Let’s call a spade a spade — most writers are abject failures. Just god awfully poor results. It doesn’t have to be this way either.
There are some people with no talent who are destined to fail, but that description doesn’t fit most writers and it probably doesn’t fit you.
Still, odds are, you’re going to fail, even though you could easily avoid it.
You don’t have to end up in the abyss of writers who quit, who never quite got the message right, and who couldn’t comprehend this one simple fact you need to know to be a successful writer.
Seriously, if you can embrace this single concept, fully, you stand a chance at building an audience that loves your work. If you don’t embrace this concept, you will fail.
So what’s the concept?
Simple. In order to build an audience and have a successful career, other people not named you have to like your writing.
Regardless of what you write — non-fiction self-help or vampire novels — your work has to be attractive to readers. This doesn’t mean you need to pander, but it does mean you have to understand what readers want.
So, what do readers want? What must you understand about them to be successful?
Start with these five core traits of any audience anywhere, and you’ll be well on your way to having a successful writing career.
Take Off Your Rose-Colored Glasses
You have to understand that your potential reader’s default position is to not want to read your stuff.
First of all, they don’t know you. The less social proof you have, which is zero when you’re new, the harder it is to gain attention.
Second, even for people who like to read, reading isn’t a high priority compared to all the other things they could be doing.
Last, even if they decide they’re really in the mood to read, they can choose from an infinite number of writers.
Why am I telling you all this? Aspiring writers are infected with this mindset that somehow people are interested in their work by default when the opposite is true.
Nobody cares about you. Nobody cares about your work. And, for damn sure, nobody gives a damn about your dreams of becoming the next great writer.
You have to make them care.
You need to become a better writer. Most aspiring writers aren’t good at writing and they shouldn’t be.
Then, you want to put your work in front of people who might be interested in your work. This means using websites like Medium and finding the right pockets of the site to publish your work on.
As you practice your writing, implement new techniques, and gain a bit of an audience, you’ll start to see what works and what doesn’t. But you’ll never reach that point if you don’t take full responsibility for your work.
Think of how you browse the internet. Are you thinking to yourself, “Hm…I really should read this person’s article because it might help them build their long-held dream of becoming a writer.”
Nope. You don’t care at all.
Why? Because you’re only interested in the answer to this question.
The One Question Every Read Asks Themselves
Why do you read an article?
You read an article because you think you’re going to get something from it. Before you decide to read an article, you ask yourself, “What’s in it for me?”
There are a variety of reasons why people read. Sometimes they’re looking for education and your article has an answer to a pressing question. Sometimes they’re looking for inspiration or seeking a transformation (often, this is the case).
Maybe they just want some entertainment and a bit of an escape from the world. Often, they’ll read because they think what they’re reading will say something positive about them — ‘I’m informed’ ‘I’m in the know’ ‘I have good taste.’
Always think of this question when you sit down to write.
Many aspiring writers don’t take this into account at all.
They’ll write some article — On my Whimsical Trip to the Maldives. OK. What are your potential readers getting from an article like what? What’s in for them? How are they better off for reading that?
Most people who write articles like this will say something like “Because the story is interesting!” Usually, it’s not. Usually, it’s masturbatory and self-serving.
A blog post on sustainable gardening answers that question, so does Kafka. Don’t blame lack of readers on the genre, blame it on yourself. Always answer the question.
Understand What Truly Moves Readers
Pretty words don’t move readers, emotions do.
Yes, people appreciate well-written prose, but the emotions do most of the leg-work. The most popular writers aren’t always the most technically gifted ones.
Take a book like 50 Shades of Grey. Safe to say it’s not a literary masterpiece, but it managed to strike a deep, visceral, primal emotional response in readers.
Also, you do have masters of prose like Tolstoy who were successful with a finer touch, but also primarily succeeded because of the emotional tones they hit in their writing.
Write at whatever literary quality you deem necessary, but understand you’ll persuade readers with the underlying concepts beneath the words as opposed to the words themselves.
In short, quit trying to be so cute. Understand what emotions your writing plays on, form the concepts around those emotions, and then use words to describe the concepts.
Some emotions/concepts that strike a chord with readers are:
- Fear — Fear is the most powerful and persuasive emotion you can use. Often, when I write self-improvement articles, I’ll allude to alleviating fear.
- Aspiration — Humans just want to be better. We want to transform. We’re never quite satisfied. You don’t have to be a self-help writer to appeal to aspiration. Why do you think the hero’s journey story arc is so successful in novels?
- Lust and primal sexual instincts — Romance novels are, by far, the best-selling books on Amazon. Not all that close.
- Excitement — People often live humdrum lives. If your writing can provide a jolt of energy, they’ll keep coming back for more. My blogging mentor Jon Morrow says, “When you sit down to write, don’t publish just another blog post. Don’t give your readers just another tip. Don’t tell just another cute story. Set their freaking hair on fire.”
I could keep going, but the main idea here — think less about appealing to reason and more about appealing to emotions.
Stay With Your Reader the Entire Way
Readers are always looking for a reason to dismiss you.
When you started this post, I bet you thought to yourself, “I probably know some of the points this guy is going to say.” If you had this thought in your mind and I just called it out, you now trust me a little bit more.
Why? Because readers love when you anticipate their thoughts. A classic technique in sales is calling out your customers objection before they say it.
When you’re writing, if you understand upfront that, while people are reading your articles, they’re trying as hard as they can to find an excuse to click out of them, you can add little techniques like the one above to keep them reading.
There’s a saying “Each sentence has one job. Get the reader to the next sentence.”
This seems like a jaded attitude to have toward readers — they don’t care about you, they want to dismiss your work, they don’t use logic, etc. But a lack of idealism helps you gain influence and win attention.
It’s the writers with rose-colored glasses, who think the world is dying to read their work and imagines themselves writing the next great American novel, who always fail.
Over time, you’ll rely less on persuasion techniques in your writing because you will have a loyal audience who wants to read your writing. You’ll have some fans who love your work so much they’ll read everything you write.
You reach that point by first humbling yourself and understanding you need to fight for attention with each line of each new article.
You want readers to be pleasantly surprised when they read your articles. They were expecting you to flop, but you wrote something insightful, in-depth, and emotionally satisfying at the same time.
This is how you build an army of readers.
Do This to Build a Loyal Tribe of Readers
The more you get readers invested into you, the more often they’ll come back and the longer they’ll stay.
You have certain writers like this in your life — when they drop something new, you drop everything and read it. When they have a new book out, you’ll buy it. You’re a part of their ‘1,000 true fans.’
How do you get readers invested in you?
Be consistent. The more top of mind you are for your readers, the more they’ll stick with you long-term. Most writers simply don’t write long enough to build a tribe of readers who are invested in their work.
Hone your voice over time and continue to work on inspiring, educating, and entertaining your readers. You want to create the feeling that your work is meant specifically for them as an individual, even if you have thousands of fans.
Show you’re serious about your craft by constantly refining it and paying attention to your audience’s needs. That’s the thing about self-serving writing — it’s disrespectful to your readers and they can sense you don’t care about them from the way you write your articles.
If you iterate, focus on your audience, and simply don’t quit, you’ll attract the right readers who will get invested in you.
Once you have enough readers invested in you, you’ll have a career, you’ll have your dream, and they’ll be happy too.
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