This is a question I asked to some of my favorite bloggers, writers and authors who are experts on self-publishing and creating a platform to reach audiences all over the world. All of the experts come through with amazing tips on how to balance your creativity and outreach efforts.
When you’re done reading through the tips I would love to hear any feedback you have on your own balance between staying true to yourself while still catering to your audience in the comments.
1. “You should redefine true to yourself as doing what the people you care about need.”
2. “Writers should always remain true to themselves. Your best works are the ones you care most about, the ones you pour your heart into. As soon as you start writing for any other reason than for this passion and joy, you’ll write an inferior work. I took a huge diversion from WOOL when I wrote SHIFT, because I knew the story I wanted to tell. And in the middle of writing SHIFT, I took time out to write I, ZOMBIE, which was well off the beaten path. There’s no telling what I’ll write tomorrow, but I do know one thing: It’ll be the story I’m passionate about. Because that’s the only story I can tell well.”
3. “I truly believe it’s possible to do both, but it requires staying true to yourself from the very beginning. If you do, you will grow an audience that wants to read what you want to write about. Over time, they will give you ideas and suggestions — and that’s when you have to stay the course. Give them what they want, but only if it’s in line with your values and long-term goals. When you stick to what you believe in, your true supporters will respect you even more.”
4. “I think the two intersect but it depends on your goal for writing. For example, writing poetry may be remaining true to what you love, but you won’t make a living from it. If one of your goals is to sell your books, then you have to think about who the target audience are, but you also have to consider your own passion. Romance writers are voracious romance readers. I write thrillers because I read thrillers and I love the genre. I’m being true to myself but also thinking of my target audience.
The other thing to remember is that there will always be people who don’t like your writing and that’s completely fine. You’re not writing a book for everyone, you’re writing a book for people who are like you and who love the books you love.”
What do I mean by that?
You won’t get anywhere in blogging by being fake with readers. They can smell it a mile away. And you shouldn’t write anything that feels like it’s not you. You need to be your authentic self.
But the other side of it to bear in mind is, readers don’t care about you…EXCEPT to the extent that what you write will help them with their own lives.
So that’s the sweet spot. Where does what you want to share intersect with what readers need to know? That’s what you write about.
The blogosphere is loaded with bloggers spouting off about whatever strikes their fancy or annoys them that day…and those blogs have no readers, and those bloggers will never be able to earn from their blogs.
If you’re serious about building a blog, you’ll need to be a little less self-involved and start asking your readers why they visit you and what their biggest problems are. When I did that, it changed my whole concept of my blog and it started to really take off.
Successful blogging is ALL about catering to your audience. Give them what they need and want in your unique voice, and you will build an audience — and be able to earn a living off your blog, if that’s your goal.”
6. “The answer is both. It is important to remain true to yourself and cater to your audience at the same time. You are blogging for several reasons, but two of those reasons are to share your message and to gain a loyal audience. If you don’t have an audience, then you are not sharing your message no matter how much or how often you write.
This by no means selling out. What it does mean is you know your audience and write articles they care about. In those articles you remain true to yourself by sharing your beliefs and you remain honest with your audience for the same reason.
As bloggers we are not only artists, but we are also entertainers, and we have to be. Artists rarely care about the audience and that’s why most become known or famous after they die. As bloggers we must take into account our audience, because blogs are, well, public for a reason, or our blogs will die a slow death into the ever after of obscurity.
I wouldn’t call it catering to your audience though, because that’s not what you really want to do. What you should want to do is care about your audience and take them into consideration.”
7. “First and foremost, you should always stay true to yourself. Period. Next, there is no reason a writer can’t cater to an audience and always stay true to herself. What the question implies, to me, is this is about the choice to be a writer who writes primarily to 1) make money 2) influence an audience in some particular way for some reason or 3) is mostly concerned with audience praise over “personal integrity.” This raises a lot of different questions to me. First, there is nothing wrong with writing to make a living, so if a writer chooses to write novels she doesn’t really care for or enjoy herself, that’s not being untrue to herself. Does being untrue mean compromising beliefs, ethics, morals? If a writing project insists on that type of compromise, I would say no, don’t do it. Why bother? Even if offered a ton of money, it’s not worth the spiritual and emotional cost. That’s really the only concern, isn’t it?
