Turn Envy into Energy

Years ago there was a commercial for Pepto-Bismol where a nerdy guy in glasses looked straight into the camera and says, “Can we talk about diarrhea?” It was an effective ad because they took the bull by the horns, as it were. They didn’t sugar coat the malady; they didn’t try to cleverly talk around it. 

People get diarrhea. But they don’t like to talk about it. Sometimes, however, they have to in order to stop it. 

That’s the feeling I have right now in talking  to writers about a malady that may affect every one of them from time to time: envy. Can we talk about envy?

Ann Lamott has a great chapter on envy in her writing book, Bird by Bird. Here, in part, is what she says:

If you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with it because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know—people who are, in other words, not you. You are going to feel awful beyond words. You are going to have a number of days in a row where you hate everyone and don’t believe in anything . . . If you do know the author whose turn it is, he or she will inevitably say that it will be your turn next, which is what the bride always says to you at each successive wedding, while you grow older and more decayed . . . It can wreak just the tiniest bit of havoc with your self-esteem to find that you are hoping for small bad things to happen to this friend—for, say, her head to blow up.

Funny, yes; but the truth is that envy is a serious waste of time and a drain on your energy. Like any emotion, it can be a chronic condition or a momentary blip. If it is the former, you really have to do something to eradicate it.  Let me suggest a few things:

1. Acknowledge your humanity and the fact that you care about what you’re doing. That’s the basic reason you feel the way you do. You’re invested in your writing emotionally, as you should be. You’re also not perfect, and don’t expect you ever will be.

2. Look at the part of your feelings that wants the other person to fail, or not enjoy success. That’s the ugly bit you’ve got to get rid of. If you have an active spiritual life, this is a good place to bring out the big guns. The Book of Proverbs, chapter 14, verse 30 says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.”  The ancient philosopher Epicurus wrote: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” Whatever practice you engage in, the great religions and philosophical views have always talked about the jewel of contentment. Buddha said, “Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth.” That’s worth pursuing.

3. Write. This is always the best antidote to any writerly anxiety. Get involved in your project. Put your head down and produce the words. Turn envy into energy and write!

4. Improve. Anyone – anyone – can improve their craft. You are always at a certain level, and you can with some effort get to the next level. Your competition is really only with yourself. There is joy and confidence when you see yourself improving. 

5. Prepare. Know that a pang of envy may come at any time. Before that happens, affirm your own worth and say a bit of Lawrence Block’s “A Writer’s Prayer” (from his book, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit):

For starters, help me to avoid comparing myself to other writers. I can make a lot of trouble for myself when I do that . . .Lord, help me remember that I’m not in competition with other writers. Whether they have more or less success has nothing to do with me. They have their stories to write and I have mine. They have their way of writing them and I have mine. They have their careers and I have mine. The more focus on comparing myself with them, the less energy I am able to concentrate on making the best of myself and my own work. I wind up despairing of my ability and bitter about its fruits, and all I manage to do is sabotage myself . . .When I read a writer who does things better than I do, enable me to learn from him . . .

A hearty Amen to that. 

James Scott Bell

Resident Writing Coach

Jim is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure, and numerous thrillers, including Romeo’s Rules, Try Dying and Don’t Leave Me. His popular books on fiction craft can be found here. His thrillers have been called “heart-whamming” (Publishers Weekly) and can be browsed here. Find out more about Jim on our Resident Writing Coach page, and connect with him on
Twitter

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Relationship Thesaurus Entry: Teacher and Student

Successful stories are driven by authentic and interesting characters, so it’s important to craft them carefully. But characters don’t usually exist in a vacuum; throughout the course of your story, they’ll live, work, play, and fight with other cast members. Some of those relationships are positive and supportive, pushing the protagonist to positive growth and helping them achieve their goals. Other relationships do exactly the opposite, derailing your character’s confidence and self-worth or they cause friction and conflict that leads to fallout and disruption. Many relationships hover somewhere in the middle. A balanced story will require a mix of these dynamics.

