A writer is pretty useless at the time they are first trained in writing. Nearly everyone is trained to write as a basic skill. But, like teaching children math doesn’t make them into mathematicians, being able to write doesn’t make anyone an author.
Writer + audience = author.
A writer has to find people who want to read their stuff. If they’ll also pay the author for their writings, then that’s even better.
So an author, to make a sustainable career, needs an audience who will regularly buy their books – in any format.
Where do you, the author, find your audience?
You start inside yourself.
Like you and me and everyone, we are selfish. We have opinions about what is good or bad or humdrum average unremarkable. And we are all tuned to one station: WIIFM – What’s In It For Me?
We like to read stuff that’s tailored directly to us – you, me, personally. We like to be transported with new ideas to lands and situations we’ve never been in before – or like when we did the last time.
The books you’ve liked to read the most, the movies you watch over and over – these are the things that you like. And would experience again. Because you can’t get enough of them.
Sure, that’s just good writing, be it fiction or non-fiction. And it’s all the same model:
- Your opening line (or headline) has one job – to get you to read the first paragraph.
- That first paragraph has to be imminently readable and it has just one job – to get you to read the next.
- Then that next one also has just one job – you guessed it: to read the next.
- And so on, and so one.
So: can you come up with a reason for the reader to keep going from one sentence, one paragraph, to the next?
If you can, you can transport a reader – and keep them transported. If not, go back to the stories you love to read over and over, the movies you keep watching. Figure out what transports you and then write stuff like that.
This then is the core point:
Read (and watch) stuff that you really love…
And then love the stuff you write.
Because if you love what you write, so will your reader.
And anyone reading your writing will want more from you.
If you get bored writing, then so will your reader. Back up to where you were fascinated, delete everything after that, and begin writing again from that point.
The trick is to watch your own interest like a hawk – and swoop down at the exact moment you have to.
The second point may also be obvious:
Write for one person. Only.
That reader doesn’t have to be a fully fleshed-out “avatar” which is the custom these days. It’s someone who you want to talk to desperately, and you want to make sure gets your point. But you don’t cudgel them over the head with your sentences. Rather, your words are like the Pied Piper’s flute where he entranced all the children out of Hamlin. Every child thought that song was being played just for themselves. Each kid only could hear that one tune – and dance to it.
So write for that one person. Entrance them. And lead them on with the most perfect tune you can write with your fingers.
You’ll find that you have a lot in common with your readers. They are a lot like you.
And that is exactly the point. If you like it, they’ll like it. And you’ll attract that type of reader.
Be true to yourself, wrote Shakespeare – and the prophets.
Then your audience is able to find you.
The technical best places to put your writing to get audience
Note: This isn’t timeless data, it’s just current to moment I write this for you…
If you’re writing fiction – post your stories, published or not, in chapters on Wattpad or well-used fan-fiction forums. For free. And do this for a few years until you have several novel-length books up there.
If you’re writing non-fiction – post your articles to Medium (after you’ve already posted them to your own site and included a link back to that site.) Yes, you also write guest posts – but those are a lot harder and are specifically for that site’s readers. You can do this paid or unpaid for your articles.
In both instances, write several novels-worth of data there.
Learn from comments, learn from reader analytics they have. Learn to engage with your readers you find there.
Always then give them a reason (and a link they can use) to come to your site and find more about you.
But I don’t have a site…
Here’s a suggestion: Blogger.
Costs you nothing. Is always kept updated. Move it later if you want.
What about inside my books?
Once you’re publishing (and you don’t have to wait to have an established audience to start publishing – but it helps.) Give then a reason to give you their email. Give them something first. Something special. Work it out for each book, or keep offering the same thing for a series.
But the trick is that free stuff and “starter sets” don’t work much anymore. Because they are so common. And the world of ebooks has been over-saturated for years, and won’t ever be simple again. Meaning the advice about how to get people to give you their emails – the tired tropes from the “gold rush” days of Kindle publishing – are just like those old, worn-out picks and shovels and pans. Used to work. Back in the day.
Ask your imagination and inspiration to give you something that is really unique. Read your book again yourself. At the end of it ask yourself – now what would I really like? What “prize inside” would really give me something valuable enough to let someone else into my over-crowded in-box?
Then produce it and make it available.
How to make your special prize inside available?
- Inside the back of your book, put a small, catchy, invitation that hints at what you’re going to give them – or make it a blatant bribe (whatever fits your writing and their reading.)
- Put a hard link inside the ebook to a landing page where you tell them again what they are going to get, but here you can put a nice picture of the cover and either an excerpt or a bullet list of benefits (if non-fiction) so they get hooked and want it.
