7 Tips to Build an Audience for Your Writing

I got a great Ask about this a little bit ago about how to establish an audience for your writing. Here’s my answer!

(I’m not an expert on building an audience, but I’ll do my best to share advice based on my personal experience, and perhaps a few other writers will chime in, too.)

My situation: I myself have a very small audience for my creative writing, as I tend to focus more on writing than on promoting myself (for the most part). The biggest success I’ve had in this department is with my latest zine Pigtail Girls. I was able to raise $2,000 on Kickstarter to create it, held a local release party that drew a crowd of 70 or so folks and have sold about 150 zines so far (with almost no post-release promotion).

I don’t make my full-time living as a fiction writer, but I have a solid enough audience of readers that it feels satisfying when I come out with something new, and I’ve been traditionally published a few times as well. I have also placed in a few contests and gotten some awards and stuff. But still my audience is very small. That being said, here’s my advice. I hope it helps :)

#1 Start small… with people you already know

When you’re just starting out, many of your fans or supporters will be the people who already know you. Your friends, family, co-workers, peers, acquaintances, etc. Share and talk about your writing with these people, and pluck up the courage to ask for their support! At least a few of them will genuinely like your writing, and you never know who might have a connection that can help get you more exposure.

#2 Don’t feel try to “sell” or “promote” yourself to these folks. Instead, make authentic, person-to-person connections

Sometimes writers fail to create an audience because they have a perception of what it means to “self promote” which leads them to plaster their social media with desperate pleas to buy their book, or feel pressured to “sell themselves” to new friends and contacts. It seems counter-intuitive, but the best thing you can do is to make genuine, authentic connections with people and be open about your writing with them.

That way, when your friend who works at a bookstore needs someone to open for a touring reader… they think of you. Or when you have a release party to celebrate your release, your co-worker will come (and maybe bring their friend who happens to be a newspaper writer… see where I’m going with this?). When you have authentic relationships with people, they will help you grow your base without having to beg or sell to them.

#3 Make friends with readers, other writers, editors, bookstore clerks… basically anyone in the literary world

Truth: There’s a lot of networking, nepotism, and hobnobbing going on in the literary world. Of course, we all know this stuff happens at the super-famous level. People network their way into recognition all the time. Celebrities get book deals. Keanu Reeves is allowed to be an actor. You might not be lucky enough to be bumping elbows with the elite, but your connections can help you no matter how small they are.

Example: As of March 2018, my writing has been traditionally published four times. The first three were open submissions. The other one was because my friend was the editor of a magazine, liked my work, and asked to publish it. At the time I made this friend, she was a writer but not an editor. We connected for other reasons, but by happy coincidence she was able to help promote my work a few years down the line.

#4 Write your social media posts like you’re talking to your friends, not the anonymous masses

This ties into #2. When you use social media to share about your writing, make it personal. A lot of writers feel like they have to sell themselves on social media, so they end up making promotional posts that are basically like “buy my book!” or “read my writing!”

But if you share something real, much like you would if you were talking to a friend, people are much more likely to respond. I know this from personal experience. My highest-performing posts about my writing are always the ones that make a connection and share something personal with my followers.

Additionally, if you’re using certain platforms (Facebook and Instagram for sure do this), your post will get buried by the algorithm if it’s overtly “promotional.” So in certain instances this becomes not just wise but absolutely necessary so that your posts get seen.

#4 Consider trying to get a story traditionally published

This can help in a few ways. First, you’ll have made a connection with the editor of that magazine. (Connections!) Second, your work will be seen by a new audience of readers. Third, it can give you credibility that makes people (editors, readers, etc.) more likely to give your work a second look further down the line.

#5 Get off the internet

My biggest base of supporters are the folks in my town. That’s because they see me and interact with me regularly. It’s way easier to keep the attention of people IRL than it is online, in my experience. Here are some ideas of how to make friends in the real world who can be supporters of your writing:

  • Attend or give a public reading
  • Start or join a writing group
  • Hang out at the bookstore
  • Go to any and all literary events in your town
  • Make friends with other creative people: musicians, artists, photographers.
  • Seek out collaborative projects with other writers and creatives

#6 Accept that, yes, it takes time

Building an audience doesn’t happen overnight. But there can be a cumulative, exponential effect over the long run. Take Tumblr for example. Most people who have a blog can probably remember how it took forever to get those first 10 followers. But once you have the first 10, it’s a little easier to get the second 10, and so on. It’s the same with an audience.

There may be huge surges in your popularity that leave you feeling awesome, then after that you may find your growth starts to lag a bit. That’s totally normal. Which leads me to my last tip:

#7 Remember that it’s quality, not quantity, that counts

Especially in the age of social media, we can get totally hooked on numbers. How many followers, how many email subscribers, how many patrons, etc. But in my experience it’s the quality of your audience, not the quantity, that counts. Focus on building real relationships and delivering something great to just a few loyal readers rather than trying to please everyone. Those people will be the ones to help promote you and have your back when it’s really important.

For example, when I ran my Kickstarter project for my latest zine, about half of the $2,000 I raised came from big donations. That means that just a few of my really loyal readers kicked down most of my goal. As I mentioned earlier, one of my publications came from an editor friend who is a really big fan of my work. Most of my successes have been because of the dedication of a handful of people, not because I have some enormous following. (This phenomenon has actually been studied and officially named. It’s called the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule. I totally recommend looking it up and reading more about it.)

Ok, that’s all I’ve got for now. I hope this helped!

Una de fracasos en el marketing

Platos Congelados, Colgate, 1982

En el 82, Colgate decidió ampliar el negocio vendiendo cenas congeladas. La gente seguramente pensó que sabrían a pasta de dientes. Después de esto, sus ventas bajaron en todos sus productos.

Clippy, Microsoft, 1990s

Clippy se considera la peor interfaz de usuario jamás desarrollada. Aparecía cada vez que el sistema pensaba que el usuario necesitaba ayuda y era muy molesto.

Ez Squirt Ketchup, Heinz, 2006

Para llamar la atención de los niños, Heinz decidió sacar ketchup de colores: verde, turquesa y morado. Tras 6 años, dejaron de fabricarlo.

Bic Para Ella, 2012

En 2012, la gente de Bic pensó que las mujeres necesitaban un bolígrafo especial para ellas. Todos se burlaron.

Google +, 2011

Google+ fue el intento de Google de hacer la competencia a Facebook, pero fue una decepción.

Frito-Lay Wow!, 1998

Estas patatas fritas no tenían grasa, a la gente le gustaron y triunfaron en su primer año. Pero se supo que contenían olestra como sustituto de la grasa, que produce retortijones y diarrea.

Bálsamo labial, Cheetos, 2005

No sabemos cómo se les pudo ocurrir sacar un bálsamo labial con sabor a Cheetos, pero es comprensible que fallara.

Pepsi Crystal, 1992

Solo duró un año, porque al parecer, ni siquiera sabía bien.

Twitter Peek, 2009

Dispositivo móvil creado para usar Twitter nada más. Solo recibía y enviaba tuits, y en eso fallaba, ya que solo mostraba una previsualización de 20 caracteres de los tuits.

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Things are going to work out for me. I just have to keep putting in the work to make that happen.
—  Affirmation of the day.