Audience and Purpose: The Heart of Every Piece of Writing

Regardless of what you write, be it for business or pleasure, you need to write with audience and purpose in mind. The more clear you are about what you are writing while you are writing it, and who you are writing for, the more successful your finished product will be.

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After a five-year hiatus from the college classroom, I’m teaching a business writing and communication class at the local university. I’m really enjoying it, and I’m learning just as much as I’m teaching. Or rather, re-learning.

Business writing consists of what is known in rhetorical terms as a reader-based text. Whatever you write, be it an email, memo, evaluation, proposal, ad, marketing plan, analysis, blog post, and so on, you need a clear idea of who your audience is, be it one reader or many. You also need a clear purpose of why you are writing this particular document, letter, etc., and how your writing strategy will achieve that purpose.

My job in the classroom is to get students thinking about their audience and purpose. It’s not easy for them, and believe me, I get it. Because sometimes it’s not easy for me. Sometimes, with this blog, I wonder who my reader is, and what I am trying to achieve not only with a particular blog post, but with the blog overall. I even sometimes struggle with my novel readers and genre, as well as my author website. After ten books, when someone asks me on the spot: “Who are your readers and what do you write?” I still stumble and stammer with my answer.

That’s not where I want to be, neither with this blog nor with my novel readers. But I’m getting better. Because as I teach this stuff, I practice it.

When it comes to a fiction writer’s audience and purpose, there’s a little wrinkle. The most common advice I give to writers is to write the book you want to read. In other words, you, the writer, are the most important reader, even the intended reader. Surely this is how I approach every book I write, especially when I am in the drafting stage. My thinking is this: If I saw this book on a table and opened it to the first page, what would keep me turning the pages? What would keep me drawn in, unable to put the book down?

It isn’t until I get to the revision stage that I think about readers other than me. What will keep them turning these pages? And who is/are my intended reader(s)? Sometimes the answer to that question depends on the book I’m writing. When I wrote my memoir, I thought about my fellow Duranies. Sometimes I even mentioned the actual members of Duran Duran reading it. When I wrote my novel Adulation, my intended readers were a group of friends I’d bonded with on Facebook, many of whom I had yet to meet in person. My husband was the intended reader for The Second First Time.

I wonder: When do we separate ourselves as the intended reader and someone else as the intended reader? Should we separate ourselves? Is that even possible?

In a Facebook group I belong to consisting mostly of bloggers, a woman shared that she made up a profile of her intended reader—she gave this imagined, fabricated reader (a female) a name, an age, a hometown and residence, a family, a profession, favorite foods and books and movies and TV shows and music, where she likes to shop, and even favorite clothes, I think. Hence, whenever this woman sits down to write a blog post, she writes for this reader as if she were a real person (in the woman’s mind, she is). And guess what? This writer has attracted a sizable audience to her blog, and they more or less match the profile of the imaginary reader.

I think that’s pretty cool. And I kind of want to try it myself.

Regardless of what you write, be it for business or pleasure, you need to write with audience and purpose in mind. The more clear you are about what you are writing while you are writing it, and who you are writing for, the more successful your finished product will be.

 

blog post audiecne and purpose 2

 

Here are three things you can do to practice mastering audience and purpose:

1. Make up a profile of your intended reader

Follow the blogger’s lead and imagine everything about your intended reader. This person could be real or imagined. S/he might even be a clone of yourself. The point is to play a little bit, but also to get as specific as possible. And restrict it to one reader. It has been said: “If you try to write for everyone, you will wind up writing for no one.”

2. Know your “why.”

This seems to be almost at buzzphrase lately, and it kind of annoys me. But I have to say, it really is important. Essentially, this is the purpose part of the rhetorical situation.

Why do you write the books you write? Why are you attracted to a particular genre or style? What kinds of characters do you like?

The answer to this question could be both extrinsic and intrinsic.

  • Extrinsic: I write romantic comedy because I like finding humor in the baggage we bring to our love relationships.
  • Intrinsic: I write romantic comedy because I want to bring a smile to someone’s face and give them something to escape to.