If a writer chooses to write things just to influence an audience’s belief to her own, that’s remaining true. If to influence to a belief the writer disagrees with or that violates his conscience, then we’re back to the same conclusion—anything that violates your conscience is ethically wrong to your soul, faith, self, etc.
If a writer writes just to get praise and become famous, again, there is nothing wrong with that unless we’re back to the same issue of compromising values and ethics.
So, all in all, there really is no issue here regarding catering to an audience unless it crosses the line mentioned above.
Now, there may be some other nuances here about “remaining true to myself.” For me, I followed that wisdom instead of listening to the seasoned advice of many agents and editors. Instead of branding myself with one strict genre to create a name in that genre, I felt like writing novels that moved my heart. I kept true to myself to write the books I believed I had to write, wanted to write, and loved to write. I wrote for the audience that would love those books, and in the process—in some people’s eyes—I was a bad writer. Now, during this time of writing in various genres and being repeatedly (and sometimes even publically) tarred and feathered by “the powers that be” in my industry for not following the “rules” and sticking to one genre, I had a few different literary agents who were completely fine with it. Most of the time I’ve had two agents simultaneously, both happy with the situation because neither specialized in the other genre being represented. All this to say: I probably could have gotten famous and rich by sticking to one genre and branding myself (which is what I’m about to do with a pen name and another completely different genre from all the others I’ve written in). But I decided to “stay true to myself” and as a result I may not be as famous and as rich as I could have been, but I am thrilled with the books I’ve written and proud of every single one of them. Every book, to me, is a precious gift from God. And I was faithful to write the story He put in my heart. I never once said to God, “But . . . I should stick with one genre. I can’t write fantasy if I’m writing psychological suspense! What are you thinking???”
‘Nuff said about that. But I hope you get my point here. These are just career choices; they really are not about being true to self. But my advice is to always think first about why you write. I love to tell stories. And if a story burns in my heart, it must be told in the genre and style best suited for that story. I am not going to remodel the story to fit a genre just so I can stay in my brand. For every great story there is an audience that will love reading it. The wonderful thing about indie publishing now is that you have the time, means, and ability to be able to find your audience for every book you write.”
In more complicated terms, I tend to write thrillers that contain humor, and sometimes sex. I like to be scared, like to laugh, and like to be aroused when reading. It doesn’t matter if it is in the mystery, horror, or science fiction genre, as long as it provokes emotions.
I don’t think I’ll ever write serious literary fiction, because even though I recognize its merit, I’m not entertained by it. So everything I write is for people who already like my writing.
That said, some people don’t like intense horror, or explicit sex, or juvenile humor where people get kicked in the groin. Some of my readers who like Whiskey Sour won’t like Afraid or Flee or Timecaster. I don’t consider that snubbing my audience. I think of it more like eating at a restaurant. You may like the food, and the chef, but there are probably some things on the menu you don’t care for.
Bottom line: I write what I want to read, so I’d never write something that didn’t resonate with at least some of my fans. I also listen to my fans when they ask for sequels, or more of certain characters. And if, for some reason, I ever start failing the majority of my fans, I’ll do my best to get them back.”
-J.A. Konrath is a fiction writer and blogger. Find his website here.
Of the two though, I think beginning bloggers are a lot more likely to neglect their audience than themselves. I also think it’s better to err on the side of paying too much attention to your audience, not too little.
Most bloggers have no idea what their audience wants to read. Or if they do, it’s a guess.
Popular bloggers don’t guess. We read comments, track traffic statistics, and even talk to our audience on the phone and in-person. We know what they want to read.
So, that would be my advice to beginners:
Stop guessing. Do your homework.”
– Jon Morrow is the Founder and CEO of Boost Blog Traffic.
I’d never recommend being anything less than true to yourself. Readers respond to the genuine. Fakery is toxic to communication and a betrayal of the bond of trust between writer and reader. But you might not have found the crowd who responds to your material, your outlook and your soul. And you might not have discovered the best way to use what you have to offer.
