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The people who will want to read your memoir fall in to two categories: those who find themselves within its pages and those who don’t. If you are writing a memoir which is a personal history and will only be shared among family members, then your ideal reader is easily identified. Any person who desires an in-depth look at the family tree and its branches, or who hopes to detect a secret or two, or who would like to find out more about the trials and tribulations of your genealogical identity will be interested in what you have written. These people are a built-in audience of readers. However, what if you are hoping that there are a significant number of strangers who will pay money to purchase what you’ve written and possibly get you a book contract with a major publisher? How do you determine that audience?

For a publisher to determine if a book project has potential, one of the first questions asked of an editor is: What is the audience for this book, or what group of readers will actually be enticed enough by the topic to purchase this particular memoir?  To answer this question, you, as a writer of memoir, must know your competition and where your writing fits in with regard to it. To do that, try answering these questions:

  • The reader who will purchase my memoir is the reader who purchased _______.
  • Other titles I consider in the same category as my memoir include ______.
  • My audience is composed of people who enjoy ______.
  • My particular memoir differs from others in the same category in these ways ________.

Here are some examples of the way you might answer these questions:

This is where you try to ride the coat tails of those successful books that came before yours.  Regardless of your topic, you need to find these comparative titles and use them to your advantage. If you are writing a historical memoir, other memoirs covering the same or a similar period of history would appeal to your readers.  If you are writing about the holocaust, an archaeological undertaking, or your part in a war, there are successful memoirs written by others that preceded yours. If you have had an adventure while traveling, or any social or psychological breakdown, there are also memoirs from which you can draw a comparative list. The more successful the comparative title, the more enticing your memoir will be to a prospective publisher. One caveat: If you are immediately thinking But there’s nothing at all like my memoir on the market! Then you should know that there is probably a reason for this. Yes, your memoir should stand out in some way, but that’s covered in Question 4.

This is where you can branch out to include titles that might not be specifically like yours but that you might admire in some way and hope to emulate. For example, if you are writing about your relationship with a pet, the books of James Herriot might appeal to the same readers as those who would like your topic, even though you may not actually be a country veterinarian. Or perhaps you are writing about your love of cooking and how that has been passed down throughout your family. Your audience would include all readers and purchasers of cookbooks, which is vast. But try to be specific as you choose those authors or chefs who might appeal to your audience.

Your imagination comes into play in this question. Your audience is composed of people who read about and/or enjoy: sports, war stories, compelling drama, psychological breakdown, stories of redemption, family sagas, hiking, pets, wild animals, etc. The list here can be almost endless. It is up to you to identify topics in your book that would appeal to another reader.

This is where you have the opportunity to make your memoir stand out from the crowd. Why is your story different? Does it provide some unique look into another world? Are its events compelling in some way? Do you write about some sweeping social issue? Does your story speak to others in the same gender, race, class, political persuasion, occupation, religion or ethnicity? Is your writing stellar in some way—humorous, literary or deep enough to uncover new ground within a topic? Question 4 is where you can make your memoir stand out from the crowd.

Have you identified your ideal reader? Keep in mind that this exercise will not only make your memoir more attractive to a potential publisher, it will help you focus your writing and dig more deeply into the significance of your message. If you have difficulty grasping the concept of this stage of writing, a professional editor, like those you find on the team at Edits Made Easy, can easily guide you through the process.


This article is archived from the original Edits Made Easy website and is re-posted here to our new blog under a new date.