For Authors

Speak Directly to your Readers by using Avatars

By: Ginger on June 24, 2022

Our Hidden Gems guest author for today.

By: Ginger on June 24, 2022


Having a small group of fans willing to read early drafts of your work (or even Beta Readers) can sometimes be helpful towards making sure you’re hitting your mark, because you’re not just writing for yourself, you want to have your story appeal to a wide variety of other people as well. So what do you do if you can’t (or don’t want to) share an early version of your story with others?

It may seem like a radical or strange idea at first, but Ginger is here to propose his own alternative, taken from his personal experience working with user experience designers. By imagining a small group of readers that represent the audience he wants to connect with, he uses these personalities as a sort of focus group of Avatars that help him ensure his story is connecting with the types of people that he thinks will be reading his book. 

Before I really dug into self-publishing my novels, I spent nearly a decade working in advertising – and I learned a lot during that time which has applied to publishing and marketing my books. One lesson I learned that applied more to the craft of writing, however, came from working with UX Designers – who design the ‘user experience’ of websites.

In order to present the best experience for visitors to the website they’re designing, UX Designers create the wireframe with imaginary users in mind. Using real-world data, they create ‘Avatars’ of typical people who might be likely to use their website, and then they write the copy, create menus and interfaces, and design the entire navigation structure based around how these Avatars would most likely use the website.

Last year, while editing my most recent novel, I found myself using a similar system in order to tell my story more effectively. I’d really been struggling to find my voice as I worked on the second edit, so I literally came up with the idea of telling my story to a specific audience of people rather than just trying to write it freeform.

Reading is a User Experience

In many ways, reading is the ultimate exercise in User Experience. The idea occurred after reading a quote by Terry Pratchett, who said: “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

In the book I was editing, which was the twelfth installment of my motorcycle romance series, that statement was entirely accurate. My first draft had helped me lay out the narrative of what happens in my story, and the basic arc for my characters, but the way in which the story was written appealed only to an audience of one: Me. It was pretty difficult to wade through.

I realized I now had to take that first draft and re-craft it into something which would appeal to other readers – or to follow another piece of advice from another great writer, Neil Gaiman: “Write down everything that happens in the story, and then in your second draft make it look like you knew what you were doing all along.”

To make it look like I knew what I’d been doing when I’d first written this novel, I started editing my story with other readers in mind, rather than just my regular written voice. In doing so, I took a leaf out of the UX Designer playbook and created an audience of Avatars inside my mind to help me with the process.

What on Earth do I mean by that? Well, it will probably sound even crazier when I try to explain it! Essentially, however, I just imagined an audience made up of people who were the target audience of my book, and I wrote the second draft specifically for them.

One of the members of this audience was a delightful reader from Sweden, who had emailed back and forth with me to discuss her favorite rock songs, how she likes her bad-boy romance heroes to cut their hair, and our mutual love of cats. Another person I had in mind as I re-crafted this story was a reader who’d told me how her husband was a veteran with PTSD, and she’d appreciated how I’d explored that topic respectfully in my books. I kept that in mind as I edited the path of my characters’ journey.

I remembered a polite, but disapproving email from another reader who’d complained about my use of blasphemy. With that in mind, when my characters swore in this installment (and they’re bikers, they swear a lot!) I consciously replaced taking the Lord’s name in vain with some good, old-fashioned f-bombs (which she had no problem with.)

Editing with a Reader in Mind

As crazy as it sounds, I found this a really useful exercise to go through. Writing for an audience of specific readers forced me to examine every paragraph and each line of dialogue and think about how clear and concise it was. It required me to think about the sections I’d written which might not interest that specific reader. I mercilessly trimmed many passages I was very proud of because I knew it was self-indulgent to keep them in.

It was also a very intimate experience. Sometimes it felt like I was sat across from real people, telling them the story face-to-face. It made me very aware of the privilege we authors have, and how grateful we should be for every reader who has invested their time, attention, and money to reading our stories.

It made me feel accountable to my readers in a way I hadn’t necessarily done before – making sure to keep alive a series of stories and a cast of characters who I’d been lucky enough to have readers embrace and invest in.

Do it for the Readers

In many ways, writing a book using this method is no different to how UX Designers craft websites. We’re both thinking about what’s most important in guiding our readers/users into having the best experience possible.

For me, that now influences the way my sentences are structured, the adjectives I use, the cadence of dialogue, and even the structure of the story itself. I essentially had to re-write huge segments of my last book to stick to that ethos; but one thing became obvious to me when I’d finally finished the months-long process:

The end result was far, far better than it would have been otherwise.

I felt like I’d somehow ‘leveled up’ when I finally published it – and now, I’m finding myself reverse-engineering the same process when I’m thinking about future books to write.

With those same Avatars in mind, I can prioritize not just how I write my stories, or the language I use – but also which stories they want me to focus on in the first place, which characters will most appeal to them, and how to reward these readers for what they’ve given me: the unbelievable gift of their time and attention.

If you’re lucky enough to have an existing readership – even if it’s only one person – start thinking about telling your stories directly to them. It’s one of the quickest ways to instantly invigorate and improve your writing.

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About the Author

Our Hidden Gems guest author for today.

Ginger is also known as Roland Hulme - a digital Don Draper with a Hemingway complex. Under a penname, he's sold 65,000+ copies of his romance novels, and reached more than 320,000 readers through Kindle Unlimited - using his background in marketing, advertising, and social media to reach an ever-expanding audience. 

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