To engage readers: be consistent & delight them

Today I want to discuss two strategies for effectively marketing your writing that may seem to conflict with each other. Yet, both are essential. Here they are:

  1. Consistency Matters
  2. Delight and Surprise Your Audience

Let’s look at an example. This is a chart showing the growth in subscribers to an email newsletter. It’s similar to what a writer I’m working with is experiencing:


The line going from the lower left to upper right represents the number of newsletter subscribers. So you see two things here. The first is the big jumps, where there is a steep incline illustrating rapid subscriber growth. These were moments when something that the writer shared went mini-viral, or where they were featured by someone else who has a large audience. They are moments of “delight and surprise” where you message resonates and spreads rapidly.

Then you see the periods in between those moments, where there is slow but steady growth incrementally, one subscriber at a time. It is not as dramatic, but that is the difference between ending the week with 10 new subscribers than when you started. This is the value of consistency. Of sharing regularly, connecting often. That between periods of viral growth is steady growth.

Okay, let’s dig in to both strategies:

Consistency Matters

Last week I talked about understanding your goals as a writer to grow your platform, and focusing on conversion. So of course, this could be milestones such as book sales, book reviews on Amazon, newsletter subscribers, speaking invites, Instagram followers, etc. When you know the actions you want people to take, and you consistently focus on encouraging those actions, you will likely experience growth towards your goals.

So: just be consistent.

The other day I was reading an article about the advice that a leader in the technology space was giving to the many companies they work with. The context was how to plan for surviving an economic downturn. Among their advice:

“You can often pick up significant market share in an economic downturn by just staying alive.”

My translation: just focusing on the basics can ensure that your vision lasts and grows, even as others stumble in a difficult market. There is that famous quote that “80 percent of success is just showing up.” I’m simply encouraging you to consistently:

  1. Share your voice.
  2. Show up in the lives of your ideal readers.

Focus on the basics and do them well. This doesn’t sound difficult, but so many writers miss it. Whenever I’m helping an author create or optimize their website, we will look around at websites from comparable authors. What do we often find? That it’s easier than you think to create a great author website, because so many others seem to be filled with errors or missed opportunities.I am not trying to be judgemental or negative here. But what we often find on websites:

  • A contact form that gives an error when you try to use it.
  • A bio that is wildly outdated. It ends with something like, “I’m looking forward to good things to come in 2016!”
  • Banners on the homepage that are outdated: “Pre-order my book now! Publication date: September 2019.”
  • Dead ends: they still link to their Google+ account (this entire social network no longer exists) and to their Tumblr account, which they last updated in 2014.
  • Missing information: They don’t mention their new book, where they are speaking, or even the link to their Instagram account where they show up every day.

So just getting the basics right — accurate and updated information — will make your website be more effective than others.I’ve said this many times, but your platform as an author is about communication and trust. Your ability to share what you care about in a meaningful way, and to develop a sense of awareness and trust with those you do connect with. Consistency does that. What is the opposite? The old expression: “fly-by-night.” Someone who drops in when they have a book to sell, then disappears until they have another book to sell you years later. When you only show up in the lives of your readers when you want a transaction, it is no surprise that the readers feel that their connection to you is “transactional,” based on what you want from them.

When working with my writing clients, we develop an entire system to stay consistent in how they share. We develop their messaging, editorial calendar, schedule, and so much else. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Consider: how can you share your voice once a week? How can you show up in the lives of your readers once a week? Start there.

Delight and Surprise

What do your readers really want? From your books? From your appearances at book readings? From your sessions at a literary festival? From the essay you publish in a major publication? From your email newsletters? From your social media? They want to be delighted and perhaps surprised. This can happen in many ways:

  • The memoir reader who is surprised to finally feel seen in your story. They are shocked that someone put into words what they have felt their entire lives. It is a respite during a difficult year, the rare moment of delight.
  • The nonfiction reader who was surprised to find a truly compelling new way to approach a topic. And one that empowers them to take practical steps forward in a way that feels totally doable. For the first time in a long time, they feel delight in approaching this topic in a meaningful way.
  • The fiction reader who wants a story to grab them in an unexpected way. They want to read long into the night, and find that your book has allowed them to enter a compelling new world that sets their imagination on fire.

Yes, this can happen in a Tweet. An Instagram post. An email newsletter. It is common for someone to spend their day under the weight of responsibility. To their job. Their family. Their obligations. They look at social media hoping for something to pause on. Something that will delight and surprise them. They look to their email, to events, to essays for the same reason.

The “social” aspect of social media allows them to find this by seeing what others are talking about. To feel a part of this discovery process, and the conversation and reactions that happen because of it. Just like, decades ago, you would go to the office or show up somewhere, and everyone was talking about some TV show from the night before. You wanted to be a part of it.

The people who follow your work want a meaningful experience. That can be deep. It can be fun. It can be somewhere within the full range of human emotions. Create experiences for those you connect with. Delight and surprise them.

I spend a ridiculous amount of time on YouTube. What is the biggest thing on that platform? Reaction videos. These can be many things across a wide range of topics:

  • Unboxing video
  • Video game reactions
  • Song reaction videos, where someone listens to a classic song for the first time
  • Trick shot videos where it takes thousands of tries to get it right
  • Yard sale hunts and hauls
  • Yard cleanups
  • Building things, which covers a wide range of industries, from cement contractors to cobblers

I went to YouTube just now and immediately saw these three videos being recommended to me, all of which focus on reactions:


What will she think of Pulp Fiction? What did that person find at a yard sale? What will the woman’s reaction be to the yard cleanup? With a simple thumbnail and headline, they tease delight and surprise. Why are reaction videos so big? Because they promise the unexpected. They promise a real human moment. There is anticipation built in, and then… WOAH!!!! SOMETHING TOTALLY UNEXPECTED! SURPRISE! And… delight.

When working with writers, we focus on identifying their ideal audience with a great deal of specificity. We then conduct marketplace research to identify where those readers show up and what engages them. In doing so, we gain a lot of insight for how to come up with messaging, a content strategy, and marketing that can help reach their readers.

You may be looking at that chart at the top of this email and thinking, “Hmmm, it seems that ‘delight and surprise’ is where most of the growth comes from. Why not just focus on that, and not worry about consistency and systems?” And there is definitely a logic to that. The issue I have found is that consistency creates the opportunities to delight and surprise. It pushes you to create and share more often, increasing the likelihood of something delighting and surprising. You don’t always know what will go viral. But showing up to create and share consistently ensures you will find something… eventually. And in the meantime, you are sharing your voice and growing your audience. One day at a time, one person at a time.

And isn’t that the life of the writer and artist?