When building a platform, we might be told to build our email list or increase our social media numbers, so we’re tempted to do a lot of things maybe before we’re ready—some people advise writers to buy a bunch of Twitter followers or set up an Instagram account even if we don’t like taking pictures.
We get so busy trying to follow somebody else’s plan, we forget that before any of those steps, we need to get the basics down. We need to have a solid idea of the main Whos involved.
The First Who…Is You!
In the last episode, I encouraged you to embark on a memoir project regardless of whether you write memoir or nonfiction of any kind. Even if you write science fiction or romance, if you write, you’ll write better if know yourself well. And one powerful way to get to know yourself is to reflect on the events that formed you in big and small ways—moments when you felt a shift or an insight, moments when you changed.
As I’ve said, these personal pieces don’t need to be shared publicly, although they could if you felt one would benefit other people. Most importantly, they help you know yourself—you get to know who you are as a person and a writer, continually deepening your understanding of self, even as you evolve. From that place of knowing, you can write with an authentic voice. Make sure that first “Who”—you—is the real you. Know yourself as best you can. Know who you are.
Who Are the Other Whos?
You can call it your ideal reader. The cool kids call it your avatar. It’s your target audience or target market. Today, for simplicity, I thought I’d just call this your “Who.” Not the Whos down in Whoville, but the Whos for whom you are writing. Who is your Who?
When you write, some Whos are out there you’re hoping to reach. Right? I mean, that’s why we write something and “ship it,” whether we submit our work to a publisher or click “publish” on our blog or write Christmas letters that we stamp and mail. We’re wanting to reach a reader. Who is that reader?
For most of the content you create with your most important message, who are you trying to reach out to? Who are you talking to? Who are you writing for? Who are you helping, encouraging, entertaining, informing, or persuading? Picture those people—real people: a man, woman, young adult, teen, or child. Who do you imagine reading your words?
Some writers will say, “Everyone!” They want to write for everyone in the whole world. And I appreciate the longing to appeal to the widest possible audience. You can try, but most likely, you’re going to be writing for a narrower audience just as you will, most likely, need to narrow your topic, your focus, and find your niche.
A case in point: I know a lot of people who enjoyed the novel I just finished listening to, All the Light We Cannot See. One could argue it’s written for anyone and everyone to read and enjoy, but I know people who didn’t really like it—it wasn’t their style.
The Hunger Games had wide appeal beyond the young adult readers it was written for, but some people didn’t want to even consider a story with so much violence—even the concept of the book was too disconcerting. It’s not for everyone.
People read books that aren’t written with them in mind all the time, like The Hunger Games, but no book is really for everyone. Even if our book or blog post or poem enjoys unexpected reach, we really do write for a segment of the population. If nothing else, you probably write for an English-speaking audience or you wouldn’t be listening to an English-speaking podcaster. Most of my listeners and readers are located in the United States. See how that’s a natural narrowing?
Identify Your Who
How can we figure out who we’re reaching and who we want to reach? Consider some of these questions to help you begin to imagine and identify your ideal reader—your Who:
- Who do you connect with most naturally in day-to-day interactions?
- Who comes to you for advice in regular life?
- If you’ve been in a situation where you can communicate with people—speaking, being interviewed, leading a meeting—have you seen a response from that audience that offers insight into the kind of people who respond to your words and ideas?
- Who have you reached so far with your writing?
- Who seems to respond with enthusiasm or a kind of stirring to something you’ve written?
- What are your main topics and what groups of people are naturally drawn to those topics?
- When you picture the Who you’re trying to reach, is this person male or female?
- What age range does this person fall into?
- Can you imagine some of this person’s interests in life? Favorite books and movies, vacations and clothing styles?
- Where would you find this reader on social media? Knowing this will save you time and energy—for example, if your ideal reader is living on Instagram and Pinterest, why invest a lot of time building up your LinkedIn profile?
- Is this reader a lot like you? If so, take a minute to describe yourself and list your own interests.
You’ll start to visualize your Who when you move through those questions. Next time you write something, bring that person to mind—your Who. And believe that your Who is going to love what you have to say and the way you say it.
Click on the podcast player above or use subscription options below to listen to the full episode.
- #78: Your Best Material: The Practice of Remembering
- #74: Your Writing Platform: The Need for Focus
- All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
- The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
- Your Writing Platform episode collection
Building a platform sounds overwhelming, exhausting. Where do you even start?
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