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About the Episode

What’s the secret to writing a great novel? Does it have to do with plot, character development, strong dialogue, setting, etc.? What does a writer need to do in order to write a story that their reader will love reading? In this episode of The Business of Christian Fiction, Rachel dives into the number one step you as a Christian writer need to take in order to craft a novel worth reading.



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What’s the number one thing that you need to do as a fiction writer to write a great novel? I’m glad you asked. We’re gonna get into it, but first let me introduce myself. I’m Rachel Fahrenbach. I help Christian writers create and publish a novel that has an engaged audience, ready to buy it.

So let’s get into it. What do you need to do to write a great novel? Now I’m gonna blow your mind here for a second. It’s not about the prose. It’s not about character development. It’s not about plot. It’s not about having great conflict. It’s not about having a great villain. Nope. None of that. None of that’s what makes a great novel.

What makes a great novel is that you know your audience. Now you might be thinking, what in the world are you talking about audience? Like, everybody’s gonna be, I’m just writing my novel. Whoever’s gonna like my novel. Pick it up. That’s who I’m writing it to. Like, it can appeal to everybody. Everybody can read my novel. Everybody’s gonna enjoy it. I hate to break it to you. Not everybody is going to want to read your novel. Not everybody is going to enjoy the genre you write in or your specific storytelling. Case in point, if you’re writing this graphic horror novel, count me out. I’m not picking that up off the shelf.

It’s not my jam. However, somebody else might like that novel. In fact, they’re wanting it. They’re longing for it. They’re ready for it. They are just waiting for you to put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. However, you do your first draft and they’re waiting for you to make that novel a reality because that’s what they want from you.

That’s the reader you’re writing to, the reader who is ready for your storytelling ability for your storytelling style and for your genre that you write in now.

Now, having said that, let me clarify a couple of things, your audience, your reader is not your genre. You are not going to say, oh, my reader is anybody who likes historical fiction, because guess what? Even with inside your genre, Certain people read certain genres for certain reasons. And they like subsets of those genres. Now, for example, historical fiction, some people might read historical fiction to learn from it.

Others might read it to explore countries and other cultures that they know very well. Others may enjoy reading about certain historical figures. Some people might enjoy a certain time period. Like you gotta know what are they wanting and you need to deliver it.

Now. The non-fiction world non-fiction industry understands this, they get it. When you talk to publishers, the first thing they wanna know is like, who is your audience. In nonfiction, you have to create a book proposal that hones in on this, who are you writing to? They don’t want to get that answer of everybody. This is for anybody who will benefit.

No, no, no, no. Nonfiction publishers wanna know who your audience is because they wanna understand how they’re gonna market it. For some reason in the fiction industry, this doesn’t happen the same way. In fact, often publishers want you to have the complete manuscript done before you even write a book proposal and even, um, query them about publication. It’s so backwards in my mind, because at the end of the day, online marketing is centered around the same thing: serving your reader.

Online marketing is all about that customer profile, it’s also called an avatar, understanding who that person is so that you can tell them you have something for them. It narrows in, it focuses in so that you can promote to them so that they know that you have something that they want.

It’s all about that. And at the end of the day, online marketing whether fiction or nonfiction, doesn’t matter, you need to know who your reader is.

So understanding who your reader is, gives you three things. It gives you direction for decision making, it helps you decide everything from what happens in your story, to who your character is, to the things that they encounter, the themes you explore in your novel, everything is wrapped up around that, that reader and what they want.

Two, it helps you create a product that your reader actually wants to read.

And three, it helps you with that online marketing I was just talking about it helps you reach that reader that will actually want your book.

Now, before we move on to how do you know your reader? Or like what, what about your reader do you actually need to know? I want to make one brief statement here. I want to remind you that you are not your reader. Now you might be thinking, I actually have heard this, you know, you’re supposed to write for yourself or you’re supposed to, you know, like, oh, well I just enjoy creating this world and so I do feel like I’m writing for myself. Well, yes. That can be true it can be both and. It can be both that you enjoy writing a story and exploring it and you feel like it’s speaking to your soul and you’re learning through it. And you’re wrestling with things within this manuscript that you’re creating.

