I was having a chat with a few neighbors when the subject of public education arose. When you are a parent, where and how your child will be educated informs most decisions. In fact, the very neighborhood you choose to live in is determined by this goal. So, yeah, it’s a really important topic of discussion.
As usual, we offered our “expert” opinions about the competency of various school staffs. You know, we blabbered on about the typical stuff.
But, without warning, our little fireside chat took an interesting turn.
Here’s what happened.
“I just want my children to go to a good school,” said one neighbor.
“Yeah, me too,” agreed another.
And judging by the nodding heads of the remaining neighbors, they too were in agreement.
I, on the other hand, found his statement, and their reaction to it, strange.
So, I asked a question that, as it turned out, shook their entire philosophy:
“Hey guys, what exactly is a good school?”
There was complete silence.
With the exception of a few groans and cocked heads, not a single word was uttered.
Look, I’m no more of an expert than those guys were. However, I couldn’t allow the conversation to continue without asking this seemingly simple question – a question for which I didn’t have an answer either.
Yet, we were willing to uproot our families based upon this undefined goal. Scary.
The truth of the matter is, my neighbors certainly aren’t the only ones who express such undefined goals.
Most of us do this in our everyday lives. We never stop to ask,
What is a good job?
What is a good man?
What is a good woman?
What is a good company?
What is a good book?
And we certainly don’t ask, who is the ideal reader?
Nope, we pretty much rely on the definitions, no matter how ill-defined, of others. Yeah, really scary.
Well, if you don’t define what you want, you won’t find what you want.
Did you get that?
Want to find a good job, define what a good job is.
Want to find a great school, define what a great school is.
Want to find the best vocal coach, define what the best vocal is.
Want to find raving fans, define who raving fans are.
Okay, cool. So, how do you define what you want, in terms of readers and fans, as an author?
Well, here are a few guidelines:
The definition must be specific.
The definition must be realistic.
The definition must be timely.
Let’s deal with specificity first.
A few months ago, an author friend and I were having a conversation. Suddenly, the mood changed and she began to complain.
“You know,” she began as she looked slowly towards her feet. “I just want a few good readers. I don’t need millions. Just a few thousand. I would be happy with that.”
Well, I wouldn’t be a good friend if I didn’t comment. So, I asked her to find the phrase “good readers” in a dictionary. Of course, it didn’t exist.
I explained to her that she must define, in specific detail, who she desires as readers and fans. The best way to do this is to focus on one reader. You might even give this reader or fan a name.
Now, what type books does Jane or Jack currently read? What is her/his passion? Which problem does she/he want addressed? What is her/his educational level?
You see, specificity is the key. By asking such questions, and there are hundreds more, you gain a better picture of who your reader is. Once you know them, you can then focus your writing and marketing on them. You would know which FaceBook groups they belong to and you will know their preference for magazines or television shows. So, instead of shooting blindly in the dark, you know exactly where to aim.
But your aspiration or goal must also be realistic.
Defining success as selling three million books in 24-hours as a new author is, well, foolish. It’s not going to happen. Yeah, you would need to rewrite that definition.
Finally, your definition must be timely.
Here’s what I mean. The further you are away from a goal or aspiration, the greater the opportunity for unexpected roadblocks to occur. Oh, there will be challenges in all situations. But, you can manage them much better when you are operating in a familiar timeframe.
Here’s an example: Wishing to reach teenagers with your book four years from now is a fools game. That group changes like the wind. There are simply too many variables.
So, let me summarize: define her/him (your ideal reader), and you will find her/him.