Written Rapport and Why I’ll Never Apologize

It’s tough trying to get noticed.

If you’ve ever been a salesperson, you’ll agree. If not, try and level with me a while. Because if you are salesperson, you probably spend a good deal of time trying to attune yourself to the melodies and rhythms of your target market. You learn the ins and the outs of what makes your prime customer operate and in doing this, you’re after something crucial to making the sale: who they are. What are their interests? How is their personal life? What do they do for fun? If they’re into baseball, you may invite them to a baseball game. If they enjoy golfing, then you might go golfing. Or if they love food, you take them out to eat – provided you can. So you do this with the expectation you’ll gain their confidence. Shared experiences – fun ones – establish rapport; a rapport that says, “Hey, I’ve paid attention to what brings you joy.” And sharing joy is what strengthens trust. It keeps a person coming back. Great sales people know this. Whether they’ve stumbled onto this understanding or not – they’ve learned to hone the process as their own.

So, now comes my writer’s tie-in.

Effective writers must – and I mean MUST – establish a rapport with their reader. But the question is – what does that even look like? How does someone create rapport with somebody they’ve never met? An author can’t exactly take a reader out to eat or invite them to a baseball game – unless they know each other personally. Sure, the author can write a decent story about going out to eat or enjoying a ballgame, but that’s an entirely different thing. What’s more, anybody can do that. My niece who is five can write about eating (not downplaying her English skills, just making a point here). So, once again, what are we talking about when we say, “create a rapport” between you and the reader?

Well, it starts with the author. Specifically, an author who is honest. Not only with himself but with the audience he is speaking to. That means, saying what you intend to say and not apologizing for it. For example, how effective would J.K. Rowling had been had she been confused about making Harry Potter a wizard versus a vampire or an elf? Before the Potter series took off, modern culture wasn’t exactly excited about magic. Heck, it wasn’t even excited about reading. But hey, J.K. was. She knew she had a good story to tell, but the only way to make others see that good story was to own it – to not apologize for writing about wizards, witches, and all manner of imaginary creatures. She plead her case and won. She went deep with the mythos she created and her unapologetic attitude paid off. In a big way, too.

New writers – and even the more seasoned ones – tend to forget this. There’s no magical formula and most readers don’t even know what’s happening even when it’s happening! They’ll knowingly enter into a book without any knowledge or expectation of what may happen should they – the reader – be convicted of the author’s own conviction. The reason being? Every reader is subconsciously sizing up what he is reading. He is internalizing the story, feeling out its presentation, and ultimately assessing whatever stake the writer has in the ground. And if it’s a weak stake like a Ramen noodle, then adios – the reader is off to find someone who isn’t afraid of risking vulnerable pieces of himself for the sake of saving face or offending someone. I find this decision tied to a core belief: a writer’s true voice is not about breadth of audience, but about depth of audience – even though this may not appear to be the immediate issue. For example, what good is your voice without a platform and plenty of ears to hear you? Well, people stick around if they are more engaged by what they hear or read. Consider trying to marry someone who says, “I’m only available Sunday through Tuesday and the rest of the week I don’t want to see you.” Of course you’ll think twice about committing yourself to this person. There’s no reward coming for you in that scenario so consider how a reader feels when an author gives only half of what he can offer?

Yeah, not a fun arrangement.

The author must not be apologetic towards his audience. He must be willing to say, “this is it” and not shy away from it. Otherwise he’s just another screaming voice among the masses. A place that’s every writer’s hell – no apologies here either.

 

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