How do you get other people to want to read what you’ve written?

I’ve thrown myself entirely into writing this summer, and have spent a lot of time researching, including about blogging, about writing magazine articles, about writing and selling novels, about the lives of great writers, and done all that trying to find out how to really succeed, not just mess around. For me, I think, my greatest potential growth area is to write on topics and in genres that other people will really want to read. So, these are my musings:

  1. People want to read about themselves, but you can only speak for yourself, so, to get others to read, you must find something you share with other people. Whether that’s a hobby, a belief, a problem, an interest in a HBO series — other people read when they feel a connection, a reference point, and interest with what you’ve said.
  2. Figuring out what you can create that others want is a lifetime challenge for writers, including really successful ones. Hemingway wrote his nonfiction book about bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon, and was outraged ever after by the world’s collective yawn at what he perceived as his great masterwork. Unfortunately, his readers found his obsession with bullfighting confusing at best and repugnant at worst. Refusal to consider your readers seriously creates a lot of misery. Hem was still complaining about the reception of Death in the Afternoon when he died 20 years after writing it.
  3. Who you portray yourself as being has bearing on whether people want to read your work. Again, Hemingway was a master: he portrayed himself as a war veteran, a huntsman, a ladies man, a man of the good life. And people flocked to his work. They wanted his life. They accepted the next best thing: reading his books. Again, Sylvia Plath portrayed herself as the smart, new girl of the 50’s, but not so independent that she didn’t have a man and children. Although she was not much understood in her lifetime, later readers, many of whom were women, saw in her the great paradoxes of their own lives and embraced her. There are some people in the blogosphere I think have done this self-portrayal successfully, and the reason I think they have is because I can so clearly remember who they are (my summaries of their personaes are in the quotes). Examples: LA, Wrong Side of 50, “New York Mama of a certain age,” Christian Mihai, “Eastern European Boy Makes Good”, and let’s not forget Tatiana Aleksina and Tony Single of the Literary Asylum, “Writers and Artists of the Daily Absurd.” You see, I remember them. That’s successful branding. But … do I even know what I would want someone to say about me? Uh-oh.
  4. There’s a fine line between promoting your work effectively and shameless self-promotion. Basically, you can self-promote until people are bored. The advent of social media makes this a real danger. I have a very hard time knowing when to push on and when to shut up.
  5. It would seem that more people want to write than ever before, and this means there’s almost more writers than readers. There’s no “but I’m an artist, I do what I feel,” not if I want to be successful. Perhaps you knew this from the beginning, but it’s been a challenge for me. People don’t actually care what someone feels, generally, unless they feel the same way. Back to item #1.
  6. The topic you choose to write about has tremendous bearing on whether people want to read your work, but the quality of your writing bears on whether they ever want to read your work again. Covering a hot or salacious topic with poor, sloppy writing is very likely to produce work that could be called “trash.” Of course, if you’re desperate to be read, you can go that direction. But remember, you’re going to have to live with it, and with the opinion other people have of you, ever after.