The purpose of this thesaurus is to encourage you to explore the kinds of relationships that might be good for your story and figure out what each might look like. Think about what a character needs (good and bad), and build a network of connections for him or her that will challenge them, showcase their innermost qualities, and bind readers to their relationship trials and triumphs.

Teacher and Student

Description: A staple in kid lit, this relationship is one that most people have experienced firsthand. But it can be current for an adult in this profession or as a backstory event for someone with the school years firmly in their rearview mirror. Some factors that could influence the dynamics of this relationship include the age of the student, individual personalities, school funding, student limitations (learning disabilities, problems at home, lack of parental involvement, etc.), and extraneous pressures on the teacher at the time (facing a chronic illness, the death of a parent, financial difficulties, etc.).

Relationship Dynamics:
Below are a wide range of dynamics that may accompany this relationship. Use the ideas that suit your story and work best for your characters to bring about and/or resolve the necessary conflict.

Showing mutual respect for each other
A teacher helping a reluctant or struggling student bloom
A student recognizing the role a teacher is playing in their own development and success
A teacher seeing beyond the student’s academic needs and taking steps to meet this needs
Struggling to teach an apathetic student
A disrespectful or hostile student resisting learning and disrupting the school environment
A teacher not knowing how to properly service a student with learning or behavioral disabilities
Trying to teach a child being hampered by over-involved, enabling or absentee parents
A student being taught by a tenured teacher who is just going through the motions
A willing learner being hampered by unmet needs (being hungry, not getting enough sleep, suffering abuse at home, etc.)
A teacher distracted by personal issues being apathetic or distant
Being taught by a teacher with unrealistic expectations
A teacher belittling or disparaging their students
A student constantly challenging a teacher’s authority
The relationship being hampered by bias or prejudice on either side

Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
A teacher wanting to teach while a student wants to put in as little work as possible
Both the student and the teacher wanting control
A student wanting to keep a secret (a learning disability, abuse, neglect, etc.) that the teacher is determined to uncover
A teacher wanting to keep a secret (a criminal record, an affair, an unpopular ideology, etc.) that the student wants to uncover and exploit
A teacher wanting to skate through their day while the student wants attention or a challenge
One character wanting more from the relationship than the other desires (romantically, emotionally, etc.)

Clashing Personality Trait Combinations: Apathetic and Enthusiastic, Cruel and Timid, Disrespectful and Just, Playful and Humorless, Impulsive and Impatient, Rebellious and Controlling

Negative Outcomes of Friction
A student losing trust or respect for people in authority
A student who was punished unfairly or wasn’t believed deciding that standing up to the people in charge is a waste of time and effort
The student withdrawing emotionally and not getting the help they need
A student not succeeding academically and being limited in future endeavors
A teacher becoming disenfranchised with his or her profession
A teacher not learning from difficult experiences with a student and repeating mistakes with others in the future
The teacher losing their job
A student being suspended or expelled
Bias or prejudice being reinforced, making it harder to overcome

Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
A competition or contest that the student’s club (sponsored by the teacher) wants to win
Getting rid of another teacher or administrator
A shared criminal endeavor, à la Breaking Bad
An unknown that they must research and explore (a source of magic connected with the grounds, a prophecy that will destroy the school building if it comes to pass, etc.)
Inequity or unethical behavior in the school environment that they choose to fight together
Freeing the student from a toxic relationship
Exacting revenge against someone who wronged the teacher

Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Growth
A teacher reaching a struggling student and gaining confidence in his or her own abilities
Success with a difficult student revitalizing a teacher’s belief in their profession
A teacher seeing the problems in her school or district and taking steps to make things better
A student learning something that alters their perspective (realizing they’re not stupid, that they’re good at reading, math can be fun, teachers aren’t the enemy, etc.)
A student being inspired by a teacher to pursue a certain career, scholarship opportunity, etc.
The student being able to help other students with the knowledge they’ve gained

Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A Quest for Knowledge, Coming of Age, Crossroads, Inflexibility, Innocence, Journeys, Knowledge, Obstacles, Perseverance, Rebellion, Refuge, Rite of Passage

Other Relationship Thesaurus entries can be found here.