I’m currently reading a book on business writing for the purpose writing a review. In it the author asks: Who are you when you are writing this particular text or document? I don’t think that’s something I’ve considered in a long time, and I think knowing the answer is connected to knowing both your audience and your purpose.

3. Think in terms of problem-solving

Maybe the problem is that your intended reader is simply looking for a good book to read. Maybe they want to completely escape their world and move into one that is completely magical and different. Maybe they want to live vicariously through the protagonist. Maybe they want to solve mysteries, find buried treasure, travel the world, or live in their dream home. If you know your reader, you can make any or all of those things happen for her.

As I write this, I am imagining my reader as someone who writes novels but is having trouble identifying who their ideal reader for their stories is. Maybe she writes mysteries, but needs to be more specific. Maybe her ideal reader wants a hunky, Jim Rockford-type detective, and the books set in the 1970s. Maybe her ideal reader prefers mysteries that have nothing to do with murders or violence.

Thus, the problem I’m attempting to solve (and my purpose for writing this blog post) is how to get my intended reader to think about her intended reader and her purpose for writing what she writes.

If you write non-fiction, the problem-solving may be even more clear cut. Maybe your reader needs to lose weight. Quit smoking. Learn how to write in a business setting. Sell more books. Live in their dream home. When you know the problem and know the reader, you can more easily provide the solution.

 

Regardless of what you write, audience and purpose are at the heart of everything you write. Master them first, and the rest of your rhetorical situation (stance, style, genre) begins to fall into place.

And mastery takes practice. Fortunately, as writers, we get lots of practice. And we like to practice.

Do You Want To Write, Or Do You Have To Write?

When it comes to desire, knowing what you want is key to determining how you will get it. And sometimes, figuring out what you don’t want will better help you know what you do want. You may not know until you’re in the middle of it. That’s OK.

My twin brother is an excellent cook. A long time ago I asked him why he didn’t go to school to become a chef, or work in a restaurant. “Because that would have taken the enjoyment out of it for me.”

Another one of my brothers has a knack for buying a used, somewhat beat up car, fixing it up, and reselling it for a profit. When I asked him why he didn’t do this as a profession, he replied pretty much the same way.

It’s an interesting thing that for some the thing they love to do is best enjoyed when there isn’t so much at stake, like drawing a salary from it or depending on it to pay the bills.

Yet in one of my first posts on this blog, I cited one of my favorite quotes from Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream: “If it’s not fun, why do it?” No matter what I did for work, I always tried to make that my criteria. Was it something I wanted to do? Was it fun? I took jobs that paid less because I knew I’d enjoy the environment or the people or the tasks more. And I quit jobs when they stopped being enjoyable.

Of course, the older I got, the harder it was to maintain this criteria. It was especially difficult, for example, to walk away from my last teaching position that came with a yearly salary, health insurance, and retirement benefits (difficult to get those things on a non-tenure track).

But I wanted to do what I loved. I still loved teaching, but I loved writing novels more.

I wrote about a friend for whom writing her first novel had been a lot of fun. It had since felt like work. I grappled with the same thing last year, when the cart came before the horse or, in this case, the contract came before the manuscripts were written, or in the case of Big Skye Littleton, the idea hadn’t even been conceived yet. It wasn’t a good way for me to work, I’d discovered. Writing then became something I had to do rather than something I wanted to do.

And now, when so much is riding on rankings and royalties, I wonder if writing will continue to be something fun, something I enjoy, something I want to do every day. Although I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else. Especially not as a job.

By the way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with writing for fun, or for your friends, or for yourself and no one else. Even if you’re writing novels. Or screenplays. Or short stories. There’s no rule that says you must publish, must find a way to make it your full-time job, must use it to pay the bills.

There’s also nothing wrong with making writing your full-time gig because you do love it so much.

Or walking away if it stops being fun.

I don’t know if I have a resolution or even a conclusion to this topic. Except to say this: When it comes to desire, knowing what you want is key to determining how you will get it. And sometimes, figuring out what you don’t want will better help you know what you do want. You may not know until you’re in the middle of it. That’s OK.

