Build It and They Will Come

My theme today is “Build it, and they will come” – meaning that if you write with your ideal audience in mind, readers will show up. (The actual line from the movie Field of Dreams is “If you build it, he will come,” referring to baseball legend Shoeless Joe Jackson. But we’re not talking about baseball today.)

My previous post offered you an unconventional approach to a writer’s audience: I told you that writers often invent their readers. Today I’m going to give you another example of what that means, and then I’m going to offer you some writing tips.

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When I was growing up, “made in Japan” meant cheap novelty items. But beginning in the 1980s it meant innovative and advanced automobile technology.

Here’s what happened, according to a Japanese automobile executive: American manufacturers were committed to giving consumers what they wanted. But the Japanese philosophy was to build a better car and then convince consumers that they wanted it. When consumers experienced the high quality of Japanese cars, American car manufacturers almost went out of business.

To put it differently: Japanese manufacturers invented the customers (“audience”) they wanted. Those prospective car buyers liked their new role as savvy consumers of excellent automobiles so much that they were no longer interested in American-made cars.

Build it, and they will come.

But how do writers accomplish that? Let’s take a memoir as an example. What writers typically do is choose a memorable story and then recount it from start to finish…only to find that none of their loved ones want to read it.

There’s a better way. (Build it, and they will come.) Visualize the readers readers you want, and write for them.

Do you want your family to be amused? impressed? touched? amazed? indignant? fascinated? Experiment until you find the feeling you want (it might not be obvious at first), and then write your piece accordingly.

I can’t guarantee that your teenagers are going to lay down their devices to devour your story. But somebody, sometime will enjoy reading it. By contrast, the “first-this-happened, then-that-happened” accounts I read so often are never going to find an enthusiastic readership.

Here are some possibilities to try:

  • Make an emotional connection by sharing your version of a universal experience (such as an embarrassing mistake, a love story, a defeat, a triumph, a doubt, or a fear).
  • Aim for a conversational tone that foregrounds your voice so that readers can hear you tell your story.
  • Begin with a teaser (“That was the night that I stepped up to my role as Katie’s big brother”).
  • Keep picturing your readers and their reactions. If you’re having trouble picturing them, that’s often a warning sign that your piece is wandering away from your goal.

Build it, and they will come!

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