developing a relationship. Good blog and I'll be back!

  2. I do think with fiction it's sometimes dangerous to over-think what the reader wants. If you start writing purely for the reader it can stray from what you really want to write and make thing fall astray.

  3. When I'm reading, I want to escape for awhile from the banal, boring, and painful parts in my life.
    But I also want to learn something. Either about how to survive in an alien environment, or some new understanding of human nature.
    Or I'll enjoy something written so interestingly that I simply can't resist.
    But I haven't been writing to entertain. I've mostly been writing for me.
    Maybe it's time to do a little more for others.
    Thanks for the post, Scott. I've written #1 and #2 down and will keep them in front of me as a reminder.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Louise. It's great to know that some of my words are helping.

  4. Hi Scott
    I get your point, but still wonder how do you find your target audience. I envy those who can write fantasy,murder mysteries, paranormal,erotica, etc. I write Romance, plain and simple, sometimes with the "hint" of sex, sometimes closed door sex, and sometimes open door sex, but it still comes down to romance. If someone was to target me, I'm a Stephen King fan when it comes to reading, criminal minds type of person for TV shows and for movies I like, hobbits, wizards, and ogres. I don't watch Stephen King movies normally. I haven't read "Lord of the Rings, or "Harry Potter" and as for "Twilight" I haven't gotten into vampires at all.
    So to sum this up...My readers would want the classic love story. The girl gets the guy of her dreams and the HEA, but where do you find those people?

    1. As I said, you have to write for your audience. Finding that audience is a trick I have not mastered myself, yet. I don't know of anyone who has a magic formula. However, there are several guest posts elsewhere on this blog by writers who have great insight into marketing and publicizing.