Inviting in the voice of the reader can help authors and editors find a path forward on editing, titling, cover design, and marketing decisions in publishing.

Our recent study of the state of publishing and data-infused decision-making [LINK to landing page] uncovered that up to 40% of publishers and editors felt that coming to a mutual decision on titles or cover designs with authors can become contentious at least “sometimes”—and 27% felt it becomes difficult “very often/frequently.”

It’s not that anyone is trying to be difficult (although we all know that person who does seem to enjoy being contrarian). It’s just that people have strong opinions, especially when an author is putting their “baby” out for the world to see or an editor is working on a tight deadline and has experience-shaped opinions on why a certain direction could be, well, disastrous!

In our experience at Target Audience Insights, we have found that expanding the table to include the voice of the target reader can break up these time-sensitive logjams. By setting aside passionate opinions for a moment and hearing how the potential readers are reacting, both authors and editors can gain valuable additional context for their arguments.

Think of it as data-infused decision-making rather than data-driven decision-making. By factoring in the voice of real readers, intuitive decisions can be adjusted and strengthened towards a more successful end result.

By target readers, we’re not necessarily talking about asking the opinions from a dozen friends of the author. Those convenience samples of feedback can be highly misleading. However, there are cost-effective, time-sensitive methods for capturing unbiased reader feedback at levels that are statistically relevant and trustworthy.

At TAI, we have numerous personal experiences where inviting in target reader feedback made a significant difference in quality and speed of decision-making during the editorial and packaging process. Recently, a multiple New York Times-bestselling author had her heart set on a title that she absolutely loved. Her editor, however, felt strongly otherwise. Needless to say, the author was not necessarily thrilled about putting options out for unbiased reader feedback. To her credit, she did agree to it.

What happened? You guessed it. The title she lobbied so hard for came in last, including lots of verbatim comments that made it clear why it would have been a really bad choice. Although not obligated to do so, she—along with her editor—went with the clear winning title. The result was a fourth New York Times-bestselling book!

Was the title choice the primary factor behind this result? Probably not. After all, this author has millions of social media followers and hundreds of thousands of passionate readers eager for her next book. However, by collaborating in a sense with her readers, she agreed that she dodged a bullet that could have cost her many thousands of lost sales and most likely gained more unit sales with a more powerful title selection that resonated with unbiased target readers.