It’s even more OK to change your mind. Give yourself permission not to be a full-time writer, if you decide that’s what you don’t want. Give yourself permission to be a one-novel author (there are many out there). Give yourself permission to be a hobbyist. Or give yourself permission to do it for as long as you love it, as long as you want to, as long as it’s fun.

As for me… well, I’m still having fun with the writing part of this gig. I think I’ll keep it up a little while longer.

Please Note: From now on I will be posting every Wednesday instead of Tuesdays and Thursdays. I hope you’ll continue to follow us!

 

better to know

Nothing to Lose: 3 Steps to Beat the Writer’s Biggest Fear

Being an author isn’t just about writing and publishing and selling books. It’s about mindset. It’s about desire. And it’s about conquering the fear of losing everything you worked so hard for. The fear of losing the joy.

A good friend wrote her first novel around the same time I wrote my first. She’d had a lot of fun writing it, and when she was finished and found that it was good, she’d decided to self-publish it. Fortunately, she came in during that golden age when self-publishing was shedding its stigmas and the Kindle was turning e-books into a cool commodity. Like me, she soon won the attention of a publisher, who offered her a contract and re-issued her novel. It continued to do well.

However, she has yet to publish a second.

The most common misconception people have about authors and publishing is that everyone has a Stephen King or EL James level of success. They think we become instant millionaires, quit our jobs after we sign the contract, and live free and clear.

The truth is that the majority of authors sell fewer than 10,000 units per year. We keep our day jobs. We raise families and struggle to make ends meet while we also carve out time to write the next novel, and the next. Even with four or five books under our belt.

I was one of the lucky ones. For the first five years since resigning from my teaching position, I’ve been able to make a living. But I confess: were it not for my husband, I would have been pounding the pavement for additional employment this year. And that’s with 10 books and seven translations. My husband tells a similar story: “I used to say I was an author who occasionally worked a pipeline job. Now I’m a pipeline worker who occasionally writes novels.”

I thought it would get easier. It seems to be getting harder. And I had to come to terms with that this year.

As for my friend, I totally get where she is coming from. And I think many authors, in one form or another, have been where she is. Like her, writing my first book was fun. I spent more time writing it than any other novel to date—not only because I was teaching a full course-load, but also because I was under no pressure to publish. Thus, I could revise it, share it with critique groups, and revise it again. Faking It had already been two years old when I started querying literary agents. It was four years old when I first self-published it. Five years old when it hit the big time. And six years old when it was reissued and hit yet again.

When I’d first self-published it in paperback, I’d sold less than fifty copies in six months, and thought that was a terrific start. When I uploaded it to Kindle and sold 73 copies in the first month, I was ecstatic. (I sold only 12 the second month.) Every sale was a celebration. Day by day, I continued to promote and sell it, all while writing the second novel, and starting the third. And still enjoying the process.

In short, I had nothing to lose. Neither did my friend with her first novel. Or my husband with his first. Which made their successes that much more exhilarating.

But after the success—after that first contract, when now you’re tracking more than sales and rankings, your outlook changes.

Because now, there’s a demand for a second novel. And a third and a fourth. A demand for better numbers. And more followers. And you need to get it done and published as quickly as possible to keep up the momentum and not to lose your followers.

And there’s the magic word again: lose. Because this time, you have a lot to lose. And if you did quit your job, then you have even more to lose.

Suddenly, 72 sales per month is nothing to celebrate. It’s something to lament, to worry about, to lose sleep over.

Suddenly, you’re in the business of writing and publishing. And for some, that’s when it stops being fun.

Being an author isn’t just about writing and publishing and selling books. It’s about mindset. It’s about desire. And it’s about conquering the fear of losing everything you worked so hard for. The fear of losing the joy.

So how do you maintain the joy and relieve the fear?

By knowing what you want.

It’s OK to keep writing books as a hobby. It’s OK to publish them on your own time and schedule and appreciate every sale you get.