Need More Descriptive Help?

While this thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing) is accessible through the One Stop for Writers THESAURUS database.

If you like, swing by and check out the video walkthrough, and then give our Free Trial a spin.

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Why Should You Join a Writing Community?

Writing is hard, but it can be easier if you’re not doing it alone. Eileen Cook is here to share 5 reasons why you should join a group.

Writing may be a solo journey, but a writing community can make it a road trip.

Writing is a solitary pursuit. You set off, a lone writer on a story journey armed only with your creativity and imaginary friends. Unless you’re co-writing your book, you’re solely responsible for getting words on the page, which can be freeing.

However, there are many benefits to being a part of a group that supports you, challenges you to be better, and helps take your writing to the next level. And besides, a road trip with friends is always more fun.  

Here are five reasons to expand your writing community to include more than just imaginary friends.

Encouragement

This comes as a shock to no one: writing and publishing are hard. There’s
lots of rejection. At some point, most writers consider giving the whole thing up and spending their time doing anything (including repeatedly hitting their head on the desk) that seems more productive. 
 
A writing community has your back when things get tough. They remind you that you’re not
alone. Sharing our difficulties makes those hard times easier to manage. Plus, when it’s time to celebrate, there’s a group ready and excited to join in.

Knowledge

You can’t know everything. Not only is it impossible, but even trying eats up all your free time that could be spent binge-watching Netflix. A strong community provides access to writers with a variety of interests and knowledge that can assist you. 
 
My community is at the Creative Academy for Writers, and I’m amazed at the range of members there—from an Olympic athlete to those who work in law enforcement and everyone in between. Having contacts for subject-specific information can be a benefit to any writer.

Accountability

Experts suggest that if you want to work out more frequently, try having a “gym buddy.” You’re much more likely to drag yourself out of bed if someone is expecting you. A community offers opportunities to build strong writing habits and helps hold you accountable to your expressed goals and targets.

Daily writing sprints with your buddies can get the creative juices flowing or get you started on your daily word count goal. Retreats or workshops where members plan novels, establish goals, or draft their stories together provide opportunities for members to encourage each other toward their objectives and brainstorm solutions to problems as they arise.

Reality Checks

One of the best things about being a creative person is having a wild imagination. One downside about being a creative person is having a wild imagination.

Sometimes we use that creativity for good; other times, we use it to generate conspiracy
theories, second guessing, and doubt. A writing community can check your reactions and offer guidance. Do you reach out to the agent who hasn’t responded to your query to make sure they received it?  Should you respond to a bad review or let it go? A community can help you sort these things out.

Experience and Networking

Publishing is a complicated, ever-changing business. A community of people at all different stages of the journey provides you with opportunities to learn from those with more experience or someone who took a different path. If you’re the veteran, interacting with newbies can remind you of your passion and jump start your excitement.

Interested in joining a writing community? Poke around. Whether you need critiques, a group that caters to a specific genre, or an online/in-person gang, the right fit is out
there. To get you started, here’s a list of communities. And check out The Creative Academy for Writers! Membership is free, and I’d love to see you there.

Eileen Cook is a multi-published, award winning author with her novels appearing in nine languages. Her books have been optioned for film and TV. She spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer. She’s an instructor/mentor with The Creative Academy for Writers and Simon Fraser University Writer’s Studio Program where she loves helping other writers tell their unique story. Her most recent novel is You Owe Me a Murder, and her non-fiction title Full Time Author, written with Crystal Hunt, came out in January of 2021.

Eileen lives in Vancouver with two very naughty dogs.


Posted in Critiquing & Critiques, Guest Post, Writing Groups | 2 Comments

Critiques 4 U!

CONTEST CLOSED! SEE YOU NEXT MONTH

Happy February, everyone! Angela and I are hard at work doing all the things, as I’m sure you all are, too. We’re hoping that you’re finding time to dedicate to your writing. If so, you might have a first page that could use some extra love, and I’m just the person to give it ;).

