How can I find new readers without being pushy or feeling gross?

“Look away! If you don’t make eye contact, they’ll leave you alone.”

I hope I’m not the only one irritated by pushy salespeople at mall kiosks. People running at me with open bottles of hand cream and free samples ruffle my sensibilities. One, I have allergies and some of those “wonderful” elixirs will blister my skin with just a drop. Two, do these people have no respect for boundaries and personal space? After two and a half decades of watching salespeople as an adult, clearly, many do not.

My first job was tending shop for a family friend who sold nutritional supplements. I was immersed in my naturopathic studies at the time, so it was a great fit. I remember her instructions: “Answer questions and offer suggestions, but never get pushy with products. I don’t care if other managers are only selling programs. We live in an economically depressed area. People may need what we have, but they won’t buy if they don’t have the money in their pocket. Don’t alienate them. They’ll come back when they’re ready.” She knew her customer. And by the way, they always came back.

For most of my writing career I’ve relied on passive traffic and readers’ word of mouth to spread my work. I don’t mind doing interviews or sharing links on social media, but pushy sales pages, “join me now or you’ll never get another chance” email campaigns, and endless ads? No way.

I see the wisdom in organic traffic and warm audiences. (Those are people who find you on their own and need what you offer.) I refuse to pressure or guilt people into something they don’t enthusiastically want. The question is how do you find organic traffic in today’s writer saturated environment?

There’s no way around it: in order to get new readers, you need to market your work. If you shutter at the thought, I get it. For many, marketing and sales have a nasty connotation. Few people want to push products or services on those who don’t want them. If someone does buy, because of guilt or pressure, it only creates unhappy customers.

Re-entering the online writing world after a ten-year break was like visiting a parallel universe. Everything is the same and yet, so much is different. While I didn’t have to start from scratch to catch up with tech and new-fangled ways to market, I am amused to see how “new” marketing techniques are simply old ways of connecting with modern equipment.

But here’s what those of us who hate selling miss: marketing is simply announcing you have a solution for a problem, and respectfully allowing others to make a decision whether they want what you offer. The tricky part is connecting with people who need it. Every salesman knows you need to ask for the sale, but only the best are respectful about it. Let’s explore the easiest ways to ask for new readers.

Believe in what you write. If you aren’t enthusiastic about your writing, how can you genuinely say, “I’ve written an article. I think it might help you. Would you like to read it?” It wasn’t until last summer when I was on the fifth edit of my book, Editorial Secrets, that I finally understood what it means to believe in what you write and to be able to tell others about it. The feeling is either there, or it isn’t.

If you don’t believe in your work, figure out why. Do you struggle with confidence? Are grammar or style bugging you? Are you writing about things that stir your passion? Take the steps necessary to fix what’s broken and fall in love with your message.

Be consistent. Whatever method you use to reach out to your readers, do it consistently. Readers get annoyed when they don’t know what to expect. If you publish regularly, they’ll be more likely to share your content with friends. It’s always better to write one short email a month and share one photo a week consistently, than five things every day for ten days and disappear for three months. Also, keep in mind that less content is more because burn out is real.

Be yourself. As much as I love following picture-perfect Instagrammers, 96.978% of them aren’t me. I will never be quiet, petite, sophisticated, or delicate with color coordinated bookshelves. I’m a denim-wearing, black-dress loving, country girl who laughs too loud. I would rather tube a river than spend the afternoon in an art gallery. And I love to talk writing. Did I mention I’m quirky?

If people don’t get you, they might read what you write, but they’ll never share your content or rave about you to their friends. You want to find your people. Those are the folks who share your sense of humor, insecurities, and problems. They will understand your perspective and you’ll be able to help them the most.

Solve a problem or create a satisfying emotional experience. If you find your voice, embrace what you create, and make sure you’re providing consistent content, don’t forget to give your reader ideas and solutions that are genuinely helpful or tug at their heartstrings. I can write about my gnome collection all day. If there isn’t a punchline to make readers laugh or problem to solve, nobody cares. Create value for your reader so they keep coming back.

Ask friends. Don’t be afraid to connect with friends who might be interested in your work, but don’t pester them. Ask once, then ask a second time. If you don’t get a response, drop it. They aren’t your ideal reader.

As a writer, having very few readers is daunting and discouraging. When I decided to launch my coaching website ten years after I stopped writing, I started over with zero. Z-E-R-O readers. A couple well-placed comments and a shout out to my writers’ group connected me with almost fifty people.

New readers are out there. Although it’s a twist on an ancient proverb, I believe “when the writer is ready, the readers will appear.” Until they arrive, keep writing.

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