That can be true. But at the end of the day, you are creating a product that you’re trying to sell to somebody. And whenever you start selling to somebody, you no longer are creating something for yourself because you already own it. If you are wanting to write for yourself, go for it, have all the fun you want. Write that novel. Enjoy it, It’s fun. Writing a story can be fun, but if your goal is to sell copies and make an income, make some profit off of that book that you are writing, then you need to write with a reader in mind. You need to write for somebody else, not for yourself.

So what does this mean to know your reader? What does that mean? Like what exactly do you need to know? What do you really need to dig into? What does it mean to know your reader? Well, I’m glad you asked that too. I’ve got an answer for you now. I am not a really smart person. I’ve learned this. It’s just basic online marketing.

It’s just basic customer avatar, profiling. It’s just, it is what it is. And so what I’m about to share with you is not any like grand revelation. I just don’t think it’s been applied a whole lot to fiction, the fiction world fiction writing world. And so this might feel a little bit awkward for you at first, but just know that as you start to do these things, it will make it more clear about what you are creating, why you’re creating it and how you can tell other people that will want it, that you have it for them.

There’s two things you need to know about your customer. And sometimes it helps to like make a customer. This is where that whole avatar thing comes into play. That phrase customer avatar or, um, reader avatar is when you kind of create a character. That’s exactly what it is like. It’s so funny. Cuz the non-fiction world, they all make these customer avatars and they get really like creative with it.

They name ’em. They pull some pictures off a Pinterest, kind of make a mood board, a inspiration board. They like go into all the details of all the demographic information, all the psychographic information and they essentially do a character development. So good news fiction writers. You already know how to do this.

You already know how to get into the mind of somebody. You already know how to get into the demographics and psychographics of a customer of your reader. So you’re good, you know how to do this, so don’t be scared of it. Just think of it as I need to understand this character that I’m writing to this person that I’m writing to, I need to understand them. I need to really get into the inside of their mind and understand what drives them to read the type of stories I tell or what is it that they’re trying to accomplish by reading the stories that I tell and how can I tap into that so that I’m giving them a story that they will want to read to accomplish things that they wanna accomplish.

And then I can, once I know that, then I know exactly the wording to use. I understand the different social media platforms to use. Like, you get to understand these things. So let me give you an example, because I know it can be really like abstract to think about, especially like, I hope that whole fact that it’s pretty much just the character development helps you hone in onto what a customer avatar profile really is. It’s just a character development. I hope that like calms you down a little bit and you’re not like, ah! I don’t understand marketing, I just wanna write. You get to write, you get to do both.

So. Let me give you an example. As I mentioned before, like, I am not a horror horror person at all. Right? So that can, you can start with a genre, like, all right. I am writing to people who read this genre, but I think that you really should pull it back a little bit and start with who are they in terms of their demographics?

Are they male or female primarily? And you might be like, well, everybody can read my story. I get it. And you probably will have both genders reading your stories, but write to one, because a certain writing style typically appeals to one or over the other. Let’s just be honest. Lord of the Rings is written more from a masculine adventure perspective and it attracts more of that crowd for readers. Do both genders read a Lord of the Rings? Yes, of course. But is Lord of the rings written to a female audience? I would really argue, no. I think that Tolkin was writing to a male audience when he wrote that story.

Now, I’m not trying to say that women can’t en enjoy adventure, can’t enjoy the different aspects of the fantasy realm that Tolkien engaged in his writing. But the themes that are explored in the Lord of the Rings and the, the way that the story, the center figures are even male, like the majority of the figures, the characters in that novel are male, but it’s more about themes of war and responsibility and provision and all these things that are often very male centric themes.

So that’s what I mean, of course both genders can read that, but more than likely it would appeal, appeal more to a male audience.