Tackling the former is easy: go exploring. Chase random trails through the web and find people who read what you like to read, write what you like to write. Strike up a conversation. Find out who they know and touch base with them.
How do you tackle the second question, of changing your writing? The same way. We learn from the work we admire. Find what appeals to you and work out how it’s done. When you read a book you like, ask yourself how the writer did that. Identify one thing about their prose style that you could perhaps learn to do. If it’s fiction, notice the characters and the way the plot held you in its grasp. Make this a way of life and it will seep into your writing.
Neither option is a quick fix, but they are the way to build a lasting, genuine audience for your work. And hey – we’re in it for the long haul, right?
–Roz Morris is a bestselling ghostwriter, literary author and writing coach. Her series Nail Your Novel is now being adopted by university creative writing departments. Find her at Nail Your Novel and on Twitter @nailyournovel.
11. “My book Engagement from Scratch! is a huge success on Amazon and with our readers – and remains one of our best sources of subscribers to date. It is an honor to have collaborated on it with dozens of amazing writers and marketers – and it’s something I’ll always be proud of.
That being said – it’s the kind of book I absolutely hate. Collections of essays have never been something I enjoyed – but for our readers – it’s a wonderful format that gives them access to a variety of viewpoints and tons of great information that they can digest quickly and easily.
I think this question might be the wrong one. By catering to how your audience wants to receive information, you are allowing yourself to be of service to them – and to reach your goals by doing so. If something you write isn’t your most natural voice or format – but it is the best way to connect with your readers – you ARE being true to yourself in terms of your desired outcome. If you want to share information, insight and ideas – you’re not hurting anyone, or betraying your principles by delivering content in the way that works the best for the person receiving it.
So I would ask instead: how do I best meet the needs of my audience?
Whatever the answer is will be true to your overall goals – and if it’s not – you may have the wrong readers.”
12. “For me, no good answer exists to this question — the goal is to find the shared Venn diagram space between the sphere of WHAT I WANT TO WRITE and WHAT PEOPLE WANT TO READ. Thread that needle and that way lies success.
-Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter and game designer. Find him at Terrible Minds.
The world needs what you have to say, but only if you can get over yourself — and your need to be recognized — and just say it. So please get started sharing your message with the world. But whatever you do, don’t fake it.”
14. “Leadership begins with knowing who you are and what you believe. Authenticity is the need for leaders to be themselves regardless of the situation. For this reason, it is more than self-awareness. It is the ability to share the deepest and truest part of ourselves with others.
The journey toward authenticity is twofold: first, discovering our personal values and beliefs, and, second, exhibiting behavior that is consistent with those same values and beliefs. We can be authentic leaders if we are committed to be being true to ourselves—regardless of the situation we are in or the people around us—so we can be real and genuine.
Be prepared for the adversaries that will be created because you’ve remained true to your values and beliefs.”
It depends on whether you’re writing for business or pleasure. It depends on whether you have a short-term idea or a long-term goal. It depends on whether you have something you feel to say or want to provide education to your audience. It depends on whether you have an ulterior motive or a kind soul.
And more. Like I said, it depends.
For sure and certain, if you cater to your audience, you’ll grow your readership and earn their trust and appreciation. They’ll like you, because you respond to their needs. That’s definitely valuable when you need to earn income, build credibility or amass a crowd of people who want more of what you have to give.
And yet, if you cater completely to your audience, for whatever particular reason, you may find yourself writing on topics that bore you, or that you’ve written about a million times before. It might be fun at first, but you’ll quickly find yourself feeling blasé, disillusioned and possibly even resentful of your audience. That’s not a good place to be.
In my experience, it’s best to strike a balance. Figure out what you enjoy writing about so that you can discourse on it with feeling. Find out what you enjoy, and what you’d rather not delve into. Even if it means alienating a portion of your audience, your spark will shine through to so many others, and they’ll appreciate that you feel good about the work you create.
Which is good for all. You please your audience, for the most part, and you please yourself as well. That middle ground between the two creates a sweet spot that keeps you engaged with writing for years to come.”
