Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Writing that Resonates

There’s a lot of writing going on out there in the blogosphere and it’s changing the way people write. Most of it is inconsequential—a lot of noise. But some if it is important, indeed profound. These authors are writing to be heard. They are thinking about their readers and writing so that readers want to “follow” them. Without gatekeepers, like editors, publishers and critics, these writers are finding ways to resonate with their audience. Of course, we children’s nonfiction authors know how to do this. Many of us have even had to educate our gatekeepers. Our readers are never out of our minds. Here’s what we’ve learned from the school of hard knocks: When you don’t have a captive audience you must become captivating.

First you have to get the reader’s attention, then you have to keep it. Easier said than done. The devil is always in the details and I’m not sure that it ever gets any easier. But recently I’ve discovered that Twitter and Twitter Chats can sharpen communication skills.. The strength of Twitter is its 140-character limit. In effect, it’s good training for writing powerful advertising copy. A good tweet spurs the reader into action—to retweet (send it on to others) or to visit a link where the tweet’s subject is spelled out in depth. There’s a website that is pulling “pearls of wisdom” from Tweetchats and they will soon be publishing them as books. Here’s an
example of profound tweets from a leadership chat about “vision.”

Our blog, is not really a blog. What we write here is more like op-ed opinion columns. A true blogger writes short and often. One of the best is
Seth Godin who writes about marketing but is a very successful self-published guru whose program on the future of publishing in NYC was sold out within hours of its announcement. In order to be successful, new posts have to come frequently and have to resonate with readers. Often, people who have a “viral” success with a video on You Tube can’t do much with it because it is truly a “flash in the pan.” Only people with singular intellects can sustain high quality writing while blogging day after day, year after year.

How does one become a writer who resonates? First, you have to speak the language of your audience. Most children’s book authors write for the child they were. They don’t focus-group children. When I was ten, I recall listening to an adult telling me, in a very patronizing manner, how life was when he was a kid. I remember thinking that he wasn’t remembering childhood correctly. At that moment I vowed to myself that I would never forget what it was like to be a child. I had a sense of myself as a person, one who had a lot yet to learn, but not to be dismissed as someone who was unintelligent or unaware. If you don’t speak “child” it is easily spotted by the children's book gatekeepers and rejection slips quickly follow.

Second, never underestimate the intelligence of your readership or overestimate their prior knowledge. The first makes sure that your tone is not patronizing. The second makes sure that they “get” what you’re saying. It is only when you are clear and accessible that you demonstrate mastery of concepts. This runs counter to some writers who believe that inaccessibility manifests erudition.

Third, you have to know when you’ve said enough. Eyes tend to glaze over with too much information.

If this post is the first one of mine you’ve read, I have failed if it is also the last.


Bruce Frost said...

Good advice on tweeting to advertise blog! Also, like what you say about capturing and maintaining a reader's attention. I agree that the longer the blog and the more extraneous the information, the more likely a reader will move on.

Loreen Leedy said...

When you don’t have a captive audience you must become captivating. Now there’s a quotable quote!

Re post frequency, I follow many blogs that don’t update top priority is the quality of the writing/information, not how often something new is posted. I’d rather have fewer, meatier posts, than something not that significant every day, you know? But it takes all kinds... some people enjoy photos of pets, vacations, etc. and follow that type of blog. However, I do LOVE plenty of relevant illustrations/cartoons/photos in blog posts.

To cheerfully disagree on something else, the I.N.K. blog is indeed really a blog because there is no one form a blog “should” take, any more than there is only one authentic type of book.

I totally agree about speaking “child,” that is a must.

Susan T. said...

I find out about so many good books on Twitter. It's great fun.

I don't think there is any one definition of what makes a blog. For instance, a reader will find thoughtful essays, reviews, and commentary on many blogs, both in the children's book world and beyond. Some post frequently; some don't. Some feature exquisite art or photos. Others post mostly links to good articles elsewhere I enjoy the wide range!

Vicki Cobb said...

Thank you for your comments. I stand corrected, Loreen and Susan-blogs come in many forms. We veteran writers still adhere to high standards in English and polish what we write, unlike a lot of stuff out there. I LOVE getting comments on my posts, even those who disagree or correct me.