It’s OK to stop at one book and appreciate the ride it took you on.

It’s OK to want more success, and to set goals and make a plan to achieve them.

It’s OK to want to maintain the momentum.

As long as that’s what you want.

And as long as you also remember why you started writing in the first place.

You started writing because you enjoyed it. Because you loved the process. Because you loved the escape. Because you loved the story you were telling, and the characters that came into your life, and the conversations they had. You started writing because you couldn’t not do it.

Because you had nothing to lose.

And the mindset to maintain, difficult as it may be, is to act as if you still have nothing to lose, even if you have everything to lose.

So how do you do that?

 

  1. Gratitude

Give thanks for every book sold—even if you’ve only sold one per month. Give thanks for the reader who took the time to post a review, even if it was unfavorable. Give thanks for the reader who took the time to write you a personal note of thanks, telling you how much they loved your book. Give thanks for the fun you had when you wrote it, for all those who helped you birth it—editors, beta readers, distributors, friends who told their friends to buy it.

Gratitude is the reminder of why you keep doing what you do. What’s more, gratitude keeps the worrying at bay, because gratitude also keeps you in the present moment. You don’t judge how well or poorly it’s doing, whether it’s better or worse than your last book, whether it’s better or worse than someone else’s book that is selling more. You simply appreciate what it is, where it is, how it is, and that it is.

 

  1. Positive Aspects

 When I fear loss, I begin listing all the positive aspects of my current situation, such as:

I’m not at the place where I need to look for additional employment. Even if I was, I know I will be OK because I can keep writing if I want to.

I’ve already had the kind of success many writers dream of and beyond what I imagined.

I am paying my bills each month, and I have a beautiful home in a lovely neighborhood in a majestic part of the country. But I also know how to live in a two-bedroom apartment if need be.

I remember that the most important thing is to live joyfully, regardless of which form that takes.

Positive aspects pivot you away from worry to better feeling thoughts, including gratitude, and help you see your situation in a different, better perspective. As Wayne Dyer says, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

 

  1. Affirmations

Affirmations keep you aligned with your desires. I always structure mine in the present tense:

I am making a sustainable living as a full-time novelist.

I am a thriving author who publishes and sells books.

I give thanks for every sale and every reader.

It’s fun to be a writer and an author.

I bring joy to everything I do.

In fact, one of my repeated affirmations is Jerry Greenfield’s (of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream fame):

if it's not fun graphic

You’ll be surprised as the pressures begin to melt away, or, if not disappear altogether, diminish greatly, freeing you from the fear that is stopping you of writing your next book, or moving forward in a way that is in alignment with what you want. It’s all about breaking free of that fear. It’s all about the mindset.

When You Write, Keep These 5 Things in Mind

Writing is always a series of choices.

There are certain aspects of writing that, like driving a car, have become instinctive. You don’t need to think too much about what words to use when sending a text to a friend (if you even use words at all!), nor do you need to proofread a shopping list. Other kinds of writing, however, may need a great deal of care and consideration: a technical manual for how to build or use a piece of life-saving equipment. A science fiction novel or a murder mystery. A screenplay or television series pilot.

What all these kinds of writing have in common is that, whether consciously or not, the writer is applying the rhetorical situation, and some do it more successfully than others.

Here’s the definition of rhetoric I always supplied my English 101 students (and family members who were perplexed about what I was studying in graduate school):

The art and skill of using language to communicate and/or persuade.

Every rhetorical situation consists of these three elements:

  • Purpose
  • Audience
  • Text

We may talk about them as if they’re separate entities, but in the rhetorical situation they’re inextricably linked, each one playing off the other.

Two more elements determine the effectiveness of the first three:

  • Style
  • Stance

 

rhetorical situation graphic

I like to demonstrate the rhetorical situation by using something ubiquitous: a Facebook status update.

Here’s one I recently posted on my personal Facebook page:

Funny/not funny how when I need to clean, all I want to do is write, and when I need to write, all I want to do is clean.

