I used to write guest posts for a personal coach in Hawaii. We’d talk on the phone every week. “Touching base” is the buzzword, but those calls gave me great stories and anecdotes to add to the stuff I wrote for her.
The pay was great, but you know what sucked?
Because once money becomes a non-issue, we want to feel pride. I don’t mean Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, because that’s been debunked years ago, but there’s a pecking order to things. You know?
Top of the list is food and shelter. Which means money. But once we have enough money to exist? Other things come into play.
Like pride in our work.
There’s people who can do work they’re not proud of day after day, but I think it eventually eats your soul. Something inside you dies if you wake up every day and do work you feel absolutely no pride in.
I was writing these great stories, but I was writing to crickets and it was ticking me off. Yes, it was nice to get paid. But I wanted to be read, too.
One day I asked for her login to Google analytics.
And then I got kind of mad at her.
So I phoned.
I asked her why I’m writing guest posts at a site that gets almost no conversion when she’s a writer for another site that converts at 10x the rate?
She said because the site I’m writing for has 250K readers and the other site only has 30K. I laughed like a crazy person. She was the crazy person.
Are you serious?
Does it matter if they have 250K readers if you get 5 reads? Isn’t it smarter to write for the site with 30K readers, where you get 100 or more reads?
Since I had login to Google anyway, I set up goal tracking. Know what else we discovered? All the people that became clients came from the little site. Not the big one. Win win. She got clients. I got people reading my writing.
No writer wants to publish to crickets.
When push comes to shove, there’s only 2 reasons writers struggle to build an audience. If you’re struggling to build an audience, it’s one or both of these.
There Are Only Two Reasons Writers Struggle to Build an Audience
Doesn’t matter where you’re writing. Doesn’t matter if it’s your blog or Medium, some other writing site or even guest posting. If you’re struggling to build an audience, it’s one of these two things.
1. Lack of reach
People can’t read your post if they don’t see it. If a tree falls in the forest, you know? If you want to build an audience the first thing you need is reach.
You can’t build an audience if people aren’t seeing your writing in the first place. They can’t read what they don’t even see.
Circulation doesn’t promise reach
Sometimes, we make the mistake of thinking lots of followers means good reach. Of course we think that — that’s how advertising has been sold forever. Like when magazines say “reach 250K readers” and stuff like that.
On the internet, the number of readers/followers means nothing. Whether they’re responsive is far more important.
That was the mistake my client made. She thought it was smarter to write for the site with bigger circulation. Except, they weren’t reading.
When I dug in, I could see why. People had to “sign up” to be able to submit stories. It was just a giant aggregator and all those people weren’t there to read. They were there to submit. Wow, that sucks.
Same happens here. There are publications with 100K readers or more. Some of them mass publish posts, which means you scroll off the homepage so fast you might as well not have been there. When a story published in those pubs does get reads, it’s usually because the writer has a strong following.
Topic might be an issue, too
People read what interests them. If you write about the mating habits of Abyssinian rabbits, the audience might not be very big. But on the other hand, they might be avid readers, which really helps.
Hey — another weirdo that likes that thing I like! You know?
If you write about self growth or relationships, there’s a bigger audience for your writing, but also more competition.
Know what else kills? When you write about so many topics that some of them alienate people that would like some of your writing. For example, if you write about a topic that appeals to more men, but then you write feminist posts that tick off the men that would like your other posts.
That’s probably a lame example. The point is that it’s worth thinking about how our topics intersect.
It’s a bit of a juggle to find your own sweet spot. Mostly, the issue is that we’re afraid to let our freak flag fly. We’re worried about “fitting in” and not being perceived as strange. Which is a shame, because it’s the things that make you different than everyone else that make you stand out from the crowd.
Titles, people. Titles!
It’s easy to say a publication or site doesn’t get good response, but the real trouble might be that your titles just suck. Maybe they “are” seeing it, and you “are” getting reach, but you don’t know it. Because they don’t click.
I mean, honestly. One day I saw two posts. One was called “The Tree. A Poem” (or something like that)
Underneath it was a post called My Husband Left Me For Another Woman. She Can Have Him. I Just Want My Dress Back.”
You want to put money on which got more clicks?
I’m not voting for clickbait. But interest. You know? You at least have to be interesting. Make a promise your story will deliver on for gosh sakes.
2. Lack of connection
This one is easiest to see at Medium, but it happens everywhere. People are seeing your stuff. You have reach. They might even be clicking.
But then you lose them. And you’re not sure why. Well duh. Why do you think? Oh, they left because it was so good? Come on.
On Medium, that shows up as a low read rate. Like, your piece has a 75% click rate, but 39% read rate. What does that tell you? Easy.
The title got them. The writing lost them.
Weak opening is the biggest reason you don’t connect
If you watch comedy, you’ll know that sometimes a comedian is facing a tough audience. An audience that doesn’t laugh easy. On the internet, it’s always a tough audience. At least until you find your people.
Your people will read anything you write.
But finding your people? It’s hard.
Even harder if you start weak or boring.
Lots of writers sort of “build up” to the good part. That doesn’t work. You need to cut all the build up. Get right to the good part. Because if you don’t, most people won’t stick around long enough to get there.
Did the writing deliver what the title promised?
Most people have no clue what clickbait really is. They think interesting titles are clickbait. lol. Nope. Guess again.
Real clickbait is when the title grabs your interest, but the article is a total letdown. Great title, crap read. That’s where clickbait got the name.
It’s like — oh, you just wrote an awesome title to get the click, but the piece was total crap. Buzzfeed used to do that. But they figured out it was hurting them long term, because people got wise to it.
Think of your title as an interesting synopsis of the content, ideally with a promise to the reader. Here’s what you get if you read this. And then keep the promise.
Weak writing skills
Having a great story and telling it well aren’t remotely the same.
Some people think talking about writing skills means the kind your teacher approved of. lol. No.
As the quote says — easy reading is damn hard writing.
It’s not about prepositions and sentence structure or any of that. It’s about being interesting. It’s about grabbing interest and hanging on to it.
People love to say we should write how we talk.
Except most of us have some weird tics when we talk. We stuff in extra words. We drag things out. We get off track. Add fluff and filler. You can get away with that in person. People don’t turn around and leave if your story is boring. On the internet, they do.
Slow pace, fluff words and rambling are the most common mistakes.
Click. Gone. Hell, they already have 5 other tabs waiting.
The solution isn’t to write more. It’s to read more. We’re kind of like sponges. We soak up stuff we’re repeatedly exposed to. If you read stuff that keeps you reading, eventually you’ll learn to improve your own writing.
Can I tell you a dirty little secret?
If you’re looking for an easy way to make money, writing isn’t it. Go sell something. I promise you, it’s easier.
People who write? They write because they can’t not write. It’s in their blood. As Gaga said — we’re born this way.
Truth is, if you’re struggling to build an audience, it’s probably a bit of both. It helps to know that. Yes, there are likely places you can become stronger. But don’t forget to look at how the places you’re writing factor in, too.
If you can improve reach just a bit, and get a little better at your craft, the growth does happen. That’s a promise.
“A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity”
―Franz Kafka, Letter to Max Brod
10 Unconventional Writing Tips from Pulitzer Winning Writers
You’ll notice they’re not the typical advice