Your best and most noble path to developing an audience as a writer is by having something awesome (or many awesome somethings) to give them. Tell the best story you can tell. Above all the social-media posturing and brand building and outreach, you need a great “thing” (book, movie, comic, whatever) to be the core of your authorial ecosystem. Tell a great story. Achieve optimal awesomeness. Build audience on the back of your skill, talent, and devotion.
Here are 15 ways to develop an audience:
This guest post is by Chuck Wendig. Wendig is the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Aftermath, as well as the Miriam Black thrillers, the Atlanta Burns books, and the Heartland YA series, alongside other works across comics, games, film, and more. A finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and the cowriter of the Emmy-nominated digital narrative Collapsus, he is also known for his popular blog, terribleminds.com, and his books about writing (including The Kick-Ass Writer). He lives in Pennsylvania with his family.
1. Swift Cellular Division
The days of writing One Single Thing every year and standing on that single thing as if it were a mighty marble pedestal are long gone. (And, if you ask me, have been gone for a lot longer than everybody says—unless, of course, you’re a bestselling author.) Nowadays, it pays to write a lot. Spackle shut the gaps in your resume. Bridge any chasm in your schedule. This doesn’t mean write badly. It doesn’t mean “churn out endless strings of talentless sputum.” It just means to be generative. Always be writing.
2. Painting With Shotguns
The power of creative diversity will serve you well. The audience doesn’t come to you. You go to the audience. “One book is less likely to find an audience than three?” Correction: “One book is less likely to find an audience than two books, a comic, a blog, a short story collection, various napkin doodles, a celebrity chef trading card set, and hip anonymous graffiti.” Joss Whedon didn’t just write Buffy. He wrote films. And comics. And a webseries. The guy is all over the map. Diversity in nature helps a species survive. So too will it help the tribe of storytellers survive.
3. Sharing Is Caring
Make your work easy to share. This is triply true for newer storytellers: Don’t hide your work behind a wall. Make sure your work is widely available. Don’t make it difficult to pass around. I have little doubt that there’s a strategy wherein making your story a truly rare bird can serve you—scarcity suggests value and mystery, after all—but the smart play for creative types just setting out is to get your work into as many hands as possible with as little trouble as you can offer. This is true for veteran storytellers, too. Comedian Louis C.K. made it very easy to get his new comedy special on the web. And that served him well both financially and in terms of earning him a new audience while rewarding the existing audience.
4. Value at Multiple Tiers
Your nascent audience doesn’t want to have to take out a home equity loan to try your untested work. If you’re a new author and your first book comes out and the e-book is $12.99, well, good luck to you. Now, that might not be in your control, so here’s what you do: Have multiple expressions of your awesomeness available at a variety of tiers. Have something free. Have something out there for a buck or three. Make sure folks can sample your work and still support you, should they choose to do so.
5. Be You
The best audience isn’t just an audience that exists around a single work, but rather, an ecosystem that connects to the creator. The audience that hangs with a creator will follow said creator from work to work. That means who you are as a storyteller matters—this is not to suggest that you need to be the center of a cult of personality. Just be humble creator of many things. You’re the hub of your creative life, with spokes leading to many creative expressions rather than just one. Put yourself out there. And be you. Be authentic. Don’t just be a “creator.” You’re not a marketing mouthpiece. You’re a human. For all the good and the bad.
6. Engagement and Interaction
Very simply: Talk to people. Social media—though I’m starting to hate that phrase and think we should call it something like the “digital conversation matrix”—is a great place in which to be you and interact with folks and be more than just a mouthpiece for your work. The audience wants to feel connected to you. Like with those freaky tentacular hair braids in Avatar. Get out there. Hang out. Be you. Interact. Engage.
7. Head’s Up: Social Media Is Not Your Priority
Special attention must be paid: Social media is a side dish; it is not your main burrito. See #1 on this list.
8. Hell With the Numbers
Just as I exhort you to be a human being, I suggest you look at all those with whom you interact on social media as people, too. They’re not resources. They’re not a number. They’re not “followers”—yes, fine, they might be called that, but (excepting a few camouflaged spam-bots) they’re people. Sure, as you gaze out over an audience, the heads and faces start to blur together like the subjects of a pointillist painting, but remember that the audience is made up of people. And people are really cool.
9. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
An earnest plea to your existing audience to help you find and earn a new audience would not be remiss.
10. Share Knowledge
As you learn things about the process, share them with others. Free exchange of information is awesome. Be open and honest. Be useful.
11. Embrace Feedback
Reviews, critiques, commentary, conversation—feedback is good even when it’s bad. When it’s bad, all you have to do is ignore it. Or politely say, “I’ll consider that!” and in the privacy of your own home, shred the feedback with wanton disregard. When it’s good, it’s stellar and connects you all the more deeply to the audience. The audience is now a part of your feedback loop, like it or not.
12. Do Set Boundaries
That feedback loop is not absolute. I’m not a strong believer in creative integrity as an indestructible, indefatigable “thing”—but, I recognize that being a single-minded creator requires some ego. Further, the reality is that once something is “out there”, it is what it is and there ain’t anything you can do about it. So you have to know when to turn off comments, back away from social media, or just set personal and unspoken boundaries for yourself.
13. Don’t Wrestle Gators If You’re Not a Good Gator Wrestler
What I mean is, don’t try to be something you’re not. If you’re not good in public, don’t go out in public. If writing guest blogs is not your thing … well, maybe don’t write a guest blog. Again, this isn’t a list where you need to check off every box. These are just options. Avoid those that plunge you into a churning pool of discomfort. You don’t want to lose more audience than you earn.
14. Take Your Time
Earning your audience won’t happen overnight. You don’t plant a single seed and expect to see a lush garden grown up by morning. This takes time, work, patience, and, y’know, earning the attention of other fine humans one set of eyeballs at a time. It’s why you put yourself out there again and again.
15. Have Fun
Relax. Enjoy yourself. This isn’t supposed to be torture. You should have fun for two reasons: First, because people can sense when you’re just phoning it in, or worse, when you’re just moping. Second, because fun is fun. You should enjoy writing; enjoy putting your work out there.
In The KICK-ASS Writer, Chuck Wendig will show you how with an explosive broadside of gritty advice that will destroy your fears, clear the path, and help you find your voice, your story, and your audience:
—How to build suspense, craft characters, and defeat writer’s block
—How to write a scene, an ending—even a sentence
—Blogging techniques, social media skills, and crowdfunding
—How to write a query letter, talk to agents, and deal with failure – and success!
If you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at firstname.lastname@example.org.