Understanding Audiences through Blogging #AuthorToolbox

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.

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42 thoughts on “Understanding Audiences through Blogging #AuthorToolbox

    • Thank you. I was thinking about how often people talk about having far too many posts to read, and the very real risk of burnouts, and I realized it was very similar to what some panelists had said.

  1. Loved your post!

    Today, I was talking with a fellow author and I wanted to follow his blog since his website is on wordpress. However, I couldn’t find the follow button because his website uses wordpress for blog but everything else is on a different server- confusing. I told him that if readers can’t find an easy way to connect or follow with the author, they would move on. He only had the facebook follow and the email follow on his blog page. Considering how long it took me to find it, it turned me off from following, and on wordpress I usually follow through wordpress and not email.

    Just another point to add to your topic. ^_^

  2. Great post, Adam! I’m big into first lines (and paragraphs.) Lately, I’m even digging midway into the book to see if the quality of writing persists, because too many times, I’ve found great first chapters (which authors revise a hundred times), and the rest isn’t as good. 🙂

    • Mmm. One exercise I’ve tried and found interesting was to exclusively focus on the first lines of a novel, like first line in each chapter, each scene, etc. I often find it helpful to collect a really large sample and then look for the common factors.

    • I have had the best success with blogs too. Blog Hops are really great ways to meet and connect with people. I like how you mention agents and publishers look for a reason to reject you. And yes, I agree, first lines are incredibly important. It seems like agents have their own preference though for how to craft a great first line 🙂 Great post 🙂

      • Thank you.
        Yeah, I imagine they do, although, since it’s their role, ultimately, to help audiences find strong stories to read, I would hope they don’t let personal preferences cloud their judgement.

  3. Great post — I like how you compare a blog to a book (first paragraph and all). It’s definitely something to keep in mind. I’ve also found that some blogs are difficult to follow, don’t allow the readers to follow the author on other social media sites or are obscure in some other way.

    • Mmm. Thank you. Your comments are giving me ideas for a follow up post on the importance of an online presence, and online flexibility. As a user we can choose to use Facebook, Twitter, and the others, but as a brand and platform, we really need to be on them, if only as another way for users to receive notifications about our content. I know Wil Wheaton is not the biggest Facebook fan, but he also recognizes how some prefer that interface, so he echoes his content on that platform.

      This is also something I need to work on myself. Part of me feels conflicted about spending time “learning about Twitter” when I could be writing, but in this digital age it’s all part of the proper “online upkeep” that we have to do.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. This is another aspect of what I really like about blogging, the discussion and collaborative evolution of ideas.

      • You’re welcome 🙂 I usually share on my blog my experiences with new platforms. Twitter wasn’t easy, but it has really paid off (especially once I figured out the hashtags and scheduling posts). Good luck!

  4. Interesting. My blog posts are usually how-tos, so looking at is as someone would a book can get tricky. I do create some type of opening/hook and try to come up with a catchy title, if possible. After that, I lay out the tips/steps. For my posts, that’s my go-to layout. 🙂

    • Sounds like you have a pretty solid handle on it. Your consistent layout and style of posting probably helps audiences quickly and easily understand what you’re offering.

  5. Great insight, Adam! I never considered looking at blogs themselves as a learning experience to understanding an audience. (Articles on the topic itself aside.) You are completely correct about the same principles applying to both novel writing and blogging. Thanks. I will definitely read more consciously in the future and consider ways to improve my own site and writing.

    • Thank you.
      It was definitely something that I only recognized by chance, realizing my own thoughts and experiences sounded familiar, and then realizing where I’d heard them before. It’s reminiscent of how we strive to learn about good storytelling through the fiction we read, as well as through books on writing and storytelling.
      I think one of the more subconscious aspects of a good author is considering “how else we can learn”. We’re all different, and there are definitely some things I learn more easily through first hand experience than through examples or articles.
      It’s all a wonderful journey of rediscovery.

  6. Blogs are definitely a great way to get to know your audience – and to practice your writing without the same level of pressure that you feel when you’re approaching a novel.

  7. Great post! Blogging is definitely teaching me how to become a writer more discerning of audience needs. I used to write my stories for my own pleasure and added blogging to my curriculum only when I decided to write fiction professionally. It was suggested to me by a random stranger but I have been grateful to him ever since though there’s no chance of ever letting him know how much I benefitted from his advice. The blogosphere has introduced me to a host of up and coming authors to learn from and exchange ideas with, and not to mention, to gauge what works with readers.

    • Thank you.
      I agree. There is so much to learn, and blogging is a great way to network, and hopefully find people who might be interested in anything you publish.

  8. This is a very good analogy. For sure, if I can’t attract an audience to my writing when it’s free and requires minimal effort, how will I attract them into putting forth the effort to buy one of my books? Blogging has been a great way for me to kick myself into shape and start to learn about audiences.

  9. Great post! I like how you described the process of sifting through blogs to subscribe to as a way to draw parallels to how readers and audiences might respond to an author’s work. Great insights. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Thank you as well.
      It was an interesting moment, realizing how my own experiences echoed what I’d heard editors and publishers express at writing panels.
      I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  10. This is a good way of looking at things the way editors do! If you can’t hook someone right away, they’re going to wander off–after all, there’s plenty to read out there. Of course, you can’t hook everybody, but it’s nice to get a few.

    Great post!

  11. When submitting, I always try to avoid giving the agent/editor a reason to stop reading. I follow the submission guidelines, make sure that my word count is within the suggested range, take hours on my query letter and have it and my submission gone over by critters.

    I agree that they dig through piles of emails and put a submission down for many reasons… not all of them are bad writing. 😉

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  12. Adam, your post dovetails with mine about how hard it is to write the beginning. Indeed, readers will stop reading if you don’t hook them in the first few pages. The way you went about searching for blog posts was quite revealing and perhaps makes all of us more sensitive to the plight of agents and editors.
    Thanks for sharing and for your insights.

    • Thank you as well. I’m glad you liked it.
      Interesting how often people independently end up on the same page. I guess great minds think alike ;-P.

  13. I read a lot of posts via the Feedly app, which makes the headline and image vital for grabbing my attention and encouraging me to click and read the post.

    I also like the posts where the whole post shows, because then I can read the whole post on Feedly without clicking through to the blog. Of course, that’s a disadvantage for the blog owner, because I doubt I count as someone who has read the post.

    Yes, you do need to be on Twitter. I’m sharing your #AuthorToolBox posts, but you don’t know that because you’re not there to see. I even wrote a blog post about it … http://australasianchristianwriters.blogspot.co.nz/2016/10/dear-author-you-need-to-be-on-twitter.html

  14. Pingback: Author Toolbox Blog Hop: A Year in Review – E.M.A. Timar

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