On growing an audience without losing your soul

I’ve studied copywriting. But I’ve found when I write touching, short stories and posts, they resonate more than the listicle stuff. I retire this December to paint and write full time. Hope to sell art, books, instructional videos/courses.

My question: How to grow an audience honestly. I’m starting to guest post and know all about newsletters/lead magnets, etc. But I don’t want to be that marketing guy. So how do you build an audience honestly? And thanks-I appreciate what you’re doing.


Hey John,

It seems to me like you’re on the right track.

Here’s the thing about clickbait… It’s tempting. If you know how to use it (which most web writers these days do) it’s like a gun in your hand.

I get it. We’re writers. We want to grow the sh*t out of our audience. Huge. We want to blast away at the interwebs with our “17 Strange Reasons To Achieve Maximum Success Without Leaving Your Bed” or “13 Things About Modern TV That Would Make Your Kid Self Lose It” and see those page views skyrocket. Any writer who tells you differently is lying to themselves and you. We all use it at one point or another. You are not Satan incarnate if you use a little clickbait here and there. If you look at the data, clickbait has been proven to ‘work’, meaning, a lot of people open it. Which can be good. Like when you’re trying to grow your audience.

But people are getting more and more sick of clickbait by the day. It’s everywhere, and we’re becoming inoculated — if not actively annoyed — by it. If you’re going to use a headline with a huuuge promise like most clickbait does, your article better deliver. And many of them don’t. This gets a lot of opens — sometimes even a lot of reads — but people finish the piece totally disappointed. So they bounce and they never come back.

If you’re going to use clickbait, use it sparingly. Your readers are smart.

When you get to a certain point, you need to stop writing so much to attract new readers and start writing more for your existing readers. These are your people. They don’t need, nor do they want, your clickbait. So the bigger your audience gets, I suggest using clickbait less and less.

But to finally answer your question…

You build an audience honestly by being honest with yourself.

When you write a piece, ask yourself, would I send this article as an email to my best friend? Ask yourself, if you were to stumble upon this piece for the first time, would you read it, dig it, and share it?

Most people don’t do this. They write a post, they tell themselves they’ve checked the boxes for how they’re ‘supposed’ to write a ‘popular’ post, and then they ship it.

Make your readers feel smart, funny, enlightened, etc. if they were to share your piece. Give them something that makes them feel better about themselves if they were to share it. Allow them to use you content to showcase the version of themselves they want to proclaim to the world.

If you can do this, you’ll have content you can be proud of and an audience that honestly digs your shizz.

*This post first appeared as the first installment on my new advice column.

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