If you’re working on a first page (in any genre except erotica) and would like some objective feedback, please leave a comment. Any comment :). As long as the email address associated with your WordPress account/comment profile is up-to-date, I’ll be able to contact you if your first page is chosen. Just please know that if I’m unable to get in touch with you through that address, you’ll have to forfeit your win.

Two caveats:

  ▪    Please be sure your first page is ready to go so I can critique it before next month’s contest rolls around. If it needs some work and you won’t be able to get it to me right away, let me ask that you plan on entering the next contest, once any necessary tweaking has been taken care of.

  ▪    I’d like to be able to use portions of winning submissions as illustrations in an upcoming presentation on first pages. By entering the Critiques 4 U contest, you’ll be granting permission for me to use small writing samples only (no author names or book titles).

Three commenters’ names will be randomly drawn and posted tomorrow morning. If you win, you can email me your first page and I’ll offer my feedback. 

We run this contest on a monthly basis, so if you’d like to be notified when the next opportunity comes around, consider subscribing to our blog (see the left-hand sidebar).

Best of luck!

Posted in Uncategorized | 18 Comments

Relationship Thesaurus Entry: Business Partners

Successful stories are driven by authentic and interesting characters, so it’s important to craft them carefully. But characters don’t usually exist in a vacuum; throughout the course of your story, they’ll live, work, play, and fight with other cast members. Some of those relationships are positive and supportive, pushing the protagonist to positive growth and helping them achieve their goals. Other relationships do exactly the opposite, derailing your character’s confidence and self-worth or they cause friction and conflict that leads to fallout and disruption. Many relationships hover somewhere in the middle. A balanced story will require a mix of these dynamics.

The purpose of this thesaurus is to encourage you to explore the kinds of relationships that might be good for your story and figure out what each might look like. Think about what a character needs (good and bad), and build a network of connections for him or her that will challenge them, showcase their innermost qualities, and bind readers to their relationship trials and triumphs.

Business Partners

Description: Growing complexity results in an increased potential for conflict. Such is the case when people enter into partnership to share ownership of a business. So many factors play into relationship dynamics for business partners, and they all should be considered to get a clear idea of how the characters will get along. How many partners are there? Are they sharing a physical space or do they meet online? Do their personalities gel or clash? Were they friends before joining forces or is it purely a professional relationship? Digging into their backstories will not only help you know each character, it will allow you define the ins and outs of the relationship itself.

Relationship Dynamics:
Below are a wide range of dynamics that may accompany this relationship. Use the ideas that suit your story and work best for your characters to bring about and/or resolve the necessary conflict.

Acknowledging each person’s strengths and building roles based on them
Pitching in and doing the dirty work when it’s necessary (taking on a job the character doesn’t enjoy, filling a gap even though it’s not an area of strength, etc.)
Showing mutual respect
Having realistic expectations for the other person
Communicating clearly about concerns or problem areas
Making personal sacrifices to make the business a priority
Being transparent with each other
Respecting personal boundaries
Being honest about how the business is really doing
Respectfully calling each other out when someone has dropped the ball or needs a kick in the pants
Taking time to get to know each other personally
Being satisfied with the status quo; not seeking growth or change
Each partner doing their own thing rather than working together
Clashing personality traits causing problems
Taking advantage of a partner’s weakness
Not disclosing information that makes one look bad
Competing with the partner instead of working alongside them
Ego getting in the way of what’s best for the business
Personal feelings or shared history making it difficult to work together
Partners having different goals for the business
Differing ethics between partners

Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
Partners with different goals for the company (one wanting to grow the company to sell it while the other wants to create a legacy by building it as big as it can be)
One partner wanting a romantic relationship while the other doesn’t
One partner being invested in quality while the other is more interested in doing as little as possible to get the job done
Partners who prioritize the business differently in their lives
Partners with different morals or values that make it hard for them to agree on some things
One partner wanting to resolve conflict while the others seeks to avoid it.