So you need to start with your gender. Are you writing to male or female? Just start there and understand that you’re not necessarily excluding anybody. You’re just really honing in on who it would most appeal to so that you can appeal to them.

Next thing I would suggest you do is identify their age. Now you might be like, why does this matter if I’m not writing YA or children’s literature? Because it matters. People at different ages are in different stages of their lives and they need different stories.

They seek out different kinds of stories to experience different things and different themes. A lot of times readers are reading to identify with a certain theme or character. Uh, they wanna see themselves in the things that they’re reading. They wanna identify with that. Other times, people read to experience something that they are not familiar with. And I think that that really ties into different age groups and different stages of life. And I might explore that a little bit more in a future video, but for right now, just know for right now that somebody who is like 23 fresh out of college. They’re a young professional. They’re reading your novel while they’re taking public, like their commute on their commute to work. That’s a very different reader than a mom of littles who is reading briefly while the kids are all asleep. And it’s the only time of day she has to read. And she’s exhausted. Totally different readers, totally different stages of life.

They need different things from you. So that’s what I mean by understanding the age of your reader. Okay. And like I said, we might explore that more in a future episode. We’ll see.

Next, you can dive into all those things that like, what do, what does your reader like? Do they like coffee? Do they really prefer tea? Do they love travel? Do they like going to movies? Do they love reading the book and then watching the film adaptation?

Is that a thing for your reader? The more, you know about them, the more you can connect with your reader, the more you can put little things into your book that your reader goes. Ah, I see you, you see me? We have a connection. I love reading your books. The more you know about your reader. The more you can connect with them, both in your novel and outside of your novel, through different platforms that you have, either, if it’s a blog or social media, whatever it is, even when you’re in person at a book signing event, the more you understand about your reader, the more you can connect with them, the better you’re able to serve them. The more they’ll wanna buy your books. It, the win-win for everybody.

But I want you to take it a step further. I don’t want you to stop at, does she like pumpkin spice lattes or not? Like, I don’t want you to stop at those real basic, um, likes and dislikes, lifestyle, life stage. Like don’t just stop there. Dive into the why, what is your reader struggling with right now?

Where is your reader stuck? Now, In non-fiction what they do is they say, what is my reader’s pain point that I’m solving? And a lot of non-fiction focuses around taking the reader from one spot and, and moving them through a transformation to another spot. Right. So we kind of all get this. There’s a lot of how-to books, a lot of self-help books, a lot of books about, um, different things and people and the ideas to help you understand.

So you go from not knowing to knowing like, so we get this concept in non-fiction, but when it comes to fiction, we’re like, I don’t get like what my reader wants. What does my reader need? Like, I don’t know. It’s just a, they wanna be, just be entertained. That’s what a lot of people say. They’re like, oh, your reason for writing a book is to entertain, uh, uh, uh. Not all the time. And you will not know the reason for why you write to your reader until you understand why your reader reads what you write. I know that feels a little backwards, but it’s the truth. If you understand why your reader reads what you write, even if you haven’t fully flushed out your story, yet you will better understand how to write that story.

Here’s what I mean. What like if we go back to that age example that I gave of the age, you have the young professional on their commute. They’re reading because they enjoy reading they’re reading because maybe they just moved to a new city and they don’t have a lot of friends and maybe they’re a little lonely. And so instead of texting friends on their commute, setting up plans for the next day, they’re reading a novel. Because it feels familiar and safe. Maybe that avatar needs to find a friend in your story. Maybe that avatar needs hope that the loneliness won’t prevail. Maybe that avatar needs to be reminded that God is with her all the time. Even in those moments of loneliness when she’s brand new in a city and she knows nobody, and she’s starting out this new phase of life. Understanding that your reader needs something and that’s why she’s reading the books that she reads helps you write the story that fills that need.

