Saturday, 18 January 2014

Writing at the Intersection

If you write for two audiences, you will not get both of them. Stick around, I'm going to apply this argument to writing a blog.

The origins for this post lie in a remark by Robert J Sawyer at CanCon 2013. As I stated back in that recap, Robert "said his first story was a Mystery/SciFi crossover, as he'd hoped to get the union of people who liked one genre or the other. Instead, he got the intersection - only people who liked both."

Only the platypus is interested.

I write in the intersection. This is bad for business.


If you are reading this right now, odds are good it's because you were intrigued by the title, or by a tweet - not because you actually follow my blog. This may be because you don't follow blogs. (I know I don't. I do track a couple, but even then I miss posts.) Still, maybe you do use a reader, in which case, you likely follow blogs that mean something specific for you.

Perhaps you include blogs about education. Or jewelry. Or depression. Or statistics. Whatever enjoy reading about! But you read them at separate times. I argue you're much less likely to read a single blog at the intersection.

Corollary: Crossovers have limited appeal

I previously had a post called "Why Do You Blog?", which led (in the comments) to the acknowledgement that my blog lacks focus. My posts are primarily information for me - that you might find helpful. My theme, in essence, is me. Which shrinks my scope considerably. If you want an audience, you should avoid making my mistake.

Meaning if you're an educator, you probably don't care for the posts where I talk about writing. If you're a writer, you probably don't care for the posts where I go on about teaching. In both cases, you really have no incentive to subscribe. It's only if you like both teaching AND writing that you're liable to tune in.

On the one hand, I've found that's a potentially large audience. On the other, it's an audience with very little spare time. I also divert into things like time travel, shrinking the scope down even more. All things considered, I'd be better off picking ONE theme, and sticking to it. Except (1) that's not me, and (2) there's more to it.


The other thing you will need before you subscribe to a blog is some sort of personal connection. Which doesn't mean that you know the other person, it's more that you're interested in their methods. I'm starting to suspect that's why my web serial is a constant source of fail, at least as far as reader engagement goes. I may have finally answered my question (from back in this post) as to why "personified math" is not interesting.

It's not real.

It's not a description of things happening in the classroom. It's not insightful regarding mathematical truths. It's not something you can use tomorrow. Those facts eliminate teachers. (Or at least puts my story behind pretty much every single other math blog, podcast, and other initiative out there.) But even though my serial is not real, it's not quite fantasy either, as some understanding of math is required to get the jokes. Which eliminates the majority of people who read fantasy serials.

My serial is designed for people who like fantasy math. But "fantasy" and "math" are DISJOINT SETS. While you might follow a blog about either one, you have no reason to follow a blog doing both simultaneously. There's no incentive for this intersection.

Well, unless you count me as incentive. Leading to the simple conclusion that the only thing that can interlink "fantasy" and "math" is a known author.

And I'm no Robert J Sawyer.

Timing is also important. Picture seeing this diagram 20 years ago.

I am, however, a pretty decent guy, whose writing apparently doesn't suck. Which is not enough to overcome the "intersection" problem - heck, I doubt it would be enough for me, in your shoes - and is why I can never find my audience. After all, there's tons of "decent guys who don't suck at writing" out there. Why keep an eye on me? Why not just go read xkcd comics?


The way I see it, if a blog is not going to have a specific theme, and is not going to write strictly about real (or strictly about fantasy) events, there needs to be something else. Now... I haven't worked out exactly what that is yet. Still, in the grand tradition of trying and failing, I think I can knock a few things off the list for you. Feel free to disagree with me.

1. A regular schedule will not make you stand out. I blogged twice per week for a full year. Impressive to people in retrospect, but only in retrospect. Regular updates are at best uninteresting, and at worst, routine. Heck, there's webcomics I follow which update haphazardly at best, but I go back because somewhere along the way, I became invested in the characters or drawing style. A schedule may be good for people who are already on board - it's no help in generating interest.

Well, that looks weird. Next!
2. Drawing will not make you stand out. Remember, we're assuming you don't have a specific theme. If your theme is "Bad Drawings", and within that theme you make creative drawings, that's to your benefit. If you have no theme and you make creative drawings, you're deviantART on a blog. Again, the drawing itself will not generate interest. (Though I still maintain you should Draw your Story.)

3. A story arc will not make you stand out. This is the hardest one for me to wrap my head around. I am really good at creating arcs, be they for a story, or a unit I'm teaching. They're also a staple of TV shows these days. Yet my web serial comments all refer to the given entry, never to the larger context. Even on this blog, my week of "Day in the Life" posts? Biggest hit counts were for Days 1 and 5. Four days at Twitter Math Camp? Days 1 and 3. No, there seems to be little interest in following an arc - only a theme.

So, where does this leave us?

Well, hopefully it leaves you with a few thoughts for your own blogging, and a desire to drop back to my blog again sometime. It leaves me frustrated, but (as yet) unwilling to alter my writing style. After all, surely there are other ways to stand out and build an audience. I'll let you know if I discover one.

With thanks to:
- A comment made by Scott Delahunt on my web serial blog, when I cut it back to running only weekly. It reminded me of Robert's quote.
- Tammy and Audrey, for the Sunshine Award nomination. It led to a perusal of many, MANY blogs when tracing the origins.


  1. I love this post more than I can express. You and I have talked before about what audience we write for and I think you make an excellent point about the intersection of different groups. Sometimes it works, but more often than not, it's a niche market.

    I happen to be in that market for you.

    Keep it up!

    1. I love that you love this post! Also like that I'm apparently making some sense, and that I am not looking for an audience in completely the wrong place.

      It occurs to me that a 180 blog is it's own form of serial, in a "reality TV" sense. Maybe I should track more blogs like that. If I can make the time.