Clashing Personality Trait Combinations: Needy and Independent, Cynical and Optimistic, Dishonest and Honorable, Disorganized and Fussy, Flaky and Sensible, Workaholic and Lazy

Negative Outcomes of Friction
Decreased communication, which only magnifies existing problems
Internal frustration leading to overt fighting between partners
Discord creating an unpleasant or toxic culture for employees
Dissatisfaction or lack of success stealing a partner’s joy and making the job a drudgery
Partners internalizing failure, increasing feelings of insecurity and decreasing self-worth
A partner burning out
Difficulties at home (arising from financial strain or a partner’s inability to leave work at work)
Partners not making enough money to meet their personal needs or pay employees
The business falling apart

Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
Coming together to fight a threat to the business (a growing rival in the industry, a lawsuit, being blackballed, etc.)
A personal disaster that encourages a closer relationship outside of the business
Joining forces to oust another partner
A facilities issue that pushes the partners into closer quarters, forcing them to get along
Fighting for a common interest outside of work (working together in a volunteer capacity, fighting for justice in their community, etc.)

Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Growth
Being inspired by a partner (to pursue education to improve in an area of weakness, to strive for a better work-life balance, etc.)
Being pushed by a partner to move past complacency and take healthy risks for the business
A partner realizing that they can’t do it all on their own
A partner learning to respect personal differences instead of disdaining them
Gaining confidence through success
Learning from a difficult partner what not to do in business relationships

Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A Quest for Knowledge, Betrayal, Crossroads, Greed, Inflexibility, Instability, Isolation, Loss, Perseverance, Pride, Recognition, Sacrifice, Stagnation, Teamwork

Other Relationship Thesaurus entries can be found here.

Need More Descriptive Help?

While this thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing) is accessible through the One Stop for Writers THESAURUS database.

If you like, swing by and check out the video walkthrough, and then give our Free Trial a spin.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Story Resolutions: Mastering the Happy-Sad Ending

Very often, it’s the ending of a story that sticks with us—because it’s our last memory of it, our most recent emotional connection. So nailing the ending is important. This is why I was so excited when Gilbert Bassey reached out with a post idea about a satisfying story resolution that isn’t discussed much. Purely happy or sad endings don’t always provide a solid emotional punch. But combine the two, and you’ve got a resolution that readers just might be thinking about long after they’ve turned the final page.

It was 10pm, and I was trying to sleep when my door flew open and my sister came in, wailing like a wounded puppy. “Why did you kill him?”

I cleared the sleep from my eyes. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Michael! You killed Michael!”

At that, I couldn’t help myself from laughing. Not a nice thing, I know.

Curiously, she went ahead to profess love for the story—particularly the ending that made her cry. Fascinating, right? My story was able to create such a strong emotional reaction because it avoided the safety of a happy ending and the depression of a sad ending. Instead, it opted for the more fulfilling happy-sad resolution. 

Why Happy-Sad Endings?

Before we answer the question of why, let’s explore the story endings that we commonly see. To put it bluntly,

  • A sad ending is when the story ends on an overwhelmingly negative emotion 
  • A happy ending is when the story ends on an overwhelmingly positive emotion 

In both instances, it’s clear what the final emotional beat of the story is. However, the third type of ending introduces a new kind of experience. 

In a happy-sad ending, the story ends on two opposite emotional beats, making it harder to pick one over the other and leaving the audience in a happy-sad state. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is a perfect example. I wept like a child and I loved every bit of it. 

One reason these endings work is because they seem closer to real life than happy or sad ones. Life rarely has happily ever afters. There’s always a price to pay, and many times, the sacrifice is unexpected. When a story is able to reflect this familiar experience, it gains an extra philosophical depth. 

Secondly, if one emotion creates a desired effect, two will multiply that effect. Story is about emotional manipulation, and what is a grander act of manipulation than getting the audience to feel more than one emotion?

