First, you need to clarify your purpose for writing. Then you can figure out who your right readers are, and the best ways to get their attention.

Typical ways to build readership

A typical approach to building readership is a) writing something, b) publishing it, and c) maybe sharing it on social media, and d) waiting for someone (anyone!) to read what you’ve written. 

If that approach doesn’t bring your readers, responses, feedback–a sense that you’ve been heard, that your work has meant something–you’ll start to question your approach. 

“I need to change something,” you might think. “This is not working. Nobody is reading what I write. I better change.” 

Perhaps you will embark on research mission to analyze what other people are writing. People who have a lot of readers, who get a lot of responses. You want what they have: readers! Responses. Feedback. An audience. Work that’s noticed and appreciated. 

Wanting those things is natural and good, but our typical approaches to getting those things can backfire. 

If you simply push out whatever you want to write with no thought about who’s going to read it, you’ll become frustrated by the lack of response. Typically, after a few experiences like this, you’ll become discouraged and lose motivation.

Perhaps you’ll give up on writing: for a time, or for all time. 

Perhaps you’ll change your whole approach to writing in order to give the readers what they want. You’ll analyze headlines, post styles, popular topics, and specific niches. You’ll read about promoting your work. You’ll look into various platforms. 

Three important parts of building your readership

Those activities have their place, but to jump into them too soon is to create structural failure in your writing. There are several elements in play here, and they all have a certain weight:

  • What readers in general want; various strategies, tips, and methods that help you get readers and responses and feedback and build an audience. Weight: 20%
  • Who your right readers are and what they want; the specific understanding that helps you choose the best strategies and methods for reaching the right readers and getting responses, feedback, interaction, and loyalty from them. Weight: 30%
  • What your writing purpose is; what you want to do, what drives you to write; the message you want to communicate, the actions you want to provoke, the feeling and effect you want to produce (in yourself and in others). Weight: 50%

When you think about these activities, imagine stacking them up to build a good structure. If you put the one with the smallest weight on the bottom, then pile the other two on top, your structure will be unstable:

You’ve got to flip it! 

Put the weightiest piece on the bottom, i.e., do the most important thing first. 

  • First, clarify your writing purpose. 
  • Second, describe your best readers.
  • Third, choose some strategies and methods to use to reach those readers. Finally, it’s a good idea to filter:
  • Fourth, incorporate some ways to filter out the readers who aren’t the best fit for your writing and work.  

How to clarify your purpose for writing

Let’s address one important concept first: 

There is no wrong or bad purpose for writing. 

Okay, there’s one exception: deception.

If your purpose for writing is to deceive, manipulate, confuse, propagandize, then yeah: that’s not a good or helpful purpose for your work, your individual person, or your personal growth. It’s also not good for humanity as a collective. If that’s your purpose, get outta here. 

Assuming your purpose is not to deceive, any other purpose is legitimate and good. Does one of these writing purposes work for you?

  • I want to write to promote my service and find people who can benefit from it. 
  • I want to write because I have all these stories in my head and I want to tell them, let them out. 
  • I want to write because I have a lot of expertise in […] and I want to help other people learn. 
  • I want to write as a way of marketing my product and making more sales. 
  • I want to write as a way of entertaining people, bringing more joy into the world. 
  • I want to write in order to share ideas and information, helping people learn things that can help them. 

A few notes about your writing purpose:

  • Your writing purpose does not have to be a big, lifelong, permanent vision statement. It can be confined to a particular writing project, a business you’re building, a season in life or goal you’re pursuing. 
  • You can change and refine your writing purpose anytime. You’re in charge here. 
  • Your writing purpose is a starting point. As you clarify it, then work from it, you’ll inevitably come across new interesting reasons, motivations, benefits, and applications for what you’re doing. Cool! Don’t feel that defining your purpose will limit you or your writing. It won’t. It’s simply there to help you focus. 

There’s no one right way to clarify your writing purpose. Maybe you already know what it is. In that case, write it down. See if you can state your writing purpose in one clear sentence.

