There's More to Gaining Trust than There Are Bricks in the Berlin Wall

This morning, as I read Eric Idle’s latest blog entry, I realized that I began feeling very relaxed. It wasn’t the topic that allowed me to kick back mentally and take my time, it was that I trusted him. He began with a tale that was related to his adventures while trying to get to the Berlin Wall, not the trip itself, but I didn’t care. I instinctively knew he would bring me back around to it. And at the end he left a little cliffhanger. Not to worry, he’ll tell that tale one day when he feels like it...

Eric is an amazing communicator, actually. Most people recognize his brilliance as a comedian, musician, writer, actor, director, on and on and on… but beneath all of those talents his core gift is communication. It occurred to me that the lion’s share of being a good communicator, then, is caring about building people’s trust through honesty. Of course, this is a concept that I’m certain tons of motivational speakers have told veritable seas of faceless conventioneers in countless hotel banqueting rooms, but in my pre-coffee morning mental blight, it struck me as really rather simple. We must gain the trust of our readers. It seems simple enough, anyway. The problem is, we must have readers to begin with.

Readers aren’t stupid. That’s the first lesson. You can’t, and don’t, fool them. They know when they’re being led on a wild goose chase and they know when you’re being phony. That’s why it’s important to be consistent. Never delve into something if you haven’t got a resolution planned. Life is too messy and readers want the time that they live in your book to make sense. If you want to build a readership, don’t mess with them from the outset. Don’t fake them out. Remember, when they open your first book, they don’t care about you. They don’t know you, possibly never even heard of you, so it’s important to remember that it’s not about you. It’s about the story you’re telling and how honestly you tell it. Later, if what they’ve read has moved them in some way, they may grow curious about you, look you up on the web, follow you on the different social networks, get to know you a little and, hopefully, buy your next book. But for now, forget about you, your “image” and all that crap. Be honest with them and with yourself.

There are a lot of pages on the web that tell you how to build reader trust, but they’re mostly referring to marketing. What I’m talking about is something that must be developed in the writing phase of your book. Be imaginative, but be concise. Be a good researcher. Exercise a good vocabulary, but don’t lay out words you don’t use when you speak. People aren’t impressed with 50-dollar words they can’t pronounce, or have no idea what they mean. If you start down a path, finish it. Develop a voice. All pretty basic stuff, really, but things that will help you build trust with your readers. The rest just takes time, and there’s no shortcut for that. Eric found that out while trying to get to Berlin.
Update: What an honor! Eric Idle read this entry and tweeted the following to me: