This will seem a bit counter-intuitive when we get to the next step, but it is essential for long-term success. You can’t maintain a habit of consistent writing if you’re trying to be somebody else.
Think of some of the great actors you’ve enjoyed. Many of them, when they prepare for a role in a movie, become the characters. They live and breathe that character for the entire production because that allows them to portray that character on set. But when the movie is over, they go back to being themselves. Being someone else for an extended period is tiresome at best.
As my fans and followers know, I am also a photographer and a successful one at that. One thing many photographers starting out always ask is to show them my portfolio. The next thing they want to know is what settings I used. See, they want to be successful, and they know that I am successful. So their logic is to do what I do, and they will be successful.
And maybe they will. But only for a short time. Because after a while, coming back to me and trying to copy what I do will get old. Plus, I’ve already done it. So what do I tell these aspiring photographers?
Shoot what you like and shoot where you are. You do you.
If you just want to make money at photography or writing or anything else, you have to be yourself. Trying to emulate someone else is a formula for failure. I have written several times about what I call a sustainable rhythm. It allows me to come up with new ideas every day, write every day, and publish every day.
To do that, I have to be myself. My pieces aren’t always successful, because I don’t always follow the advice I am about to give you. But I am still myself. And as my fans have shared with me, they like my voice. They enjoy, not necessarily what I write (although I hope they do), but how I write.
One author that inspired me early on to write is Stephen King. I liked what he wrote, but that wouldn’t have kept me coming back. I liked how he wrote. His characters and the way he wove them through his narrative until you go to know them and care about them is what I loved. Somewhere in what I call his middle years, he lost that. He began producing formulaic work that was designed to sell books based on his name.
At that point, he lost me.
So be yourself. It isn’t what will increase your followers, but it will hopefully find you some. And it will create a voice that you can sustain through time, allowing you to build an audience.
To be successful as a writer and build an audience, you have to know how to write. You need to understand grammar and sentence structure. You have to know how to tell a story whether you are writing fiction or not. And to learn this, you have to put your stuff out there and get feedback.
Let’s go back to photography for a minute. Another thing I see repeatedly is a posting of a very poorly photographed picture on a photo critique board in social media. When they get criticized, sometimes harshly, they always come back with how their friends and family tell them they are great photographers.
Well, what do you expect them to say? You suck?
To be a successful photographer, you have to know how to use the tools. And it’s the same with writing. Fortunately, with today’s technology, that is easier in many ways. Spelling and grammar checkers are indispensable tools, but you can’t let them become a crutch. You still need to know how to use the rules and when to break them. You also need to proofread your work, before and after using one of those tools.
As do most writers, I read a lot. Besides the library, I use some of the free book sites to find and enjoy new writers. Many of these books are very good, and the author just wants to gain an audience quickly. But they have to keep the audience, and that’s where some of them fail. I can’t tell you how many times I deleted a book before I finished the first page because the writing was so weak. Maybe it was grammatically correct but poorly structured. Perhaps the dialog was unbelievable.
The standout that I will always remember is one where I never got past the first sentence. It was so horrible I stopped reading at that point.
There is a saying I repeat often, writers write. But first writers have to learn how to write.
Write for Your Audience
See, I’ve already changed direction. Well, not really. What I said above is true — you have to be yourself. But you have to write for your audience. Not your friends, and not your family. Like I said in the last section, your friends and family probably won’t offer harsh enough criticism. But that’s not the problem with increasing your followers.
You can write the best article ever written on how you spent your summer vacation, and no one will read it. Or worse, they will read it and then never read anything else you publish. Why? Because nobody cares. You have to write things that people care about.
What people? Well, that’s up to you. You can try and be a generalist and write things that will please a broad audience. That’s a tricky road to follow, but it’s usually a safe one. Or you can find a narrow but deep niche and write for those people. Some of the most successful articles I’ve written were for a tiny portion of the general population. But they were subjects that those people are passionate about.
To muck up the analogy about fish and ponds, you can try to catch all of the fish in a small pond or some of the fish in a big pond. Which is better? That’s up to you. How many of the fish in the large pond can you catch? How many fish are in the small pond, and can you get them all?
But whichever pond you go for, you have to write for them. That is if you want to build your audience. Some people just enjoy writing, and that is all they care about. If that’s you, great, but I’m not sure why you are reading this, although I appreciate it.
How do you figure out what people care about? Well, what do you care about? It sounds like a conflict but stay with me. When I say, what do you care about, I mean what writing do you care about? What do you read?
Scroll through a site with a lot of articles or blogs. Which titles catch your interest? Which ones would you read? Imagine, you are scrolling through a website and see the following headings:
How I Spent My Summer Vacation
The Complete Guide to Alpaca Farming
How You Can Increase Your Followers as a Writer
Would you read the first one? Would anyone? That author didn’t know or care about their audience, and neither would you.
