BioPicBlues Jan here joining you from sunny California.

In March, I had the delightful opportunity to mentor writers for one of the Head Start Clinics at Mount Hermon’s Christian Writer’s Conference. A “ridiculous” delight—to use one of my student’s favorite expressions.

If you asked any of those in my nonfiction clinic to state one of the most important factors in our writing of successful nonfiction, I have no doubt what their answer would be.

They would tell you . . .

the reader.

Great writing and story is important. Clean copy, structure, and the development of our personal style are key. Knowing how to gauge market needs and how to write effective queries or proposals are musts.

But none of that matters if we forget the reader.

It’s even possible to identify our audience for our article or book and still forget our reader. Great writing is about knowing our reader well, getting in their skin, and keeping them in mind as we write. Even the placement of a comma can be a decision that is about the reader.

Want to get closer to your reader?

Consider one of your current projects.

In as much detail as you can, describe a particular person and potential reader that would well represent your overall audience.

–who they are

–what culture or group they are a part of (related to your book/article topic)

–their age

–male or female

–their faith and how developed that faith is

–anything else that comes to mind that you feel is important

Do you spend time with those who are like this potential reader you described? If you haven’t yet, take time to do so.

Get to know who they are, what matters to them, the questions they have. Note their opinions and perspectives, especially those that might add a different take than where you thought you would head with your article or book. Have conversations, many conversations.

See how this closer acquaintance with your reader might shift your writing. Pray and ask God where to go with this new information, where you can still remain true to the core message he has placed on your heart and yet present it with a compassionate and understanding knowledge of your reader.

Next month, watch for part 2—rolling up those pant legs and really getting in the trenches with your reader.


Jan writes nonfiction from her home in the foothills of the California Sierras. She is currently working on more material for the teen/ya audience and for those who deeply care about them. She also enjoys life coaching and mentoring writers. Visit her site at