The kitchen is a disaster. Which means some kick-ass blog posts are gonna happen.

 

So let’s examine the five elements by conducting a rhetorical analysis.

  1. Purpose

When we talk about purpose, we’re asking is my call to write, my reason for writing? What do I want to achieve by writing this?

  • In the case of my status update, any/all of these defined my purpose:
  • To communicate something ordinary in an extraordinary way.
  • To express a truth.
  • To express disinterest in cleaning.
  • To communicate that disinterest in a humorous way.
  • To inform readers.
  • To make readers laugh.

 

Some of these were conscious, others less so. I definitely wanted to make my readers laugh. And writers especially know that when writing becomes difficult, the temptation to do something else becomes very strong. I also made an observation by noting that the temptation/distraction stimulus works in reverse.

I wasn’t consciously thinking about informing my readers, “Hey, I need to clean my house,” but Facebook is typically the vehicle for posting the mundane. Was this information, they absolutely needed to know? No. And thus, because of that, I had to find a way to make it appealing, and so I made it funny. (Or tried to.)

 

2. Audience

I am quite conscious of audience when I’m posting on Facebook. I think many are, and that’s what figures into what they will and will not post. My Facebook audience on my profile page consists mostly of family and good friends. It also consists of former students, and people I have yet to meet in person—namely, fellow authors and friends of other friends.

As a wordsmith myself, how do I want to reach these readers/viewers? For one thing, I want to convey humor and wit. I also, at times, want to convey the courage of my convictions. Sometimes I share snippets of dialogue between my husband and me. And sometimes I just want to share photos of my cat or my meals, like most people.

And, of course, I want them to read my books. Thus, rather than say, “Buy my book!” I’d much rather embody the qualities of my books in my status updates. Storytelling. Dialogue. Humor. Relationships. Love.

Do I do this every time? No. Sometimes I’m just being me, speaking directly to the people I most care about. However, no matter what I post I am aware, at all times, that my message has a reader.

 

3. Text

When I say “text,” I mean the medium or genre that houses the writing—a text, tweet, status update, email, open letter, blog post, essay, term paper, dissertation, short story, screenplay, novel—all of these qualify as a “genre.”

Facebook status updates can sometimes run the length of a blog post or an article, or it could be as brief as a text or a tweet. In the case of the above example, I didn’t need to write something lengthy. It’s Facebook, after all. Not a novel. And my subject was mundane. Brevity was best.

 

4. Style

I’ve taken and taught classes devoted entirely to writing style. When I’m talking style, I’m talking word choice. How am I going to put the words together in a way that not only communicates my message, but also identifies and represents me as the writer? What words to I use to establish credibility, to stir readers’ emotions, to persuade them to see my point of view or take action? If I want to make readers laugh, then what words do I use? How do I write in a way that readers know the status update is from me, Elisa, before they even see my name attached?

The word “kick-ass” (is it one word?) is a giveaway, for one thing. The colloquial “gonna” is another; its intention is to make the reader not only read the words but hear my New York accent, my voice. And the use of “antithesis”—putting opposites together: when I need to clean, all I want to do is write, and when I need to write, all I want to do is clean.

 

5. Stance

Stance refers to attitude or viewpoint in approach. If I were taking a position on a political issue, then my stance would be impassioned, but not angry. A desire to embrace readers as co-thinkers rather than shout them down or belittle them for having a different position. If I’m writing a comedic novel, then my character might be sarcastic or dry in his or her delivery.

When I’m writing novels, I don’t think consciously about stance; rather, I think the characters, story, and characteristics of the novel’s genre (mystery, chick lit, etc.) all play a role in determining stance.

In the case of my status update, my stance was to simply take a humorous approach rather than outright complain about how much I was dreading cleaning my kitchen.

 

Good writing is the result of good choices. Bad writing is the result of bad choices.

Good writing is also a well executed rhetorical situation. And the good news: regardless of what level you’re at in terms of craft—beginner or seasoned—you engage in rhetorical situation, and you can make it work if you take the time to make those choices. And if you are a beginner, remember what driving a car was like: at first, you need to think of everything at once. But the more you do it, and the better you get, the more those decisions and actions become second nature.