- That landing page has a form they can fill out.
- You have a mailing list service provider (MLSP) at this point. (Mailerlite is a good, free, low-cost starter.) They provide that form (and may also provide the landing page) and put that person onto your mailing list.
- Then that MLSP gets them to confirm their mailing address, and then sends them a confirmation that they’ve been accepted (also called a thank you page) where you provide a link for them to download their reward.
Note: of course, you have to have a place that will host that giveaway. You can do this with a free account on Instafreebie, or pay a small fee each month for BookFunnel to do it for you. Or even set it up on Gumroad. It could even be a free download from your site or even GoogleDrive with an inscrutable link.
Then what you do with that new audience member?
Treat them like family – or a best friend. Better: just treat them as you’d like to be treated. Talk to them regularly, and always something they want to hear. Something that will lighten their load or improve their life somehow.
Because, like you and I – they only listen to WIIFM. Make sure your program is worth listening to.
- Would you like a program that only gives away cheap or free stuff all the time?
- Would you like a program that only sounds like boring slides from some relative’s trip? (“And here’s us in front of the pyramids – boy it was hot that day – oh, sorry, there’s my finger again, heh, heh…”)
- Worst – would you keep tuned to a station that only runs ads?
Treat your audience as you’d like to be treated. Keep things interesting. Spice things up. Tell stories like you’re good at Background tidbits from the characters that didn’t make it into the stories. Or hear from the characters themselves and their opinions about how the story turned out…
And yes, occasionally tell them where they can find stuff to buy. They’ll expect that. And they’ll want to give back to you when you’ve given so much to them.
For non-fiction, it would be lists of more helpful hints – one’s they haven’t already heard. Or full interviews that were only excerpted for the books. Or updates as things change in a technical field.
There is a format style guide to writing emails.
- Stick to one topic.
- Include only a single link (in addition to the “unsubscribe” link at the very end.)
- Repeat that link three times.
- The last one is in the PS – and it’s fully typed out so that if they can’t click for some reason, they can type it into their browser. (Hint: use a link shortener.)
- Keep it to two or a tiny few screen-fuls on a mobile device. Too long and they’re gone. Most email is opened on a mobile device first these days – and most of that is then re-opened later on a desktop. Keep the font-size decent when you write it. (General consensus right now is at least 16pt.) Because some screens are really small and tiny text invites them to delete it.
- Short sentences, small paragraphs – because they’re more readable.
- Interrupt with Bold, Italic, subheadings and bullet points every now and then.
- Don’t include tables if you can avoid them.
- And especially not big graphics that won’t shrink. (And if you want to really stand out these days, don’t include graphics at all…)
- Make your words tell the story – and transport them all on their own. Like your books.
- And… by survey, people want to hear weekly – not weakly – about what they are interested in. Writing them a short, actionable email every week won’t take long, will it? Otherwise, they might forget you exist – and wonder what you’re even doing in their inbox…
How about all that other advice out there – running giveaways for prizes, cross-promotions with other authors?
Like the SF writer Theodore Sturgeon said “90% of everything out there is crud.” Most of the advice out there worked somewhat, the first time. What works for you now is what you’ve tested for yourself. (And especially test anything I tell you.)
If it’s a cheap, sleazy way to get something, it’s probably not going to work as well as it’s hyped.
Would you care about someone’s books if you only started hearing about that author because they once gave away a new Kindle stuffed with their books? And you didn’t win one?
People treat others as they’ve been treated. Just like you do.
Sure, these new subscribers might get interested – after a few very interesting emails. (And how crowded is your own email these days?)
But what about that author who wrote a fascinating book – where you wanted to find out more about the character after that the story ended? And that author sent you a snippet of story that happened just before that story started, so you found out more about that character – and it explained how they made their choices… You’d want to open that email, right? You’d know that author by name, maybe, and even expect that email every week.
Places like Instafreebie are good to start with, but realize that any one technique is limited.
And we haven’t started in on the cost of running ads…
Your most responsive readers are those who found you from the back of your book.
But they are the toughest to get.
The other techniques mean that you have to write some very interesting and transporting emails – all in addition to writing your books.
But in both cases, you are writing to a single person – someone you want to keep fascinated with your writing.
Test all this out. All of it. Don’t take my word for it.
I just went through hell the last few years (and investing several thousand out of my hard-earned book royalties during those years) to figure all this stuff out.
Doesn’t mean any of it is going to work for you.
That’s your challenge. Your journey.
Sign up on the form on this page.
We’ll be in touch.
Also published on Medium.