The Secret to Creating a Happy-Sad Ending

While working on the story that made my sister cry, I knew from the beginning that I wanted the ending to be sad. But that’s not what happened, thanks to the advice I got from a writer friend at work. 

One day at the office, I narrated my story to him. His response? Even a sad ending should give the audience something positive.

It was an epiphany that slapped me into a new story consciousness. I took his advice to heart and reshaped my story. After some tinkering, I stumbled onto a secret for creating this emotionally complex story resolution: For the happy-sad ending to work, the two emotions should be tied to each other in one sequence of cause and effect. In other words, one should not be possible without the other. 

Let’s return to the resolution for the Fault In Our Stars. It’s sad because August dies, but it’s happy because his death helps Hazel appreciate her life more. Because of him—and specifically his death—she’s able to grow.

To state the secret in the clearest terms: Let the sad lead to the happy (or vice versa). There are a few ways to make this happen:

1. The Character Deliberately Sacrifices the Goal So They Can Attain Something More Important

In this ending, the character decides to let go of their goal to gain something better. For this to work, the goal has to be vital to the character. The more we feel it’s important to the character, the sadder we will feel when they let it go for something else. 

We see this in the movie Rainman. Charlie Babbitt spends most of the story holding his estranged brother hostage to protest his lost inheritance. But as Charlie gets to know his brother, he comes to care for Raymond and realizes that he has value. In the end, he gives up his claim to the inheritance in favor of a relationship with his brother.

2. The Character Fails in Achieving Their Goal, But They Do Attain Growth

In this instance, the character doesn’t get the luxury of choosing to let go of his goal; he simply is unable to attain it. Again, for this ending to work, the goal has to be very important, and the lesson learned or character growth has to arc towards the positive. 

A good example is Your Name Engraved Herein on Netflix. Protagonist Jai-Han doesn’t get the relationship he was seeking, but he learns how to deal with not getting what he wants.

3. The Character Is Only Partially Successful

With this ending, the protagonist is successful—kind of. They mostly get what they want, but it’s only a partial victory. So they win, but they also lose.

In A Few Good Men, Daniel Kaffee exonerates his clients of two of the charges against them and keeps them out of jail, but they’re found guilty of Behavior Unbecoming an Officer and are dishonorably discharged. This is a major victory, because Kaffee himself had doubts about his ability to save them from spending the rest of their lives in prison. But as men who value honor and integrity—men who have dedicated their lives to the Marine Corps—being banished from it due to their poor choices is a huge blow. Viewers are left feeling mostly happy but still a bit sad that Kaffee couldn’t deliver the whole package.

(PSST! Head over to One Stop for Writers to see Angela and Becca’s breakdown of the plot line for A Few Good Men.)

4. The Character Gets What They Want But They Lose Something Vital

In this instance, the character gets what he wants but loses something or someone emotionally valuable. If we experience victory and loss at the same time, the ending is made much more compelling. 

We see this in the fifth installment of the Harry Potter series when Harry finally obtains the prophecy he’s been seeking, but in the ensuing battle, he loses Sirius.

5. The Character Sacrifices Himself to Gain Victory for Good 

In this instance, the character sacrifices themselves so that a greater good can win out in the end. An example is Endgame, where Tony Stark sacrifices himself so that the universe can defeat Thanos.

Conclusion 

One of the most important parts of your story is the ending. How you handle it will determine how much people love or hate what you’ve written. A happy resolution may work fine, but consider harnessing the power of two opposite emotions with a happy-sad ending. 

What stories or books have you read with this kind of story resolution?

Gilbert Bassey is a writer, filmmaker, and story consultant dedicated to telling great stories and helping other writers do the same. Subscribe to his Storycraft newsletter and get a free copy of the happy-sad ending builder

Posted in Character Arc, Characters, Emotion, Endings, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 14 Comments

Identifying Your Reader

One key factor to any marketing strategy’s success is knowing who your audience is, and yet, this tends to be the main ingredient many of my author clients miss from their marketing process.