16. “The greatest thing about self-publishing is that indie authors like myself aren’t creatively constrained. We indies are free as birds. We can write books that push the boundaries. We can cater for minuscule niche markets, or we can stick to market trends. It’s basically up to us, and that’s why we’re naturally less susceptible to “selling out” than the average author. But of course, it depends on what you want to achieve. If it’s making a living, and you’ve got a passion for alternate history zombie space operas, you might have a hard time selling books. That’s when staying true and bending yourself to demand can clash.
I confess, I’m lucky. I write fantasy – a popular genre enjoyed by countless voracious and adventurous readers. They inhale books of all different types of sub genres and shades of oddness – both self-published and traditionally published. That’s why it’s easy to stay true to myself, because the truth is I write their sort of book. Catering for my audience simply means writing more books.
What I would say is that writing is a love (some days it can also be a hate, but that’s true of all great relationships). By catering for readers and perhaps writing books that aren’t you, you’re risking that love, that passion. It’s all about compromise. I would suggest mixing it up. Don’t leave your passion behind, twist your style – keep that part of you and apply it to something different. Switch genre perhaps, or mix a little bit of commercialism into your current ideas. Take a gander at what the bestsellers have to offer too, and see if anything catches your creative eye. Hopefully, in that way, you can stay true to yourself, and that’s the most important thing.”
– At 25, Ben Galley is a young self-published author from sunny England. He is the author of the epic and gritty fantasy series – The Emaneska Series. He has published four books to date, and doesn’t intend to stop any time soon. Ben is incredibly zealous about inspiring other authors and writers. He runs the popular advice site Shelf Help, where he offers advice about writing, publishing, and marketing. Ben is also the proud co-founder and director of eBook store Libiro, a store exclusive to indie authors. If you want to know more, Ben can be found being loquacious and attempting to be witty on Twitter (@BenGalley) or at his website here.
17. “If we’re writing to make money and attract a large audience, our first priority has to be catering to that audience. But if our foremost priority is writing the stories on our hearts and following the subjects that impassion us, then we need to be writing those stories and subjects, even if we fear no one else will read them.
The thing is, however, that if we write stories that excite us, we’re almost certain to connect with readers who will be just as excited. I have no problem with authors who want to chase a buck. Nothing wrong with that. But, for me, writing always begins as a deeply personal pursuit. As such, every story I write fulfills its purpose right out of the gate. If it can also goes on to please readers and make money, well, then that’s icing!”
–K.M. Weiland is the author of the epic fantasy Dreamlander, the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the medieval epic Behold the Dawn. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her website Helping Writers Become Authors, her books Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, and her instructional book Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration. She makes her home in western Nebraska.
However, if you want to make money writing, you must first determine the audience for your work, and then cater directly to that audience.
One of the biggest mistakes authors make is writing a book first, without a specific audience in mind. If you don’t know your market up front, you can’t serve that market effectively with your writing.”
-Angela Hoy is the co-owner of Writers Weekly and BootLocker. Writers Weekly is the free marketing ezine for writers, which features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday. According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print of Self Publishing, Print on Demand and ebook publisher BookLocker is: “As close to perfection as you’re going to find in the world of ebook and POD publishing.”
19. “It’s about balance. Writing solely what you *think* your audience will want can produce a less intriguing book. It’s always a goal to write a book that will sell, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore your gut. Be smart, listen to yourself. If you believe in a story that is off the beaten path, write it. I submitted a quirky book, Flat-Out Love, to every NY publisher, and they all told me they loved it but that it would never sell because it was too old to be considered a YA book and too young for adults. I self-published it and proved them wrong. Totally wrong. Audiences are open to unique. So break rules and push boundaries. That’s what they’re there for.”
20. “If someone on the internet thinks what you are doing is stupid or evil or it has all been done before, make good art. Do what only you can do best. Make good art. Make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do. The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice. Your mind. Your story. Your vision. So write and draw and play and build as only you can.”
Let me know in the comments what you think about staying true to yourself and catering to your audience.