“We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort.

And that is why we write.” ― Neil Gaiman

If you are an unpublished writer, take a moment to close your eyes and envision your favorite or ideal bookstore. Firmly place yourself there by imagining the colors of the walls, the light fixtures, the people browsing its aisles and reading in its chairs. Can you hear any music playing?

Now, focus on where your book would be shelved, and move toward it. What are the books around it? How many people are looking for it? What do those people look like? Whether it makes you comfortable or not, imagine your specific reader—the one, outside of yourself, who will love this book. Is it a man or a woman? Young or old? Rich or poor? What does his or her clothing look like? Where does he or she buy coffee, or does he or she even drink coffee? Does this person prefer independent bookstores, store chains, or buying electronically?

Is your ideal reader still in a bookstore?

This exercise is not a joke. If you want to find the right agent, publisher, and placement for your book, you need to know the answers to all of these questions, and be able to articulate them. If you know the answers, your agent search, choice of publisher, and marketing after the book launches will be much more successful.

One of the biggest mistakes new writers make (and which I certainly made in the past) is to take action on the assumption that all readers will love your book. In other words, querying all agents in Writer’s Market who represent fiction if you’ve written a novel is a bad idea. It is a waste of your time and their time, and it will leave you feeling cold, empty, and wrung out. It would be better to query ten agents who represent books you love to read, which you’d find on shelves next to yours, which would be picked up by the same exact hand that picked up your book, than to query one hundred agents. It would be more effective to post on ten blogs written by swimming coaches (if your book is about swimming, of course) than hundreds of blogs that cover a wider range of topics.

Ultimately, everyone who reads your book may, in fact, love it. But you need to find the first wave of readers before your book makes it into the hands of their spouses, teachers, or dermatologists. You need to find the people who share your passions and interests so that they may fall in love with your work, and then talk about it with everyone they know.

Know those who need your stories, and find a way to get your book into their hands. That is why you write.