Perhaps you've just finished writing your first book and you're itching to write more, or you're a veteran author who's in the process of formulating ideas for your next book. Wherever you are in the writing process, developing online content is a great way to get exposure.
But when it comes to writing for online audiences, there's good news and bad news for authors who are familiar with the book writing process.
The good news is that you're a writer! The bad news? Also that you're a writer.
Writing for online audiences is different
As you probably know by now, writing a book takes a long time and is often a journey in excavating your ideas to their deepest roots, letting the ideas flower and grow into the fruits of your labor—your book!
Writing for online audiences, on the other hand, requires almost the exact opposite approach. When it comes to online content, attention spans are short and distractions abound, so your goal is to cut to the chase and densely pack the info your readers need to know.
Instead of cramming in 15 pages worth of footnotes to augment your point, you have to boil down your ideas to their most essential message. While a book offers a little more room for authors to meander and explore, writing online requires that you map out the path for the reader clearly and efficiently.
Here are three tips for transitioning your writing practice from a book to blogging.
3 Tips for Writing Better Online Content
1. Keep it simple
When you’re writing a book, your editor will probably push you to dig deeper into certain concepts, expand on others, and maybe cut back on a few extraneous details. What this does to your writing process is unearth all the elements of your ideas and makes you think harder about the complexity of nearly everything you put to paper.
And that’s great! Don’t lose that! But it doesn’t translate well when you’re writing for online audiences, most of whom are more interested in moving on to the next funny cat video than in following you down a rabbit hole.
A useful editorial tool to keep things simple is to ask yourself, “How would I explain this to a ten-year old?” That doesn’t mean that you have to write it for a ten-year old, but it will help you boil the idea down to its most essential points. Some journalists think of it in terms of the inverted pyramid: start with the most newsworthy info, then filter in the important details, and finally pad with more general background.
2. Be clear with your goals
You know better than anyone what your readers need and how you can help them—you work with them every day. Instead of spending too much time burying the lead, make it clear what your goals are for the post—in fact, just go ahead and put it in the intro! Here are some questions to get you going:
- Who do you hope to help with this blog post?
- Are you educating, entertaining, or hoping to inspire action on behalf of the reader?
- What problems are you or your readers trying to solve?
- How does your post help readers solve it?
It’s almost the opposite of writing a book. You’ve got less time to hold your audience’s attention, so make it clear how you can help them and how your goals align with theirs right off the bat.
3. Less is more
Ever heard of TL;DR? That’s internet lingo for “Too Long; Didn’t Read.” TL;DR is in itself an abbreviation to allude to the fact that some article is too long to bother reading. What does that say about readers?
When you go through the production of writing a book, there are mechanisms in place that create room for citations and outlines where background information can be put into a call out box, formatted to give readers context. In digital formats, big blocks of text contribute to what WebMD literally calls Computer Vision Syndrome (for all of you hypochondriacs out there!), where your eyes become fatigued from straining to read things on a screen.
The solution? Make things easy on your reader. Write shorter sentences and format shorter paragraphs. Bolded headlines are your friend. So is hyperlinking to an article or study to give readers the background they might need to better understand where you’re coming from. The term “less is more” takes on new meaning for digital audiences. You’ll lose them if you don’t take that to heart.
As you know, writing for online audiences is a valuable way to increase exposure to your ideas, build your authority as an expert, and promote your book. But the point here is not to change your writing—that’s what makes you an author! Consider this an exercise in stretching your writing practice a little further that will make you a stronger writer and a better author.