Every writer starts out as a reader, learning how to write through the stories they themselves enjoy. But if publication is your goal, crafting a good story is only the first step. Next comes earning your audience. Whether you choose the traditional route of agents and publishers, or choose self-publication, you still have to convince a complete stranger to spend time reading your work. And the reality is many readers have no idea what that is like.
The majority of audiences read the same few books, either because they’re bestsellers, or because an established opinion maker has recommended it. Even browsing a bookstore represents a type of recommendation, since every book on the shelf is there because a group of people felt that story was profitable. The best analog for being approached by unknown authors would be as a blog reader.
Unlike traditional publication, blogging is open to anyone. As a blog reader, I can type in a keyword and find dozens if not hundreds of blog posts. How do I choose which ones to read (assuming I don’t recognize any of the authors)?
First, there’s the title. For example, I decide to type in “Fantasy” and get 20 results, but among them 4 titles jump out at me: “Fantasy”, “Why Fantasy”, “Why We Need Fantasy”, “Beautiful Fantasy”.
Next, I look at the first few lines of text. “Fantasy” and “Beautiful Fantasy” both read like poetry, which isn’t want I’m looking for. With 2 left, I open both and start reading. Both turn out to be interesting articles, so I start browsing the rest of their site.
Site #1 has a simple layout, each post is presented in its entirety on the page. All I have to do is scroll down to see more. After a few minutes of scrolling I haven’t found anything else of interest, so I move on.
Site #2 also uses a scrolling page of full posts, as well as a menu that leads to a separate list of titles. I can see every post that the author’s ever published, and quickly pick 6 titles that appeal to me. Satisfied that the initial post was not a fluke, I subscribe.
Consider how similar this must be to the average day for an agent or publishing house editor, inundated with countless submissions by unknown writers, far too many to read them all. A panelist at a writing convention once told me, “They are looking for an excuse to reject your story, to move on,” and I believe it.
In a world so full of choices, audiences have to make decision quickly. If the title feels lacking, if the first paragraph doesn’t hook the audience, that’s one more reason to move on. It’s possible the rest of the story is amazing, but if the author wrote one weak paragraph, odds are it’s not the only one. Writing is an art, but publishing is a “supply and demand” business, and thousands are added to the supply every year.
By reading other people’s blogs, writers can gain a better understanding of how easy it is to be turned off by the smallest of details (title, first sentence, formatting, etc.) As a blog author, writers can learn and appreciate how hard it is to convince audiences to give your writing a chance when it’s free, let alone when it’s for sale.
This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.