I’m taking a break from my writing right now, and I want to talk about (read that as ‘speak to someone/anyone’) about what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and why.
I’m writing for an audience, because I want to find readers first.
This audience comes first; not my desire to write, not my style of writing, not my age-group preference, not my desire to get rich (yeah, right), but purely to Get Read.
Without finding true readers first, all other efforts to distribute/sell books fails.
- You want to write a memoir? Great
- You want to write a literary stunner? Do it.
- You want to writer Thillers? Yes!
But do you want to be read after you’ve written? Then I’m sorry to break it to you, but you’ll just be another one of the hundreds of thousands of people publishing books to Kindle with no real sales to speak of, and, what I call, ‘operating in a vacuum.’
Writers are great at creating a ‘walled-garden’ of content. They don’t even realise they are doing it. A walled-garden looks like this:
- I’ll decide what I’m writing
- I’ll write it how I want
- I’ll get a cover done
- I’ll set the price tag
- I’ll create a website for the book/brand/author
- I’ll repeat all the above
There’s a lot of ego in those bullet points. Every single one of them excludes readers. I’ll repeat that. Every single one of those bullets shuts out readers.
- If you decide what you’re writing, you have to spend time/money trying to find the reader.
- If you write it how you want, there’s a high chance you will just be doing it the way you’ve always done it, which might not be the best way.
- If you get the cover done, it is very likely that you’ll get a cover ‘you’ want, not one your audience wants, which (surprise, surprise) excludes your audience and market.
- If you set the price tag because you want to get something back for all the time, effort and money you’ve spent, it is extremely likely you’ll set the wrong price, and people will not buy your book.
- If you create a website for your book, it is highly likely that you’ll get close to zero views of it, and no, repeat, no sales/downloads, other than a few close friends and prompted family members.
- If you repeat the above, time and time again, you’ll be in an infinite loop of fail, and you’ll blame the writing. Which is wrong. The writing is never wrong, it can be ‘bad’ – but even that is subjective and can actually be ‘right’ in front of the correct audience. Timing can be wrong, Audience can be wrong. Strategy can be wrong. But writing is rarely ever wrong.
To sell books, to be successful, writers should not copy the traditional book. The traditional book (one for sale in the bookshop) ends up there because of money, connections, and a marketing strategy (which may, or may not, fail). I say fail, because you have no-idea if the traditional book strategy returns cash (for the author) or helps future sales. You believe it works, without actually knowing for sure. A wealthy investor could be bank-rolling all those authors, without making a penny.
If this is all you know, you’ll copy everything for your own book. Bad idea.
The Walled-garden is a strategy with hurdles and walls around it. Hurdles slow people down making things hard to achieve, or giving people time to decide not to do something. Walls stop people from doing what you want: making a decision. The bullets above indicate some of the things writers will do without realising they are slowing reads/sales, or stopping people completely.
What should a writer do? They should do an experiment with a brand new piece of writing:
Write down a list of your biggest audiences. This needs to be people in the real world, not the digital world, because digital audience numbers is not a true measurement of a set group size. Grab a pen and write down who you have access to.
Is it a carnival club? Your knitting/writers/photography group? Have you spent 20 years in a CEO business network? Are you a regular at the council meetings, and everyone knows your name? Do you love holding vintage fashion events for stall holders? Are you the ‘tech-guy’ in your town, fixing peoples computers and phones? Do you volunteer at a care home? Are you a prolific blogger and go to meet-ups in your local area?
List all your networks and guess an approximate number for each.
See the biggest network? That’s the one you write for next. It doesn’t matter whether they are your intended audience, what matters is they are a group of people who recognise your face and will give your book a chance if it’s directly relevant to them.
If your circle is a writers/reading group: write an amazing story with those people in the story! Yes, write those personalities (and names too) into the story. Write a story ‘for them’. We might only be talking about twenty people, but they will love it (if you write something amazing), they will talk about it, they will cherish it, and they will want you to write another.
This is what happens in the non-fiction book world; and they get sales!
Your artistic/creative integrity is not lost. You can write anything into that story, but set this it in the same time and place which your audience exists. Tell them you’re doing it. Encourage them to do the same.
I guarantee you’ll have people will to read (and possibly, pay) for your book or future books.
The goal is to find readers who will talk about you to other people.
The goal is not to make money – that will come in time.
Build your audience by including your audience from the outset. Recognise when you are creating a walled-garden which excludes people. Stop doing that, and/or (at least) question how you can do it better.
Write to be read. There will be plenty of time to go mad and create Art once you have some people to enjoy it. Until then, you’ll just be operating in a vacuum, which is lonely, and keeps you from being the success you know you should be. Mark
Mark Mapstone is a skateboarder, a writer, and author of the Ethan Wares Skateboard Series books.
Follow Mark on Instagram: @7plywood
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