If you’re unsure, try one (or more) of these exercises:

  • Word association: write a list of words that you associate positively with your work, what you’re writing, your topics, your ideas, your goals, the kind of feedback and responses you want to get, the type of action you hope to provoke, the long-term results. 
  • Process of elimination: go through your word association list and cross out half of them. Then cross out half of what’s left. Keep going until you only have 2-3 words left. These are your priority words. What are they telling you?
  • Fill in the blank: use one of the sentences below, and fill in the blanks with different word combinations. You could use the words from your word association list. One of the combinations might hit the right button. 
    • I want to write _______________  because I love _________________ and I want to help people __________________________. 
    • I want to write _____________________ so that I can share my ____________________ about _____________________.
    • My writing is for people who _______________________ so that they can ______________________. 
    • I write because I want to give ______________________ and, as a result, I want to receive __________________. 
  • Free write: by hand or typing, set a timer for ten minutes and write, without stopping, about writing and what you want from it. (Go as fast as you can: writing fast will help you quit criticizing or judging yourself.) Something in there might make you yell or laugh or cry. There you go. 

If you’re still struggling to clarify your writing purpose, here are a few suggestions: 

Who are your best readers?

Here is the short and simple answer: your best readers are the people who can benefit most from your writing purpose.

That statement might bring immediate clarity, depending on your writing purpose. If your purpose includes a group definition, “I write so that I can teach small business owners to be more efficient and less stressed,” then you know that small business owners are your best readers.

If you know who you’re talking to, start talking directly to them. Don’t waste time trying to attract attention from a larger (or different) group than the one who will benefit most from your writing purpose. 

If your writing purpose is something like, “I want to write entertaining stories that make people think,” you might not immediately know who those people are. Your purpose does not define a group. If you don’t know who your best readers are, here’s what to do: say as clearly as you can what your writing purpose is. Say it over and over. Include it on everything you write, in one way or another. State your writing purpose clearly and boldly so that the people who will benefit from it will hear you.

Quit being wishy washy. Quit trying to attract all the attention. That’s a waste of time. Be clear, be bold, state your purpose. Make your offer. This is the only way that the people who want what you can offer–your best readers–will be able to find you. And as they find you, you will learn who they are and how to describe them. 

Once you know how to describe them, you can begin filtering more deliberately for them, your best readers. 

Set up filters

There are billions of people in the world. You don’t need all of them to read what you write, take the actions you suggest, buy your product or book your service.

You need a very tiny fraction of the billions of people in the world.

Use what you write to filter potential readers. In some cases, those potential readers will become friends, clients, customers, and/or loyal supporters.

By knowing your writing purpose, and your best readers, you know who you can filter out: everyone who isn’t impacted by or interested in your purpose. Anyone who doesn’t belong in that ‘best reader’ group. 

This isn’t about being exclusive or snobby. It’s about making a clear offer; it’s about not wasting people’s time.

What you have to say isn’t interesting or helpful for everyone. It is interesting and helpful to the right people. Filters help you skip past the everyone and get to the ones who are the best fit for what you have to offer.

You can set up filters by using some (or all) of the following methods:

  • Speak directly to the readers you want. You can do this by addressing your readers in the title, or in the content itself.
    •  Title: “7 Ways that Freelance Writers Can Make More Money”
    • Content: “For freelance writers, getting the the money to flow in steadily can be a challenge. Sometimes work is sporadic, opportunities are few, rates too low, and invoices sit ignored in client inboxes.”
  • Add a description (in your bio, about page, call-to-action, or other relevant places) of your best-fit people. Here are a few examples:
    • “I write for people who want to leave their jobs and establish their own businesses, but don’t know how to get started.”
    • “My services work best for people who are willing to take risks and commit fully to their own personal growth.” 
    • “I help writers move their books from okay to exceptional by providing content feedback on fully completed drafts.” (Note: This one identifies the best-fit group as writers, then clarifies it further; the best-fit group is book writers who have a fully completed draft.)

Filtering your best-fit people, both as readers and as potential friends, connections, clients, customers, etc., saves time for everyone. Be upfront about who you’re talking to (and who you’re not talking to) and you’ll connect sooner with your best readers.