Writing Tips: How to Get Readership
So, I write original short stories. I release about one a week and get around 300 to 1,000 views on each one depending on various factors. After around 2 years of releasing original work (and many years before that releasing fanfic) I’ve picked up a thing or two about getting readership.
There’s any number of ways you can do it, ranging from writing sexy vampires, to bribing people, to reading it out loud to your mom for validation.
There’s a whole world out there of ways to get it done, but here’s some of my most basic tips I've got about getting people to make that first click.
1. Choose familiar topics
Writers I find often put a lot of emphasis on “originality." There’s this idea that in order to be worthwhile work has to be groundbreaking and new and something no one’s ever seen before. That assumption is… ill-founded.
That isn’t to say you should write what everyone else has written. Teens falling into a magic world where they are now “chosen ones” or frustrated aging professors starting relationships with foxy undergrads aren’t exactly news at this point. But you’ll often find the more alien you make your concepts the less readership you’ll receive as well.
For instance, I recently released three stories at once: a sci-fi story about a distant planet, a growing-up-together romance story, and a werewolf story. One of them did much better than the others.
Growing-up-together romance stories are about as common as weed smoke at a concert at this point.
And readers weren’t that hot on a random sci-fi story with no clear genre base, but people freaking LOVE werewolves. That is to say the werewolf story did far and away the best click-wise and comment-wise, the other two were simply either too pedestrian or too foreign.
There’s a sweet spot between “original” and “a story about the hero doing the worm in the garden of Eden while David Bowie watches.” Go for some middle ground.
How do I apply this? I recommend choosing culturally familiar things to attract readers, and then putting a twist on it.
People like vampires. They like fairies and pirates and cowboys and mythology, they like academies, royalty, and giant beasts. It’s good for readers to be able to picture what they’re going to see in the story.
Some stories will be what is called “high concept” and based around “out there” ideas that people haven’t seen before in current media trends. They are outliers and often push entire genres forward, examples include Hunger Games, Artemus Fowl, Annihilation, Dune, Harry Potter, ect.
However even Hunger Games still incorporated familiar aspects: corrupt governments, contests, glorifying media, and general emotional grounding.
If you are very dedicated to being outside of genres or conventions you’ll need your “out there” ideas to be grounded in emotional reality and simply really really good.
Otherwise, I strongly recommend incorporating familiar and compelling ideas: myths, common history, magic, schools, Tolkien concepts, ect.
Ask yourself what anchors the story to our greater society and then use that.
2. Build trust
Unfortunately, readership doesn’t happen overnight, it can take years to build up clicks, a following, and people looking forward to your work each week. One of the biggest elements of reader-writer relations is TRUST.
This can mean several things, but most of all it means consistency- a consistent schedule, consistent themes/genres, and consistent quality delivered.
Readers are unlikely to click on a writer’s story that they don’t trust, the author hasn’t proven they respect the readers time or investment yet.
This means a writer has to deliver, deliver on time, deliver well, and deliver within certain parameters of expectations.
This sounds like it sucks, but it will show that you respect your audience and they will then respect you in return. Relationships are built through mutual understanding, put yourself in your readers shoes and treat them as you would like to be treated.
Week after week this will eventually turn into a strong bond, followers, and people clicking on your stuff sometimes even regardless of the description.
3. Summaries that Don’t Suck
Summaries can be… hard. They have to encapsulate your entire work in the least amount of words and most amount of intrigue- all without being too vague or specific. There’s a reason people pay to have their book synopsis's written for them, it’s an art form.
My suggestion is to make summaries around 3-5 sentences long with a “hook” sentence placed at the very bottom. In the opening sentences tell the audience who, what, or where, and then tell them at the end why they should read.
Try to avoid questions, directly addressing the reader (it just feels weird), adding too many events or character names, and being too pushy. Keep the synopsis in active voice and focus on the big picture things, the why of it all- the why they should read.
Example 1: “Ghost Walk”
BAD: What is Claudia going to do? She’s troubled, upset, and losing faith in her normal average boring world that has done nothing but ignore and belittle her. That is until one day, in the midst of her misery and her step father Paul’s scrutiny, she runs away into Ashville Middle Schools janitor's closet and discovers something out of this world.
What she finds will change her life forever. What is it? You'll have to read now to find out.
BETTER: Claudia Hampton is convinced she simply isn’t made to go to school day in and day out, in fact, she’s convinced she doesn’t belong in our world at all. Sally Grace on the other hand can’t imagine anything better than fitting in somewhere, and anything better than being alive again.
Usually, the paths of the dead and the living don’t intersect, but after an encounter with a buried Hellmouth Claudia and Sally gain the ability to switch places at will. Now Claudia can traverse between the dull living world and the colorful strange spirit world, which could be simply a fun party trick if only demons weren’t also trying to break into the mortal realm and tear the place apart.
Example 2: “Skinny Dipping in Ohio”
BAD: Noelle lies to everyone, including herself. She knows she should stop, she knows this is no good for her, that it will only bring heartache. But how can she deny herself something when it tastes so sweet?
The smell of summer winds and peaches, there was no going back after this. Only the stars could guide them from here. And she had to keep lying.
BETTER: Noelle agrees that getting naked in front of strangers is only fun if they throw a shoe at you at some point, turn red, and squeak like they’re inventing the rubber ducky in their throat. Noelle didn't mean to get caught skinny dipping, but Martina simply made it too much fun to stop.
Noelle was not expecting to enjoy being sent to the middle of Ohio for officially needing to “learn discipline” and unofficially for kissing too many girls in places her mom could see. Now she might just enjoy the small town for it’s lush scenery, green ponds, and winking at one certain local during church services.
Example 3: “Awakening the Green God”
BAD: A nature spirit, a boy, and a corrupt knight, what do these three have in common? The need to find love, a path, and new found freedom together.
Ren was just a small-town nobody up until the Knight William picked him up and made him his apprentice. What Sir William didn't tell him was that he was going to use Ren for stealing the King's sword and awakening an old God.
But what if Pan was just like Ren? Just another rejected youth with a father who saw nothing good in him. An unusual love story begins.
Better: A young man nicknamed “Hogs-Breath” by his own village spends his days practicing sword-fighting with a stick and imaging traveling far from his own life. He finally gets his chance when a knight comes to town and offers to steal him away with little explanation.
Ren leaves the confines of his town only to be tricked into stealing the King's sword and releasing the twisted nature God, Pan. Among the polluted rivers, smoggy mountains, and broken casket of a deity Ren must deal with Pan himself and a more complicated reality winding up between man, nature, and a decaying new world.
Thoughts on the tips? Leave any advice of your own in the comments section below and subscribe here for more.
I hope these tips help and happy writing everyone!