First things first: I always advise the authors I work with to begin the process of writing a book by defining their core readers.
I do this because I want them to have marketing in mind from the get-go. Defining their core readers gets everything going in the right direction. To be honest, I was not sure I should apply this principle to the memoir writer. That’s because there are two kinds of memoir writers: those who are writing principally for their families and those who have a wider market in mind. Clearly, the scope will be different in each of these cases. The author writing for her grandchildren is less likely to get her work professionally edited, designed, produced, and printed than the author writing about struggling with a muscular dystrophy. The latter can imagine that his readers will consist of hundreds who either share his condition or who love someone who does. Nevertheless, the principle applies to both types of authors. By defining their core readers, authors of both types begin to see what lies ahead—even before they begin to write! And that’s the point—or at least one of the points.
One of the other benefits of defining your core reader—and again this applies whether you are writing for your family or a larger audience—is that it gives you someone to write to. This is not foolproof, but having a specific audience in your head should help you write more clearly. In addition, it turns the process of writing from a self-absorbed activity into one where your relationship with your readers is very much the point. Real authors care about their readers.
Notice that my title is “Decide on Your Core Reader” (singular). I believe it helps if you imagine your reader as a specific individual, who could be real or imaginary. It is easier to write to a specific individual than it is to an abstract and amorphous group. This is not an absolute rule. For example, I am working with an author who is writing a book for married couples. His core “reader” is, surprise, a couple. Okay, couple is a collective noun, in which case it can be treated either as singular or a plural entity.
A similar example comes from U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, who inspired me in this way of thinking. His core “constituent” is a family of four. He knows where the family lives, where everyone works or has worked, where everyone goes to school or has gone to school, and so on. Focusing on this imaginary family helps him do his work.
As a memoir writer, you can do worse than imitating him.—The Publishing Pro