Are you my ‘Ideal Reader’?
Are you my mother? In P.D. Eastman’s book with that title, a new-born bird asked that question to a kitten, a hen, a dog, a cow, a car, a boat, a plane, and a steam shovel. (After he survived the fall from a large tree and, upon landing, had the ability to walk and talk and name things.)
To this little bird fresh from the egg, his mother was lost, and he set out on a death-defying mission to find her.
I’m looking for you. Are you my reader?
The Bible’s ‘lost and found’
Luke 15 contains three parables about “lost and found.” The Shepherd sought his lost sheep (v. 3-7). The woman sought her lost coin (v. 8-10). The father welcomed his prodigal son, who had been lost and now was found (v. 11-31). What did these stories have in common?
Something lost, something found? Yes. The return of what was lost bringing great joy? Yes. But they also have something else in common.
They all wanted what was theirs. Just as the little bird wanted someone who was his.
The Shepherd didn’t search for someone else’s sheep. He didn’t randomly stumble across a sheep without a brand stamped on her flesh and then proclaim it his. He searched for his lost sheep.
The woman didn’t search for buried treasure. She didn’t happen upon a coin lost by someone else. She searched her home, every inch, every hidden place, for her lost coin.
The father welcomed his prodigal son home and said, “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24, NIV).
The parables have been on my mind lately. First, I focused on reaching the one. Then I focused on searching — doing everything in my power to reach the one, and the next one, and the one after her. But as I contemplated this trio of parables in Luke 15, I realized that all rejoiced in the return of the one — sheep, coin, son — that already belonged to them.
And it made me realize that I don’t know the audience, the readers that “belong” to me. How can I find the one or the many if I don’t know who I’m seeking?
Are you my avatar?
Are You My Mother? came to mind because the little bird clearly didn’t know who his mother was, either. Yet he knew enough to search for his mother.
So I reached out to a fellow writing academy student, Michaela, and said I was struggling because I didn’t know my audience. How could I “find” what was “lost” if I didn’t know who my audience was?
“I’m your audience,” she responded. Nice answer.
Later, I talked with my niece Megan De La Concha, who is a life empowerment coach, and she told me about the incremental process of determining your “avatar,” a made-up character who displays the characteristics of the target audience you want to reach.
In my writing academy and with my marketing colleague, we have discussed the importance of having an “avatar.” For writers and marketers, an “avatar” or “buyer persona” is created person who represents your target audience.
“A customer avatar is a detailed profile of your ideal customer,” Josh Barney wrote in his article “The Customer Avatar: Find and Reach Your Target Market” on Einstein Marketer. “It doesn’t make assumptions or categorize people into groups. The avatar focuses on one person and outlines everything about them.”
For writers, your avatar should represent your “ideal reader,” someone who reads everything you write, engages, and gives you great word-of-mouth. If you write a book, your ideal reader is first in line to buy it, give a review, and recommend your book to others.
I don’t need to create an avatar. I have those ideal readers. In addition to Michaela, I have Claire, Laura, Penny, Mark, Joan, and Doreen.
At 95, my Aunt Claire receives my weekly posts via email, regularly reads and comments, and shares them with friends and family. A couple colleagues regularly read and comment in person or via email. A childhood friend reads and reacts via Facebook Messenger. Another friend reads, comments, and shares on Facebook.
(Thank you all for being my avatars!)
Are you in my niche?
The point of having an avatar or multiple avatars to represent your ideal reader or consumer of whatever you’re offering is that you’ll better refine your product to hit your avatar’s pain point or need.
It’s the difference between buying a thoughtful gift for “girl” in your class Christmas party or for your best friend Cindy instead. Writing for an avatar allows you to craft thoughtful posts for someone you know.
It lends itself to having a niche as a writer. (Pronounce it “nich,” please, as “neesh” seems snooty to me.)
Are you in my niche? What is my niche? As a blogger, I’ve struggled with that. I’m not an expert in one field. I have experience and life lessons in many areas — especially those related to love and loss, it seems. But the underlying thread tying all of those disparate life stories together is my faith that God loves me (and you) and is working everything for my good (yours, too, if you’re a Christ follower).
So while I capture everyday life as it happens, I do write consistently about seeing God in those happenings. I write All Things Work Together because it shares how God weaves the details of my life into His good, overarching plan.
Is that a niche? I’m still perfecting it.
Is this the time?
Writing blog posts in my niche for my avatars can be difficult because time is limited. In addition to blogging and engaging with readers on social media, I am trying to write my first book. (And work full time.)
Apparently, because writers can have social media platforms — blogs, Facebook, Instagram, whatever — they must have such platforms in 2021. With large followings. Because a book draft isn’t the only thing a book agent or publisher wants to see. They want to see you’ve already got people in line to buy your book should they publish it.
As if writing weren’t disheartening enough. I suppose anything you do in an effort to engage with people who may choose to engage or not can be discouraging. Readers hold the power. They choose to read or not to read.
When I feel I’ve written a post that should touch lives, I want it to touch lives. Immediately. Yet, I know that some of my most popular posts are ones I wrote a few years ago. I still get a reader or two almost every day who finds and reads posts about my mother’s death from Alzheimer’s disease, for example.
But I want a post to go viral and stay viral. I’d like to gather a crowd — a tribe — of faithful readers who behave like my ideal reader or avatar. I’d love to see my stats soar and an agent or publisher notice and pursue me.
In the past week, I’ve had interactions with a Chinese Christian living in Korea who is studying the English Bible, a stepmother struggling with the dynamics of blended-family life, a devastated daughter who had to put her mother in a lockdown memory care facility because Alzheimer’s disease makes independent living dangerous.
Each was an opportunity to speak truth and hope into their lives via private messages on social media. Each happened because I shared a blog post. Each engagement was a treasure, not a stat.
And as I responded to one woman at 3:30 in the morning, I realized I was thankful that my writing hasn’t gone viral. If it had, I might be overwhelmed with stats and not have time to treasure the deep interactions sparked by a blog post.
And right now I need time to write. To my avatars and you.
I am a bird in God’s hand
I had asked my daughter to shoot a photo of her two children reading Are You My Mother? I thought I would alter the image, scratch out “mother” and put “reader” or “avatar,” to use as my feature image on my blog.
But as I read through the book intended for beginning readers, I decided to leave the image alone. Because the book ends with a literary device called deus ex machina or “god from the machine.”
This plot device stems from Greek theater, in which the actors playing gods were brought onto the stage by a machine. The gods provided an unexpected and unlikely solution to the problem posed in the play.
You can imagine a little bird who cannot fly might have difficulty getting back to his nest in a tall tree. A mother bird who returns to a nest with an empty shell might assume her baby was taken away, not on a leisurely stroll practicing vocabulary. Big problem.
But the “Snort,” a steam shovel, which seemed the most menacing of all the creatures and objects the little bird approached, raised its shovel on which the frightened bird perched, and traveled.
At the very point of the story in which the baby bird realizes he is lost and needs help to get home, the Snort puts the bird back into his nest in the tree. Moments later, his mother returns.
Deus ex machina. An all-knowing, all-powerful. perfectly-timed machine knew where the bird belonged and returned him to the nest moments before his mother returned. God at work to bring baby bird and his mother together.
It works in Greek theater, children’s books, and in our lives, too. I may fret and wonder and search for you, my dear reader, but, ultimately, it will be God’s hand that brings us together in this nest, my website.
If you, too, fret and wonder and search today, ask for Him to bring the solution. And thank you for being an ideal reader (wink, wink 😉 ).
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