If you’ve been around hope*writers for a while, you know one of our biggest mantras is to know your ideal reader. Know her hopes, her fears, and her favorite color. Among other things.
Here’s a two minute video of Sally Lloyd-Jones talking about her book, The Jesus Storybook Bible, and what she got wrong about her reader.
If you would have asked Sally while she was writing The Jesus Storybook Bible who she was writing it for, she would have said “for children in the church.”
If we looked over her shoulder while she was writing it, we would have agreed, yes that book is for church children.
The language, angle, and illustration was all chosen specifically with a child in mind.
Now, 10 years later, The Jesus Storybook Bible has sold over 2 million copies and is translated into over 30 languages.
In the video, she says this:
“I thought a Bible was for people in the church. I didn’t realize what God was going to do with this Bible was so way beyond that. It’s actually for people who would never come near a church . . . What surprised me was that it reached adults as much as children.”
You could argue that Sally had too small of a vision for her work and that would be true.
But here’s what she got right: she wrote her book for children. Period.
The way she told the Bible stories was influenced entirely by the fact that a child was her ideal reader.
Now of course we know not only children read her book. But she still had to write it with a child in mind.
Your ideal reader is not determined by who ends up reading your work. Your ideal reader is determined by who you have in mind when you write your work.
Our job as writers is to focus on one reader to serve. The outcome is not our business.
Imagine if Sally would have known that adults would resonate so deeply with her work. What if she had tried to write The Jesus Storybook Bible for prostitutes in China, women in prison, Japenese businessmen, and Ukranian orphans?
At best, she may have written it differently. At worst, she may not have finished it at all. It would have been too difficult to write to all those people from all those different walks of life.
As it turns out, the prostitutes, the prisoners, the businessmen and the orphans needed a book written for children. Sally did her job well.
The more clearly you know your reader, the more deeply your work will resonate.