In my other life, I run the digital marketing department of a creative firm, and I have a number of Facebook Ads author clients. The main difference between my business clients and my author clients? My business clients tend to know exactly who their customers are, thanks to face-to-face interactions.

My author clients sometimes have an idea of who reads their books, but more often than not, they either

  • don’t have a clue, 
  • think they have a clue but are actually way off base, or 
  • they’ve pigeonholed their core audience and are missing other potential groups of readers.

The most successful of my clients know their readers. 

  • They know if their readers are into book clubs or online gaming. 
  • They know if they are coffee or tea drinkers. 
  • They know if their readers work nine to five, if they stay at home, or if they’re retired. 
  • They know if their readers are weekend buyers, weekday buyers, or paycheck buyers, and if they read most during the week, at night, or on weekends.

And because they know these things, they are able to get very specific with their advertising, communication, and social media engagement—both from a targeting perspective and a messaging perspective, which drives costs down, expands reach, makes the ad budget stretch further, drives more organic sales, builds a more authentic relationship, and leads to a bigger bottom line.

So how do you go from being an author who guesses to an author who knows?

And then, how do you define your reader with real data when you only have a book or two out?

Let’s find out…

The Important Bits

The first thing we need is to understand the information we want to discover about our readers. If they love pretzels with salt versus unsalted pretzels, that doesn’t really help us out much (unless we write cozy pretzel mysteries). However, understanding that our readers are visually driven and love crafting can lead us to spend more time on Pinterest and Instagram.

What we need is information we can relate to our books that also furthers our relationship with our reader.

I think that’s really important, so I’ll say it again.

Focus on discovering the information you can relate to your books that also furthers your relationship with your readers.

First, let’s make sure we understand the places we digitally connect with our readers.

Digital Reader Connection Points

Here is a quick list of the typical reader connection points we have available at our fingertips:

  • Author Newsletter
  • Author Website
  • Author Pages on Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc)
  • Reader Communities such as Goodreads and Facebook Groups
  • YouTube Channel

However this list can stretch on as much as you are willing to experiment. Reddit, TikTok, Slack, Zoom, and other sites and platforms have all recently seen an increase in author/reader engagement.

Okay, we got that down! Now, let’s see what we need to learn from these connection points in order to build a true understanding of our readers.

Reader Discovery

The below data list can help you identify which portion of these particular individuals are most interested in what you have to offer.

  • Age ranges
  • Gender
  • Most active days and times online
  • Common interests
  • Device type (Mobile vs Tablet vs Computer)
  • Device platform (Android vs Apple)
  • Preferred image types (soft vs shocking, bold vs abstract)
  • Primary communication method (text, photos, videos)

What we want to keep in mind through this is that our reader is not just a 35+ female who commutes to her nine-to-five and therefore only has time to read on weekends. Our reader is a busy woman who is employed full time. She may have a family, she may take care of her elderly parents, she may run a dog rescue on the side. 

My point is, it would be a very big mistake to only think about our readers as a set of data points. These pieces of information are meant to give us a peek into who our reader is, and allow us to meet her where is most comfortable and convenient for her.

By narrowing down that sweet spot for our readers, we are also able to employ the 80/20 rule (the Pareto Principle) and save ourselves valuable time, money, and effort. Eighty percent of our return tends to come from twenty percent of our effort.

Discovery Tools

The wonderful thing about these tools is that most of them have no barrier to entry—meaning, you don’t need a huge back list or a big budget to make them work.

Analytics

Perhaps the best starting point for figuring out who reads our books and interacts with our content (blog posts, social posts, etc) is to enable analytics on our author website.

Analytics allows us to see a detailed profile of the visitors of our website. Most analytics platforms will show us our most popular content and pages, how long visitors stay on our site, and how many visitors we have over a given period of time.

Drill down further, and we can typically find the age ranges, gender, most active days and times on our site, and the device type and platform used.