 

I did clean my kitchen, by the way. And my next status update?

Cleaning is a love letter to your home.

 

Activity/Discussion: Conduct a rhetorical analysis on the follow-up status update. What was the reader’s purpose? As a reader, how do you respond or react to it? How does the stance differ from its previous status update? Share your thoughts about it in the comments!

5 Helpful Tips to Make Your Author Blog Effective

I was trying so hard to win readers with gimmicks that I didn’t think about what they really needed or what was of value to them. I may have had a purpose in terms of gaining more readers and, eventually, more book sales, but the blog itself still had no clear purpose. It had no theme. It had no rhetorical situation. And I had no fun with any of it.

I’m a published novelist. So what do I blog about?

Confession: I’ve been asking that question for ten years.

Since 2007, I’ve been trying to figure out the purpose of my author blog, what it was about, and whom it was for. In other words, I’ve been trying to figure out the rhetorical situation.

In the early days, before I published my first novel, countless articles about publishing told me I needed a blog—more specifically, I needed a “platform.” In the dating world, it’s known as “putting yourself out there.”

Yeah, I hated that expression with a passion when I was single.

In the world of authors, it meant building a following of readers so that when you submitted your manuscript to literary agents or editors, you could assure them that your books would sell, that you already had a tribe who loved your words and would read anything you published. And if you self-published, you already had a prime selling location: your blog.

It was way easier to do this if you were a nonfiction author with a specific product or idea you were writing about, such as dating or how to self-publish a book. If you wrote novels in a specific genre, such as science fiction or chick lit, you could possibly draw on related topics, such as Star Wars or the five best date outfits. But for most people who wrote fiction, they were kind of adrift.

In a way, blogging as a novelist is much like rhetoric in that it’s a subject that encompasses all other subjects.

And something happened. The Internet became saturated with blogs. And social networking took over. Suddenly everyone was way more interested in the photos of your snickerdoodles than in the ramblings of your mind. Digital publishing was the other game-changer. Your success as an author relied on the perfect synchronization of writing a good novel, digitally publishing it, selling it cheaply, and social media spreading the word for you. That’s certainly how it happened for me.

The blog became irrelevant. Or so it seemed.

My blog went through several incarnations. First, I thought it was for writing teachers. Then I thought it was for writing students. Then I decided to make it for novel readers—specifically, my novel readers. But I still got stuck. Who were my readers? Why would they want to read my blog? What did I have to say that was of value to them? What topics would I discuss? My writing life? My Duranie life? My single life, and now married life? And even if yes to all of the above, why?

My blog floundered. I wrote inconsistently. Scatteredly. When I felt like it or had something to say that was longer than 140 characters or a Facebook post.

Late last year, as book sales plummeted, I panicked. I needed to win back my readership and, more desperately, my royalties. So I started reading everything I could about content and social media marketing. And what kept coming up? Blogging.

And yet, when I asked my author friends about it, they were all in the same boat I was. Having already established their readership through book sales, they either no longer had the time or saw the point of blogging, except maybe a guest post around the time of a book launch. Even the blog tour lost its appeal. As my friend and fellow author Tyler Dilts said, “It seems very 2007 to me.”

Nevertheless, I tried to resuscitate my blog. I tried to establish multiple series: A Year With Nora Ephron. Ask the Author. 7 Things.

Meh.

Some of my most popular posts had been about my relationship with my husband, back when we were doing all the really romantic stuff like falling in love and long distance dating and getting engaged. So I tried writing about those things again.

Crickets. Now that I was married, it was anti-climactic, like when your two favorite characters in your favorite TV show finally get together, and the ratings drop.

Something was missing from all this blogging: joy. And, to an extent, authenticity.

And here’s the irony about trying to build a following: you have to do it without making it your primary goal. It’s kind of like when writing your first draft, you have to ignore your audience.

