August 28

How to position your writing for success among all the competition

    How to position your writing for
    The competition is fierce out there, right? Everyone’s always talking about how there are so many writers, so many books (now e-books!), and so many blogs. As the numbers increase exponentially, our confidence in our own success diminishes. We tend to see a more crowded playing field as a sign that our writing may never be read by anyone. When we have an all-or-nothing frame of mind – I’m either a success or a failure – how can we position our writing for success?

    But I would turn these concerns with increased competition upside-down. Sure, people are writing more, but also people are reading more. There are more literate people in the world now than ever, and if you’re reading this article, you’re lucky enough to know English, one the most in-demand languages of the written word. These days, babies have a a personal library beginning at birth; children read a surprising amount of fiction (maybe not in schools, but the sales numbers of YA fiction tell a different story); by the time we reach adulthood, people in our society are consuming a huge array of writing, from easy pop fiction to serious tomes on politics and economics.

    Let’s talk about real question in your mind, “Is there room out there for my style of writing?”

    I would say, without hesitation, “Yes.” There is an audience for every kind of writing. Just think of the spread. Within fiction, there are people who love William Faulkner for his stream-of-conscious style, and there are people who love Danielle Steel for her get-right-to-the-hot-stuff style. Within non-fiction, some gravitate toward the nearly impenetrable style of Nietzsche (yes, he’s still read), and some prefer the straight-to-the-point self help of Anthony Robbins.

    True, certain styles of writing will lend themselves to wider audiences. It’s no secret that people, in general, prefer to read conversational, fast-moving prose that has a clear structure, short paragraphs, short sentences, and short words. But, who is saying that you have to appeal to people in general?

    Even “bestsellers” aren’t really selling that many books.

    Forbes.com estimates that in order to hit the Wall Street Journal bestseller’s list, you’d need to sell 3,000 copies and 9,000 for The New York Times. Granted, those sales have to take place in a relatively short span of time. (This isn’t my area of specialty, so I’m not sure what the time span is.) Still, I would say that the point is that, considering an estimated 335 million people speak English as a first language and 505 million speak English as a second language, 3,000-9,000 readers isn’t really that many – and that’s for a bestseller! Heck, don’t you think even a tiny portion of 800 million people would be interested in you and your writing?

    Your real question should be, “Am I writing for my true audience?”

    Instead of focusing on how to compete with every other writer out there for a spot on the bestsellers list, I’d recommend honing in on your message, your style, and connecting with your audience. Even if there are only 1,000 people out there in the world who resonate with your message, isn’t it worth writing for them? In fact, Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans Theory argues that any venture, whether it’s a business, music album, or book, only needs 1,000 true fans in order for it to be a success. Well, that’s starting to sound a lot more doable, right?

    Don’t focus on the competition. Focus on the audience you want to reach.

    Take your eyes off the playing field for a while. Stop thinking about every other writer as someone you have to one-up or beat. Use your energy, instead, to focus on your potential audience. Speak to those 1,000 people who resonate with your message, who need to hear what you have to say, who want to talk with you after reading your writing. Those are the only people you need to worry about. You may not know who they are or how to find them just yet, but write to them now, and you’ll connect with them as you go.

    They say it’s a numbers game. I’m thinking that finding 1,000 people out of roughly 8 million English speakers is a pretty winnable game.

    So, how do you position your writing for success among all the competition? Stop thinking of the competition, start thinking of your audience, and the rest will come.


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