The second won’t appeal to anyone who is not interested in alpaca farming, but would probably attract everyone who is. All the fish in a small pond. Is it enough? That’s up to you.
The last one is more compelling to a broader audience, although it is only going to attract writers. But there are a lot more writers than alpaca farmers. And because of the nature of modern blogging and people wanting to monetize their hobbies, it will attract a more significant number of people. It got you, didn’t it?
Inform or Entertain
Preferably both. This ties into the last section, but you not only have to write for your audience, but you also have to give them something. Give them a reason to come back. To do this, you need to inform them or entertain them, perhaps both.
This article will almost certainly inform you and may entertain you. The one on alpaca farming will inform some people. Entertain? Hard to say. How I Spent My Summer Vacation will inform no one but your Aunt Sally, and I don’t want to write for the audience who would be entertained by it.
You need to attract your audience with a good title, but you need to inform or entertain them to keep them reading. And keeping them reading is very important. If you are writing for some clickbait site, it may be good enough just to open your article. But if you are trying to increase your audience, you need as many readers as possible to reread you in the future and share your work with others.
Those two things are the most crucial ways to grow an audience. And the only way they will do that is if they finish the first one. I may give someone a second chance, but never a third. Whether a blog post or a novel, if I can’t finish the first one, there probably won’t be a second, certainly not a third. And if someone asks my opinion, I won’t be increasing your audience.
Inform them, entertain them, compel them to finish your piece, and entice them to come back — simple to say, challenging, but essential to master.
Remember Your Fans and Look For New Ones
Increasing your followers is an iterative process. The last section talked about informing or entertaining and ideally, both. This one talks about keeping your fans, and finding new ones, and preferably, both. Each article you write should do one or both things from the last section, and one or both things from this section. It’s a juggling act.
And I can guarantee you will drop a lot of balls along the way. I know I have. Some articles I have written I thought were brilliant fell on deaf ears. Maybe I wrote a lousy title. Perhaps the whole thing sucked. Or maybe something else popped up at the same time that grabbed everyone’s attention.
Like some sort of global pandemic.
You can’t control the universe, but you can undoubtedly control your own writing.
So, first, remember your fans. For each article you write, you have a base of followers who will read it. Hopefully, that number increases with each piece. Sometimes, the number will decrease, but ideally, that’s only temporary.
One of my main marketing tools is Twitter, and I will address that in a minute. The way you gauge how that is working is your number of followers. I track this, and I watch it go up every week. Every once in a while, the number stays stagnant or, gasp! goes down. When that happens, I know one thing.
I have ignored my audience.
No writer can do that. Ever.
But you can’t just maintain an audience. You can, but I didn’t call this article, How You Can Keep the Same Number of Followers.
Sometimes, you have to cast a wider net or toss it in a different direction. Not so much as to lose your existing readers, but enough to maybe reel in a few new ones.
Back to photography for a minute. Over almost two decades, I have increased earnings. It is mostly through selling the same things to the same buyers, or at least through the same channels. But at least twice a year, I go through the process of casting a wide net. I research and find new markets. I look for new websites to sell or market through. I find new forums, groups, and boards to get involved with. I follow a bunch of new people on all social media platforms.
It takes a lot of time and effort. But it always pays off, somewhere in all that I find a fresh new catch. Slowly over time, I carve back down my efforts to what’s working. But at the end of the process, there are some new clients or channels to work.
And I do the same with my writing. Every once in a while, I will write on a totally new topic. Sometimes, It’s just something I become interested in. Interested enough to do some research. And if I’m going to take the time to research something, I may as well write about it.
But sometimes, it’s just a new subject I would like to pursue. So I write an article or two and see what happens. On several occasions, my new topic went viral, and I keep that subject in my kit. Other times? Crickets. Those I reluctantly let go of.
I have written longer and in more detail on this subject, but I need to touch on it here. There is no better way to grow your audience than using social media, and for me, Twitter is the best. And by using it, I mean being social. Meet people, help them, and talk to them. And at the end of the day, “Oh, by the way, I have written an article on this very subject.”
I’m not going to go into all the details on using social media. You can check my profile to find several in-depth articles on that. But I do want to mention one mistake that I made early on marketing my photography. It was fun, and it grew my social media audience, but not my customer base.
What was this horrible mistake?
I followed other photographers.
Don’t get me wrong; you should definitely follow people in the same niche as you. You will learn a lot, and you can share information.
But I have never sold a photograph to a photographer.
You need to seek out and follow the people who will use or buy your work, not those who do the same thing. Trust me. It’s easy to get more followers on social media. But useful followers, that’s another story.
If you just want to write for yourself, keep a journal. If you’re going to publish that journal on the internet, more power to you.
But if you want to increase your followers as a writer, you have to do all of the things I have outlined above.
Thank you to all of my loyal readers and welcome to my new ones.