I was trying so hard to win readers with gimmicks that I didn’t think about what they really needed or what was of value to them. I may have had a purpose in terms of gaining more readers and, eventually, more book sales, but the blog itself still had no clear purpose. It had no theme. It had no rhetorical situation. And I had no fun with any of it. I saw it as time-consuming, directionless, and ineffective. And I gave up on it yet again.

When I took Jeff Goins’s webinar (which persuaded me to sign up for his Intentional Blog course), a lot of participants had the same question: I’m a fiction writer. What do I blog about? It’s still a tough question to answer. But after taking the course and thinking closely about rhetorical situation, here are the five things I think you need to do in order to answer it.

 

  1. Get very clear about why or if you really want a blog.

Do you want one because someone influential said you need one? Will it somehow supplement your novels? Would it support or showcase your worldview? Is it a way to connect with your novel readers? If so, in what way?

If the answer is I don’t know, then I recommend you not start or continue with a blog. Ditto and especially if the answer is because I’m supposed to. That’s never been a good answer to anything.

 

  1. Create value.

If you’re certain you want and need an author blog, then the next thing to determine is whether your blog has value. Are your readers learning something? Are they being entertained? Motivated? Inspired? Are they getting something for free, like a new short story every week? Or maybe they’re sharing one of your passions, like books or music, something that is a staple of the novels you write. Whatever it is, your readers need a reason for visiting your blog post after post, week after week, especially given that they’re bombarded every minute with news feeds, articles, images, videos, ads, and more. Something has to be in it for them. They need to feel appreciated. Validated. Thought of. They need to be treated like a guest in your home or a customer in your store. For so long I had failed to do that. I had thought of them as means to an end. So, so wrong.

 

  1. Narrow and clarify your focus.

In order to give your readers something of value, you need to think of what you want to say and to whom. In other words, you need to focus on a particular theme or worldview. Here’s what especially tripped me up when it came to identifying myself as a novelist and my blog for readers of my novels. What the heck did I have to say? Hadn’t my novels already said it? Isn’t that why I wrote novels in the first place?

Here’s an example. The theme that most often occurs in my novels is authenticity. Yet, I wasn’t sure how to express that as a worldview, or how to approach it in terms of subject matter or posts. Moreover, I didn’t know if I wanted to. (Funny, as I write this, I’m getting ideas now. However, it’s still not exciting enough to officially take my author blog in this direction. Yet.)

 

  1. Love it.

And while we’re on the subject of authenticity, no matter what you write about or why or for whom, you need to love it. Love your subject. Love the act of writing. Love your readers. Love the connections you’re making. Love the message. Love the meaning. Love the purpose. Otherwise your readers will see right through you.

I had no love or desire for my author blog anymore. And when I came to that realization, I knew for sure it was time to let it go indefinitely. It wasn’t easy to do so, but it was absolutely the right thing to do.

 

  1. Focus on one reader.

Finally, when it comes to determining your audience. Rather focusing on the hundreds of thousands of readers you want to attract, instead, take a page out of Mr. Rogers’s playbook and concentrate on one reader. When I watch Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood, I feel like he’s speaking to me and me alone. Even now, as an adult! That’s because when he looked into the camera, he didn’t imagine himself talking to scores of children; he focused only on one child. I take this same approach when writing my novels. First and foremost, I always write for me. But I also envision one intended reader, usually someone I know. Even now, as I write this post, I have a reader in mind.

Bottom line: It’s OK to come to the conclusion and make the decision to be a novelist without a blog. I understand the fear of doing so, especially when everyone is telling you this is what you’re supposed to be doing. But here’s the thing: if it can’t serve your readers, then it can’t serve you. Moreover, to quote Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream fame, “If it’s not fun, why do it?” But if you become clear on your rhetorical situation: your purpose, audience, topic, and approach, and you love just about every aspect of it, then blog away.

 

Activity/Discussion: Do you have a favorite novelist who blogs regularly? If so, what does s/he blog about? What keeps you coming back to it? Can you identify their rhetorical situation? If so, in what ways are they achieving it? I invite you to share your answers in the Comments.

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