The ideal reader bears no relationship to a ‘target group’ – which is a statistical construct. An ideal reader is an imaginary personage, arising from personal memory and akin to figures in dreams. A writer in any genre embarks on an intellectual or artistic adventure; all you require of readers is that they be willing to participate in that adventure.
And all they require of you is that you allow them access to it. You do not need to sell them anything—not even your book—nor to convince them of anything beyond the spiritual adventure implied in your work.
We are not saying that marketing is beneath you. What we are saying is that catering to audiences is utterly distinct from writing, and never the twain should meet.
The ideal reader is a figment of your imagination: he does not exist outside the adventure you are embarking on. He rises from the shadows as you write.
An author of our acquaintance recently completed an epistolary novel. Each time the imprisoned heroine addresses some powerbroker to request freedom in hopes of improving her plight, she has an ideal reader in mind—and this is emphatically NOT the person whom she addresses. Her irony, formality, and mock-reverence show it: in each letter she pens, the heroine is animated by the remembrance of her erstwhile lover, now dead, whom she thinks of as a truly civilized man, quite unlike the courtiers, sycophants, and career rats she has to deal with.
While the novel took wing, its author realized that the ideal readers of the heroine’s letters were his ideal readers too; that he partook in an ancient, outlandish ideal of grace and refinement as cherished by some of the finest characters that lived in Imperial China. Following a hunch, he proceeded to have his heroine write a letter to one of those characters directly: her deceased lover.
Of course this is an extreme example, in part prompted by the peculiar form of the epistolary novel; yet we deemed it worth mentioning. The ideal reader incorporates all the hopes and yearning implicit in your writing—implicit in your life.
The ideal reader bridges the gap—a necessary gap—between you and your readers; the ideal reader establishes, indeed restores your connection with actual readers, but most certainly NOT by telling you how to please them. While embarking on an artistic adventure, it won’t do to, as Oscar Wilde puts it, ‘hit below the intellect.’