Determine Your Audience
We have talked briefly about how important it is to decide on memoir content and purpose, but you cannot escape the need to define your target audience. Every piece of writing from the ad on the bus stop bench to the poetry of e. e. cummings has an intended audience as well as a purpose. Your target audience has to fall in the middle ground between too vague and too specific. The fabled “just right” is where you’ll need your manuscript to reside in order to succeed.
The question you’re likely asking now is “What does just right look like?” An extreme example would be the following:
My audience: middle aged women with three children who have lost one parent to cancer.
The above example is far too specific. Although there are surely hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women out there who meet your criteria — if you choose this audience you may find that you struggle to find a market or platform for your finished product. Wide appeal is the goal… So long as it isn’t too wide, like the below example.
My audience: women
While it’s certainly a great idea to write memoirs targeted at women, this generalized target is far too broad. Adding a qualifier such as “over 40” or “who are unemployed” or “whose names are hard to spell” are all qualifiers that will help you to narrow down your scope and produce a high quality, marketable, memoir manuscript. Of course, it would probably be easier to write a blog post about women with names which are difficult to spell rather than a complete memoir, but I’m sure someone could do it!
My audience: middle aged women who have suffered a loss.
This target audience falls in the realm of happy medium. It clearly defined a specific but large group of women. Now, just because you “aim” your book at middle aged women who have suffered a loss (or whatever your audience may be), it doesn’t mean that your book will not be useful to other people. All that it means is that you should work hard to achieve a manuscript that those you’re targeting will care about and benefit from. Think of the others as sprinkles on ice cream. Definitely nice, but not entirely necessary.
So How Do We Determine Your Audience?
The next big question is how to decide what audience is most appropriate. If you already have a clear purpose, it’s possible that the idea of who you want to read your memoir will be obvious. If not, then you may want to brainstorm the ideas you already have for stories you would like to include, and try to determine who they would be most appropriate for. I’m including two printable resources that you may find helpful as you work your way through the planning stages. (I was probably the only kid to enjoy worksheets ever, so I’m throwing my own at you now that I have the chance.) You might need both of these or you might not want either of these, but in the off chance they help you I wanted to provide workable examples of how I roughly plan memoirs.
The Brainstorm Guide (pictured, left) is designed to let you fill in any number of ideas you have for stories to include, for general themes to include, and anything else that might help you as you make the journey through planning your memoir.
The box at the bottom is where you can fill in your purpose, either to refer to as you plan out the events you wish to cover in your memoir, or to fill in once the information you want to include gives you a clearer picture of what your memoir will be about.
The Audience Guide is something you should work on once you have a clear purpose and know vaguely what you would like to include in your memoir. This will help you determine your voice. First, you’ll need to fill in some basic demographic information about your imaginary (but soon to be very real!) readers. Some outlines I have seen go so far as to try and parse out a ridiculous amount of detail about readers. That isn’t necessary, or ideal for a lengthy project, so I’ve just included the basics.
The “Your Memoir Purpose” box should be filled in with the same content from the Brainstorm guide, should you choose to use it. I like keeping your purpose handy at all times so you can maintain the focus that is so necessary while working. The final box is “why it works”. Essentially, once you have an idea of who you’re writing for, you want to make sure it’s in line with your purpose. Write out just why the demographic you outlined would be interested in your memoir, and what you plan on offering them. This will be a GREAT resource when you’re working through the editing phase. You can always monitor whether or not a particular part of the memoir draft is actually relevant to what you’re trying to accomplish. With personal writing, it is entirely possible to get so wrapped up in telling stories that you forget exactly where you were going. (A la grandpa Simpson from the last lesson.)
PLEASE let me know if you find the downloads useful, or if you have suggestions of how they can be improved. In the next lesson we’ll talk about how to write killer intros and book blurbs which can be useful for all types of blog and book writing, so please stay tuned!
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