This is an excerpt from Writing Better Books the Agile Way, you can get a copy here.


When deciding for whom you are writing, come up with representative examples of people who will read your book. Apply names to make it more personal (and easier to remember): Peter, Bob, Mary, etc. and write a short biography and a list of interests each of those personas have that relate to your book.

While this stereotyping is not necessarily politically correct, remember that you are not really using those names or personalities anywhere in your book. Instead, this process is meant to help you focus and improve communication with your editor or other people working on the book. If you and your team keep those stereotypical representations of your readers in mind, brief statements like “Mary will not understand this paragraph,” “Peter would like to know more about the protagonist’s background,” or “Bob wants more detailed information and references about the topic” will speed up the discussion.

During your writing career, you should refine your audience personas. Find out more about who is reading your books, learn more about your readers’ interests, and compare what you have drawn up as possible personas with the people actually reading your book. Ultimately, your personas should become as diverse as the characters or topics about which you write.

The more you know about your audience, the better you can (a) remove parts of your book that will make people stop reading, and (b) expand on points that interest people. You might even end up knowing your audience so well that you find a comfortable niche and you have but a single persona for whom to write.

Likewise, if you end up with two or more groups of personas that do not overlap, you should think about creating two different books. Focus each on a single persona rather than trying to capture a larger audience and ending up with various groups disliking parts of the book.

You might find people interested in history, and people interested in vampire stories. But putting them together might not work. Let’s take an example from the movie world. On Rotten Tomatoes, the critics’ consensus on “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” was: “[It] has visual style to spare, but its overly serious tone doesn’t jibe with its decidedly silly central premise, leaving filmgoers with an unfulfilling blend of clashing ingredients.”

Most (good) books are simple tools, not Swiss Army knives. They deal with a single issue. People have specific needs and look for specific solutions. If you are muddying the water with several topics, you end up with a smaller audience. And if you cannot explain what your book is about in a short paragraph, your readers certainly will not figure it out for themselves.

Of course, some books are Swiss Army knives. They deliver a range of ideas, especially in the field of education. But those books are sold as part of an existing course or training and are seldom standalone works. Their “story” is how to pass a certain level of education or exam. Other books of this type include reference books for languages, history, natural sciences, and so on. The selling point of those books is—as the name implies—that they act as a reference for study.

For this book series, Better Books with LaTeX and Writing Better Books the Agile Way, I came up with the following general roles of people who are probably interested in the books:

  • Marketer (searching for a niche, preparing the launch)
  • Author (how to work with an editor, etc.)
  • The Undecided
  • Editor (with text notes, or a full manuscript)
  • Publisher (with a fully edited manuscript—physically getting the product to the customer)
  • Project Manager (with an author, editor, and publisher)

Then I elaborated on those roles, creating primary personas:

1. Peter
  • First-time author.
  • Has a “complete” script, “had a friend look at it,” and now wants to publish it.
  • Might need (unsolicited) advice to properly edit it instead of just going through a “self-edit.”
  • Needs to be reminded about the difficulties of selling a book. Has no idea about marketing.
  • Has not worked with an editor.
  • Creates his own book covers.
  • Would benefit from a “pep talk.”
2. Mary
  • Writes novels in Word but now wants to write a non-fiction book.
  • Undecided about what tools to use.
  • Works with an editor, but they have no real work structure.
  • Does not know how to market, find market niches, etc. Her past successes were random, and she never knew if her latest novel would sell or not.
3. John
  • Professional editor seeking to expand his services from merely editing Word files to helping release books online.
  • Also is looking for project management techniques to better guide an author along the way.
  • Often works in the scientific field and thus has to manage a lot of bibliographical references.
  • Spends lots of time indexing books.
4. George
  • Needs basic direction and then figures out the rest on his own.
  • Plans to publish a series with a glossary and often needs to reuse text blocks.
  • Needs some help in terms of book design, polishing, and graphics.
  • Loves to share work and collaborate with others, does not care about parts of the book being “stolen.”
5. Tina
  • Professional writer and self-publisher who is looking for additional ideas to improve her existing publishing process.
  • Looks for ways to establish herself as a brand and create a network of readers.
6. Clara
  • Wants to write a book about her profession to demonstrate her expertise but has no idea where to start.