Here's A Mistake Writers Make On Medium And Substack. It Usually Backfires.
Attention is a currency, too.
Last Sunday I wrote a post on Medium about a debate writers like to have about whether you should write for your audience or yourself.
In it, I mentioned Melinda Wenner Moyer. Substack gave her a shoutout about a week ago. A pat on the back for a job well done.
She’s sold about 25K books so far. Mostly because of her Substack.
Her first book is called How To Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes
Her publication is called Is My Kid The Asshole?
When Substack wrote about her publication, I went and checked it out. It’s not a list of parenting tips. It’s not one woman telling everyone else how to parent.
She writes about all sorts of topics from Covid and making soup to grumpy men and drinking. The key is that she writes everything with one clear thought in mind. Her readers are all parents. It’s what they all have in common.
It made me think of a mistake writers make really often.
Authors especially. Selling books is hard. 85% of books never sell more than 250 copies and only 2% of books ever sell more than 5000 copies.
It’s not just authors, though. Entrepreneurs do it, too.
Couple of years ago I ran across an amazing artist. She creates beautiful art dolls inspired by folklore and mythology. Big eyed waifs and faeries with long delicate limbs and real hair. She paints them, too. If you buy an art doll or painting, you get a tiny card telling you a brief snippet of the story that inspired the creation.
I wish I could tell you her site but I didn’t bookmark or save it. Her blog was basically an online diary. Mostly, a mommy blog. So many diapers and gosh it’s hard to have a newborn and a two year old at the same time. And look what hubby made me!
Where were all the stories that inspired her work?
Pfft. Nowhere to be seen. It’s like the art was an afterthought. Like she gave no thought at all to wondering what kind of stories would bring her the people who would love and buy her work. Nevermind how they’d find her.
Man, if she’d been writing about the glorious stories that inspire her work, I’d have been all over that. Subscribed. Instantly. But you know, diaper posts are just not in my wheelhouse anymore. I’m not sure they were when I was changing them.
Authors do that, too.
Like the one author I stumbled across that writes about her health problems and teaching middle school, and her childhood memories of growing up in a dysfunctional Catholic family and shame and guilt and more health problems. All of which might be fine if her book was a memoir.
But no. She writes romance. She’s really frustated that her writing isn’t doing a damn thing to sell books. Sigh.
It’s not even just Medium and Substack. I know another writer who is just killing it with humor on YouTube. Tons of followers. I hope the ads are paying well because she has almost no book sales. Her book is science fiction / fantasy.
Why do people do that?
Sometimes, people go too hard the other direction.
True story. Back when I was doing marketing consultations I had a guy contact me for marketing advice. His blog wasn’t getting any traffic and it was making him crazy. His business was socks. Yup. That’s it. Not even fun socks with stripes and polka dots and animal faces. Nope. Men’s dress socks. In 5 different qualities and prices.
His blog was full of sock posts. How to wash your socks. How to roll your socks. Afer about half a dozen posts, he ran out of ideas. Christ, are you kidding me?
If dude ran a blog for cubicle dwellers, he’d have been doing much better.
Here’s the thing.
Writing is the perfect vehicle for writers. I mean, seriously. What better way to make people fall in love with the way you craft words than to craft some of them free?
In all of those cases, a simple venn diagram could make all the difference. A venn diagram is just overlapping circles that show the relationships between things.
Let’s make one that looks a little like a daisy. Okay?
The middle green circle is the thing you sell. Maybe it’s your book. Or art. Or a service you offer. Around it, you list some interests that people might have if they would like the thing you sell. Shared interests are a powerful thing to know.
#1 is always easy. It’s literally the topic of what you sell. Like the lady who sells beautiful art dolls. The #1 interest of “her people” is art dolls. She could also add people who make art dolls. And people who like mythology. And people who like faeries. See where I’m going here?
Same thing for the romance writer. What interests do her buyers have? Well, duh. Romance is first. Relationships. Maybe classic love stories. If her protagonists are always strong women, maybe that’s another interest. What time period are the stories set in, and is that a possible interest? Shared. Interests.
Of course, that leaves out one type of writer.
The writer who isn’t trying to sell anything.
Lots of people think just because they’re not “selling” anything, it’s somehow different. Now it’s okay to share the equivalent of a personal journal online. Okay to talk about whatever you want and not think about who your audience is.
Right? But here’s the thing.
Even if we don’t have a product for sale, we’re still asking people to pay us.
Just that we’re asking them to pay attention, not money.
Attention is a currency, too.
Know what I mean?
Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work…”
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If you made it down here, scroll down a bit more and click the heart, okay? Doesn’t cost a penny and makes me feel like my writing is appreciated! Thanks. :)
You want to make a good impression and be relatable as a person wherever it is you happen to write. Any monetary profit should be a secondary consideration. And like you said, make sure it connects to the kind of things you usually write or make or do.
One of the next most common laments I see is "why is no one reading my work?" and you've nailed the answer here; people come online to either be informed or entertained. If you can do both you're 90% of the way home. If you cannot, you're dead in the water. And if you're known for X, but often write about Y, you're in that same boat.
My Substack covers music from a fan perspective, but my career is in aviation. If I started writing about planes, I think I'd lose most readers.