Now on the flip side of that, that other example I gave the busy mom who’s exhausted whose life has just been like nonstop. The littles are bugging her. They’re pulling on her. They’re demanding so much from her and she’s got this little snippet of time and she wants to read something that’s not gonna demand a lot from her. She does not want to think very much. Now that’s not to mean, like we’re not, we’re not, she’s a smart woman. She’s got her degree. She worked for a while. She’s at home now she’s given up a lot. We are not saying anything negative by acknowledging the fact that she wants to just be carried along in the story. She wants to just experience the story. Maybe it makes her laugh. Maybe it makes her cry. Maybe it makes her enjoy something that takes her to somewhere where she is not currently in the throws of diaper changing. Right? It’s not an escape. Per se, but it’s dang close to it. All right. That’s what that reader needs. She doesn’t need you throwing out a ton of facts and figures and all these things. She doesn’t want a deep theological literary novel. She wants something that’s a little bit more just, and something quick and easy, not something that uses heavy prose that makes her have to think, and maybe puts her to sleep during, during the nap time. Though, maybe she just needs nap. I don’t know.

That’s what I mean by understanding what your reader needs. Now, just because somebody is in a certain stage of life, doesn’t mean that they read for the same reasons that everybody else does. So even within a certain age and certain stage of life, you will find readers that read for different reasons.

For instance, let’s just take that mom of young kids who is tired and exhausted. Maybe she’s reading historical novels because she was a history major in co in college. She loves history. She watches history documentaries. She loves everything about history. Maybe that’s why she reads your historical novel, because she wants to see history in a different light. She wants to experience it. She wants to delve into it. She wants, she wants to read about characters from certain historical period. She loves it. That’s why she reads and she might want something that’s a little bit longer, a little bit more in depth. Maybe it goes a little deeper into the political fractions that are causing the tensions in your historical novel. Maybe she wants that. You need to know that. You need to know that. Because that historical novel is gonna be a whole lot different than the mama who is just reading to experience something for 30 minutes while she has some peace and quiet. There’s a difference.

All right. I think I’ve harped on that long enough. I think you guys have got it now. Understand who your reader is in the basic sense of the word. How old they are, maybe where they like general idea of where they live. Like, are they more suburban? Are they more urban?

Like, get those details? What do they like, what do they not like? And then dive into the why, why do they read the type of stories that are very similar to your story? Why would they want to read your story? What are you doing for them? How are you helping them accomplish their goal? In reading a story like yours, get to the why.

Get to the heart of it. What do they want? Why do they want it? And how does your novel help them accomplish it?

Okay. I hope that was helpful. I hope it’s beginning to make a little bit more sense of why you need to know your reader in order to write a great novel. Now you might be tempted to go create something to help you capture all this information. You might wanna go research, like, okay, customer avatar, what do I need to know?

Like, and then you’re gonna wanna like, create a little template and write it all in, and I’m gonna stop you right there because you do not have time to do that. You need to go write your novel and you need to do the strategic thinking about your reader. So we’re gonna just stop right there and not waste any time creating something from scratch, because I’ve already created something for you.

Okay. So you can go to my website. The link is in the show notes below, and you can download a, um, template that’s already designed for you where you can capture all the information about your customer avatar and it’s all laid out for you. You do not have to make anything. Don’t go searching. Don’t waste your time. Just use what I’ve already made. Put the information in. Spend your time on thinking strategically about your reader and then go write your 500 words for the day.

All right. If this was helpful, make sure to like, and subscribe, share it with another Christian writer friend of yours. Let them know. Hey, you need to know your reader. Come learn how and share this video with them. I will see you next time.


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Hey! I'm Rachel and I'm so glad you're here today!
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Hey! I'm Rachel and I'm so glad you're here today!

I help Christian fiction writers figure out how they can make an impact and an income from their storytelling while keeping rest a priority. 

You can learn more about how I’m in your corner here.

And you can learn more about my personal journey here.

One last thing, if you’re looking for a bit more rest in your life, be sure to check out the Rest & Reflect guided journal.

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