It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a novel, a blog post or an email – if you’re not focused on your reader, you’re going to lose them.
This might sound dramatic but it’s the harsh truth. As writers, we tend to get lost in our work – which isn’t always a bad thing – but remember who you’re writing for. It’s a mental shift, trying to write for your reader.
Remember that you’re not writing for yourself (or even other writers, most of the time). You’re writing to provide value to your reader. Whether that is in the form of a captivating and immersive fictional world, or educating and informing them about a real-world issue, your readers come to you for a purpose.
So, what can you do to help yourself shift from writer-focused to reader-focused? There’s obviously no one right way to go about this. However, if you keep these tips in mind, you’re probably going to find that your reader engagement soars.
- Answer the Most Important Question: Who Is Your Audience?
- How Does Your Topic Affect Your Reader? Why Is It Important?
- Look Beyond the First Page of Google Search Results
- What Problem Are You Aiming to Solve for the Reader?
- There’s More to Engaging Your Readers Than a Catchy Headline
- Your First Draft Is Never Your Final Copy
Answer the Most Important Question: Who Is Your Audience?
Are you finding it hard to get your work published traditionally? Maybe you’ve self-published on Amazon and despite various marketing efforts your latest book fell flat. Or maybe you run a blog and feel like you’re writing to no one, despite a fair social media following. Maybe you write endless emails to your subscribers, but most go unopened and unread?
If this sounds familiar, the first thing you should know is you’re not alone. Writing “for yourself” – or being writer-focused in your content creation – is a common problem for writers whether you are a total newbie or have years of experience.
Often, the reason your content isn’t getting the attention you think it deserves is because you’re not providing the value your readers are looking for. Rather than assume your writing itself is the problem, try taking a new approach.
Before you ever start writing, ask yourself – who is your audience?
This question might seem obvious to some, but you’d be surprised how many writers will say, “Well, I hope everyone,” or “I’d say most people.” The truth is, not even the biggest blogs or the most famous writers have an audience of “everyone”, and you shouldn’t expect to.
Don’t let this discourage you – instead, let it help you improve your writing. Consider for a moment – what type of person would read this?
For example – J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was targeted as young adult novels. Though the fan base reaches much farther than that, the main audience was teens and young adults.
Compare that to say, James Patterson’s Alex Cross series, which is a detective/murder mystery genre aimed at adults, with more adult content and themes. Again, the fan base will reach many more, but the content is written for the main demographic of readers.
If you’re writing a business blog, you’ll want to write content that helps the reader while promoting your own product or services. A real estate blog might have titles like “4 Things to Know Before Closing on Your First Home” – something that clearly answers questions for their customers.
Another great example – you, the reader of this blog, are looking for ways to improve your writing. Whether the end goal is to get published, earn a living or get a message out, you came here with the goal of making your writing better.
Once you understand who your core audience is, you’ll have a much easier time writing for your reader.
How Does Your Topic Affect Your Reader? Why Is It Important?
Now that you have a better idea of who your reader is, it’s time to start shaping your content around your reader’s needs, instead of your own. The next step is to ask yourself a few questions before you ever start writing.
- How does your topic affect your reader?
- Why is it important to them?
- Why do they care about this subject?
If you can’t answer those questions, then you should probably go back to brainstorming before you move forward with outlining and writing. It might seem obvious, but your topic should be relevant to your reader. If it’s not, there’s a good chance you just haven’t found the right angle on the subject.
Remember, your goal is to always provide value with your writing. Keep this in mind when you’re thinking up headlines and brainstorming and you’ll have more reader-focused content in no time.
If you can't decide whether your reader would be interested in the topic you have in mind, do some research. There are a few ways to go about this – but the first and most obvious is to do a Google search. You're probably going to find a lot of blogs and websites with the same sort of content you want to create.
Look Beyond the First Page of Google Search Results
Things to look for:
- Comments on articles or forums
- Alternate search suggestions
All this information can help you narrow down your topic into something specific that will benefit your reader way more than what you originally had in mind.
Looking at headlines on Google will show you what content has performed well for other sites. By reading comments you can see what the audience – your target audience – has to say about the subject. Through alternate search suggestions you can better understand what your readers are trying to learn.
What Problem Are You Aiming to Solve for the Reader?
After you’ve narrowed down your topic and have a better idea of how it affects your audience, it’s time for the thing that will put your content ahead of the rest. What problem are you aiming to solve for the reader?
Going back to the earlier example of a real estate blog – their goal is either to help someone buy or sell a house, right? The problem you’re trying to solve for the reader is how to make that process as smooth and efficient as possible.
This is where your prior research will come into play – use what you found from reader comments, other headlines, and alternate search suggestions to come up with a list of questions that readers generally have about your subject.
Make a list of questions you found – and any other relevant questions you can think of. Then find a way you can put a unique perspective on one of those things specifically. Often by doing research like this before writing you’ll find that there are more directions you could take your topic than you originally thought.
Don't try to put too much information into too small a space. This creates too broad and generalized an article. Instead, break it down and create multiple detailed and informative articles that provide more value.
On the other hand, if you’re writing a novel or short story or another fictional narrative you might not have such an obvious answer. Instead, you should constantly be asking yourself – will this make sense to the reader? Will this resonate with them and most importantly, does it provide something significant for the story?
There’s More to Engaging Your Readers Than a Catchy Headline
In the end, remember to ask several questions – not only before you start writing, but as you’re writing as well. You can look back at your conversion rates and see how many blog posts got clicks – but how many times did a reader spend a significant amount of time on your articles? Long enough to read your work and not just skim?
All clicks mean is you’ve mastered the clickable headline. That’s a great starting point – but clicks aren’t readers.
Use those analytics to help you determine what content you’ve produced already that readers enjoy. Often you can use that as a starting point to understand what your audience will want more of. Make sure to stay focused on your subject.
Don’t jump around too much and don’t try to cram too much information into one article, paper or book. By being more detailed on a single subject you’re creating better value for your reader. Plus, by staying focused you’re giving yourself the chance to cover other topics in the future.
Your First Draft Is Never Your Final Copy
There’s always a way to improve on your work. Look beyond typos and search for continuity. How does your writing flow? Did you accurately answer the questions your reader might have? Did you provide a clear solution to a problem?
Making the shift from writer-focused to reader-focused can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
Start by determining who your target audience is. Who are you trying to reach with your writing? Once you know that, do a little research to help you narrow down your topic. Then get specific and detailed. Putting this into practice will come naturally over time.
Rather than trying to write for “everyone” or guessing at what your readers want, spend some time getting to know them. This way you can have confidence in your writing. When you focus your energy into writing for your reader, instead of for yourself, you’ll see a huge change in the way readers respond to your content.