One critical factor to author success is writing a book that will appeal to readers. Here are a range of methods you can use to deepen your understanding of your target market, what matters to them and why.

How to discover what readers need from your book


Book one to one sessions with people in your target market. Just as BBC TV wildlife presenter Sir David Attenborough observes animals in their natural environment, you want to meet your readers in their natural environment, doing what they normally do, to get an accurate understanding about them.

Observe them as they perform tasks related to your chosen topic. For example, if you plan to write a book on how to provide good customer service using pre-written telephone scripts in call centres, listen to how your participants conduct themselves on the phone and note the outcomes of their phone calls.

They might tell you they have an impeccable telephone manner, but is that true in reality?

This gives you a better understanding of the way readers think, feel and behave, and why they’ll want to do the things differently. You’ll see where they succeed and why they struggle and know the results they get for their efforts.

These observation sessions will give you ideas about how to help them. Afterwards you can ask some questions to help clarify your understanding of what they want and adjust your book plans accordingly. If you can’t arrange dedicated sessions with your potential readers, try to incorporate some ad hoc observations to aid your understanding.

Perhaps there’s some YouTube video of a person covering their successes and failures? Could you analyse that footage? The objective of this session is to observe them. Prompt them as little as possible, so that you get an accurate picture of what is happening.

Setting tasks

This involves prompting readers to do or read something you plan to include in your book. As they do so, you can observe them. For example, if you were writing a book about smartphone travel photography, you could ask someone if they know how to delete any photos they don’t want to keep. The benefit of this skill to the reader is they can free up their phone memory. This means they are more likely to they have enough space for all their trip photos.

  • Are they aware of this principle?
  • Is it easy for them to delete unwanted photos or do they get stuck? If so why?
  • Can they restore photos they delete by mistake?
  • Do they understand the consequences of running out of storage space for their photos and why it happens?
  • Do they know how to check how much space they have left?
  • If they get stuck and they can’t solve the problem themselves, how do you get them back on track? What do you teach them to help them succeed?
  • Do they know how to take photos off their phone and put them on their computer?
  • What significance do they attribute to that new knowledge or skill?

As a professional, you have probably been through this type of scenario many times when you have been helping people in real life. You can also draw on those experiences to help you create the perfect way to help your readers on paper, rather than on a one-to-one basis.


You can set up surveys to ask readers more about questions you have in your own mind about what to include in your book. Check out, a free online survey tool you can use. The problem with surveys is

  • people lead busy lives and might not bother completing it, leaving you in the dark about what matters to them and why
  • they might write what they think you want to hear, rather than what they really want to say

Individual interviews

One-to-one discussions with readers help you show your book concept to them. It’s a good idea to get detailed feedback about your book outline from people in your target market, so you are clear on your readers’ attitudes, needs, and experiences with your subject.

Group interviews

As well as one-to-one interviews, you can ask a group of people to review your book idea. This often leads to different information compared with the individual interviews. Participants might concur or disagree about particular points made during the session. These communal ideas and comments can  “snowball” and act as “idea fuel” and help identify new, additional, opportunities you might have overlooked.

Analysing the data

Organise your thoughts on “sticky notes”

Jot down ideas and points you want to coveron sticky notes. You can then order and group them into a meaningful structure.. This helps ensure that the book outline or process steps matches the way readers think. Write each point or step on a sticky note and then organise it into the most efficient sequence. You can use this to define your reader promises.


Take a tip from your fiction author colleagues and create a brief written outline of your typical reader. Base it on the information you learned during the reader discovery phase you can put together a generalised overview of your reader. This will include details like their experience level, successes to date, what they want to achieve and why. You can also include personal details like their living arrangements, their education level, their job etc. Anything that acts as a brief accurate prompt to help you keep your reader and their circumstances in your thoughts will be helpful as you expand on your book outline.

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