Reader First, Last, And Always.
One of my favorite writers about writing, AJ Harper, teaches “reader first, last, and always.”
This is what I mean by being a “reader-centric” writer. It means you value your readers and you write to create value for them.
When I work with clients as a ghostwriter or writing coach, they often have a compelling life story and message to write about. The first challenge is to help them understand they can write this in a way that makes themselves the main character, or in a way that makes the reader the main character. I’m speaking here about nonfiction writing.
If I have been through something and learned a hard lesson, I want to share that with you. If I sit down and tell my story, it will come out a certain way that is mostly about me. But if you and I were in a coffee shop and you mentioned you were having a struggle that happens to be the same struggle I went through, I’d share my story in a totally different way. I’d apply it immediately to you and your situation.
This is the beginning of what it means to be reader-centric in your writing. You desire to write something that is valuable to some reader somewhere. You care for the reader enough to seek to help him, to resonate with him, to know him, sympathize, and empathize with him. You seek to know his concerns and address the questions you anticipate.
Here are some practical ways I try to do that when I write:
- Know the reader. What demographic(s) are drawn to you and your message? What is their education level? How much do they already know about your subject? Obsess about them.
- Write in the simplest language possible. I worked for a client who insisted on using $10 words that her audience would have to look up because she wanted to elevate their intelligence. I told her this was a bad idea since her book was entirely about something else. I think what she really wanted to do was elevate her audience’s opinion of her intelligence. She did not sell many books.
- Don’t just know the reader, show that you know them by addressing their needs, problems, and questions. Do the work of research and canvassing to know for sure what those are.
- Use storytelling. Tell stories that your readers can imagine themselves in, and that also helps them know and trust you. Help them know that you have been through or know a lot about what they are going through. Using stories is one of the best ways to engage them with memorable examples.
- Make your content as actionable as possible. Give them steps on the journey to understanding and transformation.
- Anytime you are saying something new that will be a change of perspective for the reader, acknowledge what they are thinking, sympathize with what they are thinking, and acknowledge you understand why they think that way, even though you are seeking to change their minds.
- Get feedback. Get as much feedback as you can. Write some short-form content on the subject. Make some YouTube videos. Post in social media groups. How does your content “play in Peoria?” Try writing on Reddit and Quora; you will get instant feedback for your ideas.
- Create an avatar of your reader and keep him or her in mind every second of the process. Who is he or she? Where do they live? What do they like? What do they hate? Who did they vote for in the last election? What do they want more than anything? Why haven’t they already changed? What don’t they know yet? What is their real problem? What do they think their problem is?
In order for me to practice what I preach, I’d love to know your thoughts on all this in the comments. It would help me tremendously in my effort to write content that is more valuable for you.