Don’t Write Like A Writer.
…write like a business.
BY JON WESTENBERG
If you want to “make it” in any creative field, you have to do something almost inconceivable. Something that probably makes your beautiful artistic soul wilt away like flowers touched by a Dementor (as usual, I can’t resist my Rowling references). You have to treat your creativity like a business.
This is particularly true of writing. It’s a very different world out there now for a writer, and the days of book deals and hit novels are long gone. If you want to ever make a full time living as a writer today, you need to look at your writing career as you would a business.
Your readers are your users. What is their user experience?
Here’s the most important point. If you want to grow your readers, you can no longer think of them as just readers.
You have to think about them as customers and users, who have come to you looking for a product and an experience that will fill their needs.
This means that you need to think about how your text is read when it’s on the page or in an app. There’s a whole big internet out there just waiting for your user/reader’s attention. I’ve seen it. There’s cats on it. How can you keep your readers from being distracted?
I find I get a lot more tweets around my work when I make certain key sentences and statements stand out. I’ll often write my work around one key concept and turn it into a bold heading or quote that a skim reader will be hooked on. It’s about crafting text to the user experience.
Monitor. Test. Learn. Adjust.
You need to test your work. When you publish a piece online, or submit it for publication, it’s important to stay agile and change when necessary. The process of growing your writing and your readership will be a lot easier when you monitor how people react to your work.
For example, you could start out by writing long form, 2,000 word pieces on your experiences with diversity. That’s fine. But if you don’t get readership, you could try different form factors for your writing, cutting down the length and including more or less images.
I don’t just publish a piece. I write a piece with clear statement or belief that the piece will test about my readers.
For this piece, the statement I’m testing is that a great many of my readers are just as interested in learning how to write as they are in building startups. I’ll know if I’m right when I compare my analytics and data to previous pieces.
Don’t chase funding. Chase readers.
Don’t spend your time dreaming about having your work funded by someone else, or chasing that funding in the form of a book deal or a regular paid column. That’s not going to make you a real writer. If you’re always trying to appeal to gatekeepers instead of getting out there and finding real readers, you’re missing out on a whole chunk of people whose lives you could have changed.
It matters more to connect one-on-one with 10 people who could become long term readers than it does to chase 100 publishers who could pay for your work. When you have enough readers, those publishers will either come knocking or be waiting for your call.
I haven’t submitted a piece anywhere in a long time. Instead, I carefully monitor the people who read my work. I read every tweet, and I try to respond personally to a great deal of them. I meet with and connect with people all the time in order to gain their trust and readership. It matters.
Have a plan. Follow it.
If you want to become a writer, you can’t just buy a nice laptop and a comfy desk/chair set up and wait for the next great novel to move through you. That’s not going to work.
I guarantee you that you’ll end up watching Netflix instead of writing if you don’t have a plan.
So create one. Create a business plan. The same way you would with a business. The plan should identify what you intend to write, how you intend to write it and what your goals, milestones and key performance indicators are. You want this document to be a complete guide to the next 6 or 12 months of your writing career.
I keep my plan in a Google Docs spreadsheet. I may have gone a little overboard, as I have a content and book schedule outlined for the next two years. But having a 2 year plan for a business is normal.
Take marketing seriously.
This is something that even many startups don’t think about nearly enough. You need to really consider how you are going to reach your readers and how you will appeal to them. Make your marketing plan a part of your writing “business plan” and spend some serious time on it.
You need to know who your ideal readers are and build personas around them. This will help you determine the way you reach out and connect with people and will also help to guide your choices around usability, readability, design and branding.
Your marketing should cover as many channels as you feel comfortable with, but high on the list should be your own personal blog, your social media accounts and your email newsletter.
I use Medium as a key marketing channel, writing each piece with a clear call to action that pushes my readers to either follow me on Twitter or check out my website. I know that with my style and my topics, Medium is a great marketing channel for my readers, because it matches my reader persona.
You’re writing for an online audience. People all over the world can access your work and be touched by your thoughts and words. We have never before had a distribution platform this powerful for the written word. If you stop and think of the power inherent in being a writer online, it is mind-blowing.
So think about innovation. How can you give those millions, billions of potential readers greater access to your work? What can you do differently and how can you make it even easier for people to enjoy the pieces you create?
I’m going to be experimenting with individual landing pages for some of my Medium pieces, over the next few weeks. The pages will be well designed and optimised and will be intended to give potential readers a preview of each piece that will funnel them to my profile. I don’t know if this will be successful yet. But I do know that innovating in that way is a good thing.