If You Aren’t Providing Backstory, That’s Bad Business

Providing backstory
Don’t make the mistake of asking your audience to backtrack. [Image by: Veerasak Piyawatanakul]

Using one story to seduce readers to another is smart.

Expecting readers to backtrack so they can catch up is not.

What am I talking about? you may ask.

I’m talking about providing backstory versus pointing people backward.

Let me explain…

When creators have one piece of work, and it builds on another piece, they’ll often either assume that people are acquainted with the first piece or they’ll encourage readers to go catch up before digging into the current piece.

Either way, that’s bad business.

Even if people follow or subscribe to your work, you shouldn’t assume they’re cult followers eager to open wide and suck it all in every time you press publish.

The reason people point backward

We don’t want our audience to check in and check out. We want them to come and stay. So we’ll often try to string them along from one piece of work to another.

Although that’s an absolutely stellar idea, I’ve learned you still need to give each piece of work the foundation to stand on its own.

If you notice, in a movie franchise, the most successful are always crafted so that a consumer can jump onboard and get hooked at any time. It doesn’t matter it’s sequel #2 or sequel #10, it’s meant to hold its own.

Can you imagine if bought a movie ticket and before the movie started a message ran across the screen saying you needed to see the last one before you see this one?

But that’s exactly what a lot of creatives are asking these days.

Surely, you’ve come across those YouTube videos that say something to the effect of: If you haven’t my last video on XYX-topic, watch that before you watch this. The link is in the description box.

NO! I am not going to go watch another video because you aren’t providing backstory in this one. I’m going to find somebody who can give me what I need in one package.

And if you try that scheme, you’ll likely find people who follow my lead.

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Providing backstory where it’s needed

Some of the background knowledge that your day-one audience has may help them connect to and understand your current project at a deeper level. But still, newcomers should be able to enjoy or get informed from their first encounter with your work without needing to dig back into the past.

The most enthusiastic and intrigued newcomers just may go back and check previous segments because they’ll want to fill up.

But you shouldn’t make that a necessity. A lot of people won’t have the will or the time to backtrack before moving ahead.

Encourage, don’t discourage

Let’s say you’re doing a true crime or cold case series. Whether it’s an article or a podcast, each piece should be crafted in a way that if the audience was formerly acquainted with your work, they will be engaged and feel at home.

And it should also be crafted so that newcomers are sucked into the story wherever they come in.

For that to happen, you have to provide enough backstory for those newcomers to understand what’s going on wherever they board the train.

That’s not to say that each episode in your series needs to rehash every detail. But if you’re on the 10th segment of a murder mystery, and it’s revealing that an investigator saw a footprint at the crime scene but never reported it, make that conversation so interesting, informative, and engaging that it alone can pique someone’s interest.

Within that segment, provide enough backstory that newcomers aren’t lost and your old-faithfuls aren’t bored.

Think of each segment as an opportunity to bring newcomers into your story. If you toss that hook out there and start to reel them in just right, chances are some will continue drifting with you.


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