“How do I get more followers on my blog?”
The answer people don’t want to hear is: Write what people want to read.
It’s more complicated than this. You can’t always just do it for “the people.” But as the years have gone on and I’ve stuck with blogging month after month after month, I’ve learned a lot about how to build an audience.
In the beginning, I thought I knew everything I needed to know. I was wrong.
My audience has taught me a lot about what writers look for when they’re hunting for writing advice. When I really started paying attention to people’s comments, I realized that what most people came to my blog in search of — and what made many of them stay — wasn’t the writing advice I necessarily wanted to give. But now, it’s advice I’m happy to provide.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
Most people care about themselves more than anything else
People don’t want to read about my successes and failures unless there’s a takeaway in that story for them. I think this is why so many bloggers who post in a more ‘personal essay’ format can’t get readers. They make it all about them because that’s how we’re wired, but they don’t stop to think that other people also only think about themselves — at least, foremost.
Weirdly, you have to think outside yourself to help other people the most. It’s not actually about you, even if you write from your perspective. I wrote an entire post about how I landed my first full-time writing job awhile ago. But the post wasn’t about me getting my first “real” job. It showed readers what they might expect from the drawn-out interview process for an online writing job. It was about them. Not me.
Most writing roadblocks have nothing to do with writing
People don’t tell me they don’t know what to write about or that they don’t know how to write their story. They tell me they can’t get themselves to sit down to write something. They get bored once they’ve started. There’s too much going on in their personal lives and writing can’t ever come first.
In a lot of ways, writing is like trying to eat healthy. It’s not that you don’t know which healthy foods to eat or which junk foods to avoid. You eat the unhealthy food (you avoid writing) because you haven’t straightened out the things in your life driving you to eat junk (not write). You can’t solve the secondary problem until you get a handle on the primary one first. You can’t fix your writing schedule until you fix what’s going on inside your head.
Most people don’t want to be told how to write
They want to be told how to get writing done. How to get people to read what they write. How to get things they will write/have written published. Most people are either pretty confident in their ability to write well or know they aren’t great but are trying to do better. They want someone to tell them they’re not worthless and that they can succeed.
This took me a long time to figure out. My early blog posts focused on teaching people how to write good stories, how to choose the right genres, how to construct a good product. But what most writers wanted more than that was to feel inspired. To read words that made them feel motivated or understood or less alone. So many people struggle to write because of poor self-worth and other issues I can’t fix for them. Most of the time they just want to feel like someone can get into their headspace and put into words what they’re thinking and feeling.
Yes, there are blogs and websites and courses out there who attract thousands of people looking for writing instruction. I’m not saying no one wants it. My audience just doesn’t come here for that. That’s OK.
My blog posts aren’t what they used to be. They’re written from my perspective and experiences as a writer, but with the purpose of serving other people. They’re focused on helping others overcome their personal writing barriers. And they’re not even really about writing. They’re about life as a writer. How to tackle obstacles. How to celebrate failure and success. How to keep going when you’d rather quit.
The lesson here (see?) is that it takes a long time to figure out what your specific audience wants before you really start giving them the content they’re hungry for. I’m about to hit my 10-year blogging anniversary. I’d say it took me about six of those years to start paying attention to the posts people resonated with the most.
These things take time. If your audience isn’t growing, it might be because you’re not quite giving them what they need. And if your purpose isn’t to help other people, then it’s OK if you don’t triple your followers in a year or two. A small, loyal audience who returns to your blog to read what you have to say is better than having thousands of followers who read maybe one post every six months.
Figure out what you want. Then what your audience wants. Decide how you can serve both of your needs and create something everyone can enjoy. If you’re in it for the audience, it has to be mostly about them. That might not be what you want to hear. But I’m not one to sugar-coat the truth. It’s my brand, I guess?
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.