If we have a good bounce rate (under 55%), we can trust that the data we’re showing for our most engaged demographic is valid. If we have a high bounce rate (over 55%), something’s off with the content on our site or with how people are finding our site, because a high bounce rate indicates that the viewer is not finding the information they expected to find.

The most well-known analytics platform is Google Analytics, and you or your web designer can set up access with a few steps.

Analytics are just one piece of our reader puzzle. If you have an active website that you update regularly, website analytics can be a valuable discovery tool.

Facebook Pixel and Google Tag

Another great tool that is also free to use is called pixels, or tags. It’s a little bit of code you embed on your site that collects user data (nothing personal or specific to the individual) so you can get a snapshot of the type of person who is interacting with your site. 

My personal favorite is Google’s tag, as it allows you to not only collect data, but it also shows you what other things the majority of users who visit your site are interested in. 

For example, Google may clue you in that many of the visitors to your site are also really interested in DIY projects and country music. Can you use that information to better relate to your readers? Uh, why yes. Yes you can. To great effect. (Caveat: you must have enough visitors to generate this information, generally 1,000+ over a time period that you set. I like setting it up for anyone who has visited my site for the past 365 days.)

Facebook’s pixel also has its own analytics, though not near as robust as Google’s. If you already have a Facebook pixel set up (maybe you did it forever ago), the analytics for the pixel reside in a new place (thanks, new Facebook). After enough visitors come to your Facebook page and website, you’ll be able to see your most engaging posts, basic demographics, and most active times.

Again, this is something you may need a web designer’s help with as it does involve installing some code on your site, but once you get that done, you are free to use the information to build a colorful reader profile.

Email Platforms

I’ve saved these final two discovery tools for last, because they are paid tools. If you don’t have the budget for the paid email plan or pay-per-click advertising, bookmark this post and come back when you can implement them.

Many email platforms have audience data that they will provide to you on their upgraded plans. Sure, it’s your email list, but the benefit of this data is that the platform can tell you which demographic is the most engaged with your email content.

So even if you know that your key 35+ working mom reader reads your books and content only on weekends, you may not know that your 65+ retired ladies are the ones who actually click on your newsletter content, respond to your emails, and share your emails and book news, hence giving you more options to connect with your readers in new ways. 

Paid Advertising

One of the best ways to build a reader profile is to do so through audience testing in paid advertising. My favorites are Facebook and Google. As Google tends to be less cost-effective for lower priced items, I’ll just say that by using the specific user data you’ve collected, you can run some very effective advertising.

We’ve already covered a bit of what Facebook analytics can do for understanding your reader. Audience testing takes analytics even further.

Say you’ve discovered that your most engaged demographic is our 35+ working moms who love coffee, country music, and DIY projects. When you set up your Facebook audience for your ads, you’ll use those data points to create a very specific audience. 

But it doesn’t stop there. 

Once you’ve created that very specific audience, your ad creative makes the connection to that audience – perhaps appealing to the independent resourcefulness of DIYers or using imagery that connects with coffee lovers and country music fans. Perhaps you’ve discovered that your audience is most active from 6am to 8am, from 11am to 1pm, and from 5pm to 8pm on weeknights (which makes sense if they take public transportation into work). You can then schedule your ads to run during the hours in which your audience is most engaged, spread your budget out, reduce your overall ad cost, and on the whole, run a very successful ad campaign.

Whew. That was a lot. Thanks for sticking with me. It may seem daunting, but once you do the work to build your reader profile using actual data from your author assets, it will benefit your career for years to come.

Christina Delay

Resident Writing Coach

Christina is the hostess of Cruising Writers and an award-winning psychological suspense author. She also writes award-winning supernatural suspense under the name Kris Faryn. You can find Kris at: Bookbub ǀ Facebook ǀ Amazon ǀ Instagram.

Further Reading:

Finding Your Ideal Audience (Jane Friedman)
5 Author Tips for Building a Fan Base (Write Now Coach)
The F.A.R. Marketing Method (Write Now Coach)

Posted in Marketing, Promotion, Reader Interest, Resident Writing Coach, Social Networking | 7 Comments