Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Four Ways for a Writer to Think Like a Reader

by Sarah Sally Hamer

Why does a reader buy a book? What is it that attracts them? Of course, that's the $64,000 question that we all ask. But maybe we need to think like a reader instead of a writer. If we can create a "need" in the reader, they will be much more likely to pick up that book and lay down their money. Readers have expectations of what a book is, usually based on the cover, the title and the back-of-the-book blurb. So we use our pitch to hook the reader by accentuating the work’s POINT OF DIFFERENCE. How is our story different than all the rest of the millions of stories out there?

1. Think about what you want to know about a book before you buy it. Because readers are looking for very specific things. Some will only read a particular genre, while others are more eclectic. But all of them have favorites. For instance, I'll read almost anything except horror, not because they're not well done but because they keep me up at night, listening to every tiny sound my house makes. Not good! Other people will read every inspirational romance they can find, but won't pick up a fantasy adventure. So we writers have to understand exactly WHO we're writing for. This doesn’t mean that we change our own tastes, but we have to understand our brand. A multi-published friend of mine wrote a fiction story about weddings where her two main protagonists threw cake at each other. Her first reviews were terrible because the people who like to read about weddings didn't know this one was not only a wedding, but a war. She changed her branding of the book and now it is selling very well – to the "right" people who enjoy that type of thing.

2. A cover needs to "tell your story" in a single glance. I stood in a book store several years ago when two boys came in to buy their mother a book for Mother's Day. They stood in front of the romance section for several minutes, and I watched the consternation on their faces as they realized that all the covers "looked the same." They finally chose one. The cover was not a clinch between two lovers, it was a single rose. They left, happy that they had found something different. What does your cover convey to a potential buyer? Is it clear and uncluttered? Is the title and your name prominently displayed, and on target? Or will the buyer go on to the next one?

3. The back of the book is where you "tease" the reader with what the book is about. 

If it's fiction, you'll introduce at least one character with his or her compelling need, present the external situation which causes the main characters and their agendas to clash, and hint at the major conflict they face in order to mesh, settle their inter-personal tensions, complete their own internal journeys, and resolve the external plot. 

In non-fiction, you tell the reader what you're going to tell them, so you can tell them in the book itself. 

Give specific, compelling details in both fiction and non-fiction and then be sure to follow up in the book with what you've promised.

4. But all of these things go to zilch if you don't write an enthralling story, full of all those things that we readers love. My best suggestion is to determine your "perfect" reader and imagine you're writing to him or her. In a "how-to" book, we might pick a reader who is smart and clever but just doesn't understand something that is completely simple to us. How would you explain to them how that gizmo works? Maybe it's an inspirational study guide. What would you say to someone in crisis over coffee or who just needs someone to listen? A fiction book, no matter what the genre, needs to allow me to wrap myself in another world, and make me laugh and cry and shout with joy when a character wins. 

Once you make the decision of who you're writing for, and why, writing becomes exponentially easier, because the path is laid out in front of you. 

Who is your "perfect" reader? Why?


Sarah (Sally) Hamer is a lover of books, a teacher of writers, and a believer in a good story. Most of all, she is eternally fascinated by people and how they 'tick'. She’s passionate about helping people tell their own stories, whether through fiction or through memoir. Writing in many genres - mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, medieval history, non-fiction – she has won awards at both local and national levels, including two Golden Heart finals.

A teacher of memoir, beginning and advanced creative fiction writing, and screenwriting at Louisiana State University in Shreveport for almost twenty years, she also teaches online for Margie Lawson at Sally is a free-lance editor and book coach at Touch Not the Cat Books, with many of her students and clients becoming successful, award-winning authors. 

You can find her at or

From Sally: I wish to express gratitude to the giants whose shoulders I stand on and who taught me so much about the writing craft. I would list every one, if it were only possible.


  1. A great post, Sally, with so much helpful information. Thank you for sharing with all of us.