How To Get Your Work Read: Finding Your Audience and Writing For You
A short guide to getting people to read your work and writing stuff that they actually want to read in the first place.
A while ago, I wrote a primer for getting started writing. It was intended to be a very introductory look into writing for non-writers. I received some feedback that it was a very good 101 course on how to actually sit down and write.
That said, I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve picked up from writing for a public audience in the past few months. While my work has been posted on Medium, it can apply to multiple other venues as well.
Define your target
The first thing you need to figure out is what your goal is. If you want to write for you, write for you. Find a blogging site that allows you to post long-form blogs to your friends and the general public. Write whatever makes your heart sing. You may accumulate an audience that likes your work, you may not.
If you want to make money, figure out who your audience is, and find a voice that speaks to that audience. Figure out what they want to read, and write that. You may have to change your style or substance a bit, but you can usually write about what you want and still get views.
You need to put in the effort to get that audience, though. You cannot reasonably expect to publish work into the void and just magically create an audience for that work. It does happen, but probably not to you. Thems the breaks.
Unfortunately, finding an audience means marketing yourself a bit. It sounds abhorrent, and many writers cringe at the thought of selling themselves, but there are easy ways to do it without feeling sleazy:
- Share your work with your friends. If you have some manner of following, post it to them. There are no guarantees that they’ll read it, but they may read it, find it fascinating, and share it with their followers.
- Find Facebook groups where you can share your work and get feedback. There are loads of them for bloggers, short stories, poetry, factual articles, Amazon e-books, whatever. No matter what you write, there’s probably a Facebook group for it.
- Find places to post your work in the public sphere that increases the odds that it will be seen. Tag people on Twitter with an opinion piece. Post your articles to Pinterest. Share your work on Tumblr or Reddit.
- Submit your work to publications. There are a lot of resources out there for finding a publication that will accept whatever genre you have chosen. If you write for a place like Medium with internal publications, submit to those. Publications have a built-in audience, and you get the bonus of feeling accomplished that your work was published.
Work on your substance
Once you have determined your audience, figure out the best way to target them and get clicks. One of the easiest ways to do this is to work on your titles. Nothing turns off readers more than a bland title. I’ve clicked on atrocious articles that had great titles, and I’ve read great articles that had horrible titles. The difference is that I’m more likely to click on a good title, even if the piece sucks.
One way you can do this is to find a headline rater. I use the Advanced Marketing Institute’s Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer, but there are a lot of them out there, and they all provide different things. This one is good for helping me find buzzwords that grab attention, but I’ve written articles that scored low and still got a lot of views.
Spend time on your titles. I rewrite them on the fly and run the revisions through my rater, but some people come up with ten or more titles before choosing the best one or combining two or more into a high-quality one. I’ve spent ten or fifteen minutes working on my title, and I find that when I do, I get better results.
Now that you’ve built an audience and drawn them in, write your butt off. Make sure that what you submit is high-quality (you have been working on the quality of your writing, no?) and run it through multiple editors, both computerized and otherwise if you can. I use Grammarly, but there are plenty out there.
If your writing needs work, take a class. Audit creative writing or journalism classes at the community college. Sit in on night classes held by writers groups. Read about how to write better. Just read other people’s work in general. I’ve picked up my style from many writing influences throughout my lifetime of reading, and if you read a lot, you will develop your own style that works for you.
While you’re reading, find authors that are successful with your same audience. If you write about technology, find a few authors that write prolifically about technology and read all of their work. Analyze their titles to see what works for them. Figure out what topics they avoid and learn how they approach their chosen topics. Break it down and make it work for you.
Kick it into high gear
Okay, so you have an audience, you’ve refined your work, you write killer titles, and you’re ready to really get going. Find your venue and get going. If you’ve been publishing slowly, maybe pick up the pace. If you haven’t built your audience but have analyzed them to within an inch of their lives, start implementing the above tactics to build your audience quickly.
Figure out a publishing schedule that you can manage. I generally publish two to four articles per week on no particular schedule because I have a day job. You may find success publishing Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 9:00 a.m., or you may publish every day multiple times a day whenever you get your work in.
Generally speaking, publishing more is better, but this can be challenging if you have a day job. I find that the days that I publish two articles tend to drive my views higher, but I have enough of an audience that I get a lot of residual clicks on days where I publish nothing.
Okay, now that you’re putting work out there and are starting to get clicks, work to retain your audience. Get in the habit of posting prominent links to your past work. I do this at the bottom of my articles, but interspersing throughout your article in both in-line and pop-out formats can also drive views to older articles.
If your audience consists of fellow writers, read their work and like/upvote/applaud and comment on their work. You don’t have to do it every day, but commenting on people’s work is a good way to start engaging with them and maybe get a loyal reader or two.
In the same way, if your audience likes commenting on your work, engage with them. Reply to their comments (except the trolls), indicate that you see them and acknowledge them, and start a dialogue with your readers. Followers like to know that the person they’re following cares about them.
Do it for you
Most importantly, write for you, too. If you are regularly posting stuff and have an audience, you can post things that are only for you. They may not get many views, but they may also go viral. Don’t pin your hopes on them, and know that they’ll probably not get many views, but if you’re writing them for you, that shouldn’t matter.
If you started writing to make money, then I have some bad news for you: it’s hard. Trying to build an audience in a blog or through articles or stories takes a lot of work for very little payoff. You could hit it big, but it won’t happen overnight, at least not without it being your full-time job and then some, and it might not even happen then.
That said, if you started writing for yourself, as I did, you can take small steps to build an audience and make a little extra money. It’ll never be a king’s ransom, but a few hundred bucks a year beats a poke in the eye.
This article is a base-level guide. You can find entire books breaking down each individual step that I listed here. The bad news is that if you want to make this your full-time job, you will have to do this stuff and more all the time with all of your energy.
The good news is that it’s all scalable. I do all of these things and I work 40 hours a week at a day job. My writing here will never pay the bills, but it doesn’t have to. It brings me joy to write these articles, and it only takes a little extra effort to build my audience and market myself with good enough results that I can afford to treat myself and my wife to dinner once a month on what I make here.
Again, if you want to do this full time, you will have to sink another 100 hours or so into reading about it, and this article alone won’t get you there. But if you’re doing it for mostly fun and a little profit, these steps require very little energy to do on a small scale and can make you a little extra beer money.
Either way, go out there and write. I’m cheering for you to succeed, whatever that means for you.
Catharsis, Mental Health, and Writing for Medium
When the pain of reliving my past on the page is worth the effort.