Writers: How to Attract NEW Readers
And How to Keep OLD Readers Coming Back For More
For those of you who may not know my story, I didn’t start out writing in pursuit of a professional writing career. I wrote because of my love for the ability to express thought (spirit) through the written word.
Spirit is always for GREATER expansion and FULLER expression. It is NEVER for disintegration. Spirit expresses itself THROUGH you. — Bob Proctor
And, to be honest with you, when I was younger I never really thought writers made a lot of money. In fact, as a teenager, my dream was always about being the first Hispanic in the NBA (as you can probably tell, that one didn’t quite go as planned).
Now, yes, I wrote a lot of poetry back then, but it wasn’t until college that I started to re-think pursuing writing as a professional discipline — as opposed to just something to do to pass the time.
If you want to know more about how this professional writing thing just sort of fell into my lap, check out my 5-Minute Memoir on The Craft of Writing.
To Attract NEW Readers — Lead With a Story
Now, there’s something about sharing a transparent story, where you make yourself as vulnerable as possible, that makes you more and more attractive to new readers (and old ones, for that matter).
The reason for this is because, with a well told story, you make yourself relatable to your readers. You see, your readers want to know that you’ve been where they’ve been, or have gone through what they’ve gone through.
If the story is unrealistic (or unrelatable), the less attractive the writing becomes. Take the story of Superman for example. It isn’t until kryptonite is introduced into the story that we really start to be able to relate to Superman.
In other words, there’s no such thing as a flawless character, and if your goal is to attract new readers, you need to know how to master the ability of connecting and building rapport with your readers right out of the gate.
For instance, consider how I lead you in to the opening of this article by taking you behind the scenes, so to speak, of how I first entered this writing journey.
You see, it’s important to be able to highlight the character flaws of your hero (or heroin) in order to be able to identify the struggles that he or she is going to face in the process of achieving their objective. Without a struggle (or struggles), there is no story.
In all honesty, Superman is really an uninteresting character until he has flaws and weaknesses. And the same is true for any type of story you may be telling. It’s the ability to overcome obstacles and struggles, while still having flaws and weaknesses, that make a character interesting enough to continue reading about.
Now, with that said, it is important to understand that we’re all natural born storytellers. In fact, as I mentioned in my book, The True Writer’s Life: Discovering The Author and Finisher of Our Faith:
“Every day that you go to work and say to your co-workers: ‘You would not believe what happened to me at the gas station this morning…’ is the writer (storyteller) in you trying to force its way out.”
Next time you write an article, lead with a transparent story that makes you vulnerable and relatable. Let your reads know, from the outset, that you’re a person of flaws and weaknesses, and that what they are about to read is how you overcame your setbacks and still achieved your goals and objectives.
To Keep OLD Readers Coming Back — Close With a Surprise
“A true leader always keeps an element of surprise up his sleeve, which others cannot grasp but which keeps his public excited and breathless.” — Charles De Gaulle, former French president and military general
There is a process that psychologists call memory consolidation, which is a process that happens over a period of time shortly after an event takes place.
With that said, the purpose of a surprise at the end of your story is to essentially brand the entire story into your readers long-term memory.
The scientific proof of this “process” was first presented by Dr. James McGaugh, a neuro-biologist at the University of California at Irvine. In short, while training a handful of rats to navigate a complex maze, he discovered they could remember certain patterns quicker if they were given a mild stimulant.
As a writer, think of it has giving yourself a short boost of concentration after drinking a cup of coffee.
However, in the case of Dr. McGaugh’s little experiment, he gave the rats the stimulant after they finished their course through the maze, not before.
After the stimulant wore off, the rats where then tested on their memory of the maze pattern. The rats that were given the stimulant where able to remember the maze patterns better than the rats that were not given the stimulant. This was the first proof that memories form shortly after an event happens rather than before — the memory consolidation theory.
The second discovery that Dr. McGaugh came across in his work was that there was an even more powerful stimulant that, not only was able to produce the same result as the stimulant that he administered on the rats, but that this new stimulant was actually produced by the body, naturally.
In other words, unlike his artificial stimulant, he found that the body chemical known as adrenaline was able to produce the same results at an even greater rate.
In short, we release adrenaline when we experience strong emotions or surprise.
Author of Lead With a Story (AFF), Paul Smith, said:
“The conclusion: A surprise at the end of your story helps your audience remember it better because adrenaline will be present in the brain during the important memory consolidation period.”
To see how this surprise ending works, let me share with you a quick story about a man that met defeat after defeat after defeat, but didn’t let it stop him from achieving his purpose.
(Challenge: While you’re reading this story, see if you can tell who the story is about before you reach the end.)
Note: The following is an excerpt from Paul Smith, Lead With a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and Inspire (AMACOM, 2012), pp 140–141
When he was seven years old, his family was forced out of their home and off their farm. Like other boys his age, he was expected to work to help support the family.
When he was nine, his mother died.
At the age of 22, the company he worked for went bankrupt and he lost his job.
At 23, he ran for state legislature in a field of 13 candidates. He come in eighth.
At 24, he borrowed money to start a business with a friend. By the end of the year, the business failed. The local sheriff seized his possessions to pay off his debt. His partner soon died, penniless, and he assumed his partner’s share of the debt. He spent the next several years of his life paying it off.
At 25, he ran for state legislature again. This time he won.
At 26, he was engaged to be married. But his fiancee died before the wedding.
The next year he plunged into a depression and suffered a nervous breakdown.
At 29, he sought to become the speaker of the state legislature. He was defeated.
At 34, he campaigned for a U.S. Congressional seat, representing his district. He lost.
At 35, he ran for Congress again. This time he won. He went to Washington and did a good job.
At 39, when his term ended, he was out of a job again. There was a one-term-limit rule in his party.
At 40, he tried to get a job as commissioner of General Land Office. He was rejected.
At 45, he campaigned for the U.S. Senate, representing his state. He lost by six electoral votes.
At 47, he was one of the contenders for the vice-presidential nomination at his party’s national convention. He lost.
At 49, he ran for the same U.S. Senate seat a second time. And for the second time, he lost.
Two years later, at the age of 51, after a lifetime of failure, disappointment, and loss (and still relatively unknown outside of his home state of Illinois), Abraham Lincoln was elected the sixteenth president of the United States.
Despite being elected to a second term, he served only four years in office before meeting his final defeat at the hands of an assassin in April 1865. But during those four years, President Lincoln successfully led the country through its greatest internal crisis (the American Civil War); preserved the Union; ended slavery; and rededicated the nation to the ideals of equality, liberty, and democracy.
From that short story, I’ve shown you just how powerful it is to remember that overcoming struggles is what makes a story great.
Moreover, by now you can probably see how heightened your readers attention, with a burst of adrenaline, enhances memory formation. In fact, it is the surprise alone that triggers the release of adrenaline — the stimulant needed to create lasting memories.
Therefore, a surprise at the end of a story helps your readers remember it better. Why else do you think people become glued to their TV set while binge watching their favorite series on Netflix?
P.S. Which one of you guessed that the story above was about Abraham Lincoln before you got to the end?
William Ballard, MBA is a highly sought after business strategist and content marketing expert. He is a highly respected master copywriter whose passion is to help struggling firms go from merely surviving operations to truly thriving organizations.