Several years ago I read a book entitled The Hidden Life Of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. It asked the question, “what do dogs want most”? The answer, according to Ms. Thomas, was “other dogs”.
I’m not going to comment on that book (you can read it and make your own judgment), instead I’ve asked myself the question, “What do people want?” Especially with regards to our blogs?
There are many of us writers that create blogs. Some of you reading this right now are bloggers. We use blogs not only to express our myriad of thoughts, but also to develop our writer “brands” and gain a reader following.
Let’s face it. We want to sell our books!
There’s nothing wrong in this. Faced with the digital thumbprint (er: “bigfoot” is more like it) of today’s publishing world, we have no other choice. We have to have an online presence. The more present, the better. But there are – literally – millions of blogs and websites out there. All immediately accessible to the approximately 3 million internet users worldwide.
How can we hope to create even a ripple of attention amid such overwhelming competition?
If we go with Ms. Thomas theory of pack mentality (yeah, we’re pack animals too, which is why we can live together with dogs so easily) what people want most is to be with other people. In today’s world, that “being with” is in large part online. A sort of virtual reality socialization.
Or, to put it differently, writers today are like the reality stars we watch on the TV shows, except that our blogs are the show. This isn’t my idea, by the way, it’s Kristen Lamb’s, and when I first read it I was appalled. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized she was right. That’s exactly what we are!
The author/reader connection which used to be accomplished in person is now realized through the internet. Interviews (TV, radio, and written), speaking engagements, and book signings were how we, as authors, made our personalities known to the book buying public… who has always been fascinated with details on how their favorite authors lived.
But this still doesn’t quite answer the question, what do people want? Because with millions of bloggers, our reality “co-stars” are everywhere, drawing our readers away from us. What do we do?
Most every so-called expert will tell you that great content is King. And they’re right. Nobody takes the time to read a post they don’t like. I sure don’t. But what exactly constitutes “great”? There’s no hard and fast rules.
Do people want deep discussions? Articles that inform them on specific subjects? Controversy? Or do they just want to be entertained with jokes and pictures – to break up the struggles of everyday life?
The same experts that scream “content! content!” also disagree on whether you should pick a theme or blog on a variety of subjects – since people are complex creatures and readers want to see the real you in all its glory.
But doesn’t that fracture your readership?
For instance, the real me likes humor, and wants to entertain. The real me also has a strong spiritual streak, and feels a need to write words of encouragement and include bible quotes.
The real me is in love with plants and poetry. Botany and soil science. Dogs, cats, rabbits, and the color green.
The real me is fascinated with science and physics. Music and art. And Albert (my hero)!
I enjoy writing fantasy and sci-fi, fables and slice of life stories, and Christian fiction as well. Plus, I love to kill off my characters!
So when I try to draw a readership to my blog, who do I court? Inspirational readers? Garden lovers? Mystery readers, pet fanciers or science geeks? Can we really be all things to every person? Won’t the same person that is drawn to your blog by a post on bluebells, find themselves turned off when they then find an article in their email about God, quoting scripture?
I’ve given a lot of thought about blogging within certain, shall we say, “genre’s” (for lack of a better word). And I really don’t know if I’m headed in the right direction or foolhardily running towards a cliff. I do know that I can no more extract the spiritual side of me, than I can the part that extolls evolutionary anthropology.
In the words of Popeye, “I Yam What I Yam”.*
Really, people are the same the world over. We all have the same needs, the same wants. If we write about that, the feelings we have about a subject – not just the subject itself – then even if our interests and experiences differ, we will have tapped into a commonality. We’ll have a humanity thread going, and that’s attractive.
This is easier said than done, and much as I strive for it I know I have a long way to go to attain that sense of community within my own blogging. But I think this is what we need to strive for. Because whether we inform or entertain, the bottom line is, when people are connecting with others it’s through what they have in common, what they can relate to. Not what is different.
What do people want? People want to read about themselves.
* Popeye: “I Yam What I Yam” (copyright © Turner Entertainment Co.)