Writers who don’t first establish their own authenticity are missing their biggest opportunities.
Knowing what it is you are trying to do through your writing isn’t a matter of reducing everything you create down to a single rational sentence; it isn’t a deconstructive process at all. It’s simply clarifying what it is that you do best, and that might be a hard-to-describe, coagulated stream of amorphous ‘stuff’, a mix of the way you use language, the kind of characters you develop, the way you end stories… a whole host of facets, which come together around a voice or message which is unmistakably yours.
If it helps, there are probably things you can more easily isolate which you don’t do quite so well. Maybe your dialogue needs work; maybe you aren’t that great at endings; maybe your plots are wobbly. Don’t get carried away with the negatives, though: just use them as a guide to shine some light on what you do particularly well.
Reviews can help, if you can’t quite see it yourself yet: is there something that readers are consistently mentioning? Do your beta readers and friends come back to you with the same kind of feedback? These things might reveal aspects of your own work which were invisible to you, but which obviously are manifesting themselves for readers. It’s really, really worth working out what these things are.
Because they are the foundation for everything else. When building a name for yourself as a writer, consistency is key—for your book covers, for your blurbs, for your messages in different genres, and for your values as understood by editors, publishers and readers. Wildly different styles of book cover, apparently randomly changing images, confusing blurbs, disparate themes that vary with each kind of story you write, switching values so that one day the heroes win, the next day they lose and there’s no message or prevailing point to your work… these are the things that diffuse attention, make your work weaker and mean that you fade into the background of general noise in an already saturated marketplace. It’s not that readers won’t like you, it's that they won’t even see you.
Having a vision and remaining authentic to it builds a relationship with potential readers and turns them into fans.
Take advantage of your greatest asset—your own ability to do what you do best. Not only is this a valuable way to build your author profile and grow your reputation, but it’s also building a set of values, all of which will create a powerful transmitter which will beam out your name, your message, your voice, to all those readers who are attuned to whatever it is you do.
During a writer’s first few years in the game, when he or she sets out to simply get as many accepted submissions as possible, getting readers can be a struggle. Writers at the beginning of their careers tend not to have specific target markets, and sometimes go after opportunities which aren't a good match for their individual skills.
Over the years, seasoned writers learn the importance of differentiation, of knowing their own values, and begin to understand what it is that makes them a ‘brand’. Then, as they put effort into building their brand, getting more skilled, more confident and more powerful with each step, they start to see results in terms of a readership.
One of those results is counter-intuitive: some readers fall away. ‘No, no!’ screams the desperate writer. ‘I can’t lose any readers!’ Yes, you can — because other readers will love your work, and they then become fans and spread the word — your word. The readers you lose weren’t really going to do anything except occasionally write a negative review.
The key to all this is knowing what it is that you do best for yourself first.
When you establish that, when you know how important it is to have a strong, differentiated brand that stands out in a saturated marketplace, your readers start to flock to your banner.
Show off what you do best. That gives you a training ground to get better and better at what you do. Focus on your own strengths and you will get more readers — and those readers will love you more.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but you won’t get more readers until you put the work into your own writing.
Focus on what you do best by honing and defining your voice, your message, your skills, and then all of those things will give you the guidelines you need to find and reach your target market. All by staying authentic.
There’s another almost mystical aspect to this, but that comes in Part Three.