3 Strategies to Guarantee Your Writing Will Attract an Audience
Nonfiction writers often struggle with aimlessness. They have passion about an area of interest, but when it comes to channeling this passion in a way that will attract readers, they struggle.
One of my coaching clients, Jolene Underwood, put it this way: “Sometimes, it feels a bit like looking into the ocean and finding the right wave.” Jolene, like many writers, is willing to do the work. Work ethic is not the problem.
But to do all that work and hear crickets, that’s hard to take. It’s even more difficult when this happens repeatedly.
Lest you think this is a rookie problem, let me assure you seasoned professionals struggle with this too. Recently I was in a publishing board meeting (the meeting where publishing decisions are made), and virtually the entire conversation was about how much potential a particular project had if the writer would simply scratch where people are itching. And this writer was represented by an agent who’s been in the business for decades.
Here’s a question worth asking: If you knew for sure the next piece you published would attract readers, would you still feel aimless? Would you write with more energy and excitement? Would you be less likely to procrastinate?
In this post I’m going to share three strategies for guaranteeing that your writing will attract an audience.
1. Ask Them
The key to attracting an audience is in writing to your readers’ specific needs. What do they need, and how can you help them?
The fastest way to know what your readers’ needs are is to ask them. Jeff Walker, an expert in online product launches, recommends asking these two questions:
When it comes to [your area of interest], what’s your number 1 struggle?
If we sat down for coffee, what’s the #1 question you would have for me?
Another useful question, this one adapted from Bryan Harris, is
What’s the #1 question you have on [industry or area of interest]?
To watch a video in which Jeff Walker goes into more detail on this, see below:
If you have an email list, this is simple. You write an email with a subject line like “Would you do me a quick favor?” and ask away.
You might find it helpful to use Google Forms or Survey Monkey to make the process of gathering and reviewing comments easier.
While you’re asking these questions, you might want to ask some demographic questions to learn even more about your audience. Standard demographic questions are easy to find online. Just Google “demographic questions.”
Shoot for compiling at least twenty questions from your audience.
I’ve sent four surveys to my email list over the years, and it’s always been both enlightening and inspiring to hear directly from readers.
Want to Supercharge Your Survey?
You can do this. Just send the questions to your list and see what comes back. Simple.
But if you want a survey that’s a little more elaborate; if you want a survey expert to review your survey before you send it; and if you want to get results back that are super user-friendly and easy to filter, consider hiring a survey and data analyst on a platform like Upwork (a global network of independent freelancers).
I did this successfully a few months ago and created a PDF that captures everything I did and learned along the way. The pdf includes:
- My job post on Upwork
- A link to the profile of the survey analyst I hired
- How much I paid him (It’s cheaper than you think!)
- A word doc of my original survey
- A pdf of my final survey
2. What if I Don’t Have (or Don’t Have a Big) Email List?
If you have twenty people on your list, that’s enough to send out a survey, but let’s say you have zero. And even if you have thousands, the exercise below is still worthwhile.
Take a mental step back and brainstorm questions readers in your space are likely to have. For example, I blog about writing and publishing and creativity. I’m going to set the timer on my phone for three minutes and brainstorm all the questions that come to mind. Ready . . . go:
- How do I get published?
- How do I get an agent?
- How can I make sure an audience is attracted to my writing? (wink)
- What are publishers looking for?
- How do I build an email list?
- How do I write an amazing book proposal?
- How do I build my platform and write my book at the same time?
- Is it impossible for me to be published if I don’t have 10,000 subscribers?
- How can I make my book proposal stand out?
- How I do write really compelling stuff?
- If a traditional publisher does sign me, do I lose all rights to my work?
- If I self-publish a book, will a traditional publisher be interested in publishing my self-published book later?
- I have some scattered ideas for a book concept, but how do I get started?
There. That’s at least ten blog posts based on questions that I’m pretty sure people in my audience have.
You can do the same thing. Another useful tool is Quora. Jump on there, type in a few key words and see what questions come up. A quick search for “getting published” produced a bunch of questions, many of which are irrelevant to me, but these were interesting:
- How can I, a first time non-fiction author, get published?
- How do I get published even though I am a young writer?
- How did J.K. Rowling get published?
3. Answer Their Questions
Now that you have your readers’ questions, it’s time to answer them!
Pick a question and go. Be as thorough and winsome and compelling as possible. Put in the work to help your reader solve her problem.
To make sure you do a thorough job, try writing 250 words per day on one question for four days. (That is, in fact, how I wrote this article!) In any case, be as compassionate and specific as you can be.
Your Audience Is Waiting
This isn’t really about the tools you use or even about the specific questions you ask your audience, though some planning and intention will increase your effectiveness. This is really about forcing yourself to stop and listen.
Too often we dive into whatever we’re writing without first considering what the needs of our audience are.
When you take the time to hear the questions your audience is asking, and then you do your best to answer those questions as thoroughly and compellingly as possible, you are sure to attract an audience of eager readers.
What are you going to do to “stop and listen” to your audience?