If you’re anything like me, you get a little bit excited when you finish a piece of writing — and sometimes really excited. It’s part of the joy of writing: producing something you’re proud of, something you want to share with the world.
But who are you going to share it with?
So many writers get stuck on this, and then, once they’ve finished their work, they lose momentum. I know, personally, that if I don’t have an audience for my writing, I get demotivated, fast.
Here’s the deal:
I do have an audience for my writing.
In fact, I’ve built lots of audiences over the years. Freedom With Writing, for example, has over 300,000 fans on Facebook. Mystery Shopper Magazine has over 25,000 email subscribers.
These are big numbers — enough to make a living with my writing. Which is just what I do.
In this article, I’m going to share some of the most important aspects of audience building, so that your efforts at building an audience can have maximum impact.
The Biggest Mistake I Used to Make
When I was younger, my first impulse, when I finished a piece of writing I was proud of, was to immediately seek attention for the writing. I felt good — and that feeling led me to share my writing with others, immediately. Sometimes that worked out, but it was ultimately a selfish endeavor, leaving me feeling both empty, and without a loyal group of readers who were engaged in my work.
What was going on? I was focused on just myself, and not on being compassionate, caring, empathetic, or understanding of the people I was sharing my writing with.
The first rule of audience building is that it’s not about the author alone, it’s also about the audience.
I was making a huge mistake: focusing only on how I felt, instead of how my audience felt too.
This is important: Like any good relationship, you need to show that you understand and care for the members of your audience.
Being young, and immature, I was not up to that task. It took me awhile to get over myself, so that I could finally start connecting with people in a genuine way.
But there’s a very important caveat here!
Consider the two columns below. The left hand side is all about the author, the right hand side is all about the audience.
|Writing this made me feel good||Reading this made my audience feel good|
|The writing is about something I care about||The writing is about something my audience cares about|
|Writing this helped me understand things in a new way||Reading this helped my audience understand things in a new way|
|Writing this changed my life||Reading this changed the lives of people in my audience|
|Writing this helped me take positive action||Reading this helped my audience take positive action|
Think about those two columns for a minute.
What if you were focused only on yourself — the left hand side? You would have a meaningful writing practice that was important to you. But ignoring the audience side would limit your ability to connect with your audience.
What if you were only focused on the audience?
You would be able to build a large audience, but it would be hard to sustain. Your enjoyment of writing would diminish — and your audience would be able to tell.
Ideally, your writing should be focused both on yourself and the audience. Sometimes it may veer one way or the other, but both sides of the equation should be taken into account.
Again, this is another mistake I’ve made. I’ve built large audiences for topics that I didn’t find personally important; I was able to sustain the practice of writing for those audiences for a surprising amount of time, but it was hard, and ultimately lead to burnout.
Which is why….
When building your audience, take yourself into account too!
This means being genuine about who you are at the same time that you are understanding and caring for your audience.
Don’t worry if you get this wrong at first! Like any relationship, there will always be give-and-take. Sometimes you’ll be too focused on your audience’s needs. Sometimes you’ll have to be focused on your audience’s needs more than your own. However, on occasion you’ll need to focus on your own needs as well.
Just like any good relationship, it’s about everyone in the relationship, and not just one person.
So, don’t forget about yourself. And don’t forget about your audience either. Or you’ll never find the perfect audience for your writing.
In fact, I would argue that the more meaningful your writing practice is to yourself, the more successful you will be. As long as you’re equally focused on your audience too.
An example: The wonderful Caitlin Jans (my wife), created Authors Publish Magazine because she saw that many writers were very interested in publishing in literary journals, a topic that is also very important to her. (She is a widely published poet.)
She started Authors Publish with the idea of connecting writers with literary journals, as a way to help them publish their creative writing. This started out as a success, and as something she enjoyed working on. As she got to know her audience, she also found that there was a lot of interest in book publishing. So she started including reviews of manuscript publishers in the magazine. This quickly became one of the most popular aspects of Authors Publish. It is also a topic that means a lot to her; she regularly writes novels. The work she and Emily Harstone have done reviewing manuscript publishers is meaningful both to them, and to their audience.
Audiences Are About the People Not The Topic
This is another very important distinction.
When you’re looking to build a large audience for your writing, you’re going to have a reach a large group of people, and give as many of them as possible the chance to join your community of readers.
This is where I’ve noticed a lot of writers get stuck. They’re too focused on the specific topics they’re writing about. Writers often have very specific interests, and then they view their audience building efforts in terms of those specific interests only.
Some of the best novels ever written are about rather strange, quirky topics. Things that I would never be interested in on my own. However, those novels can still be incredibly entertaining and meaningful to me.
For example, I would have never said yes if asked whether I was interested in children fighting to the death in an annual competition of blood and violence. And yet, that’s exactly what The Hunger Games is about. And I really enjoyed that book. I have read it more than once. (Three times, actually.)
Why? Because the book brought me into its world, and made me want to keep learning more.
The same is true of non-fiction. The New Yorker is the most profitable magazine in the world. It covers a wide variety of topics, including sports, politicians, and scientific research. Nearly everything they publish is engaging and worth reading. Not because of the specific topics they write about, but because reading them enriches my knowledge of the world. When reading the New Yorker, I feel smart, engaged, and entertained, all at once.
Don’t get me wrong: Topics are important.
In fact, choosing the right topic to focus on can be a shortcut to success. (I’ll get to that in a future article).
However, ultimately, it’s not about the topic. It’s about the people.
Which is why, when building an audience, you need to…
Find the Right People — And Give Them a Chance to Raise Their Hands
To do this, you’ve got to step back from the specifics of what you like to write about, and start thinking about the world a little differently.
You’ve got to start looking at the world in terms of groups of people.
This is where the pedal hits the the metal. It is the point where you can leverage your audience building efforts, and start to build a large audience for your writing.
One of our students at Writing Launch recently asked us about marketing a book they wanted to write. They were asked to write this book by two pastors. However, they were concerned that they didn’t have an “author’s platform.”
They were wrong! They did have a platform. It may not be massive, but those two pastors are, by definition, leaders of communities. And because they were asked by those pastors to write the book, it follows that those same pastors would be more than willing to promote the book to their communities.
That is a great starting point, in terms of audience building. It’s hard to do better than community leaders willing to give access to their community, allowing the author to promote their writing, and engage with the community.
Another, very similar example. Susan Fox, speaks at an annual convention every year. Before the convention, she always gets a big order for books. By speaking at the convention, she has been able to build an audience for her writing
Both of these examples demonstrate the idea of “groups of people” in a very literal sense. An annual convention is a gathering of people. Pastors of a church lead gatherings of people every week. Both are groups that one can become part of, and provide value to.
It is easy to forget about how literal this can be, when so much of the world is plugged in and online all the time.
However, the online world has tons of potential. It’s how I’ve managed to build my audiences, with great success over the years.
Companies such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Pinterest have built their success by attracting extremely large groups of people, and giving you the ability to connect with their massive audiences. (As most of us know.)
Facebook, despite all of its flaws, remains one of the most powerful tools for connecting with large audiences online.
As you can see, I’ve managed to use Facebook to reach millions of people — and to convince hundreds of thousands of them to give me their email address, so that I can start building a relationship with them.
There is a lot that goes into effective Facebook marketing; enough that I could write a rather lengthy book about it, but here is an overview of how I’ve managed to build a successful business with Facebook as my primary marketing tool.
The first thing to keep in mind is that…
Facebook Wants You to Engage Your Audience.
And they measure that engagement very explicitly. The percentage of people that “like” and share your posts determines how widely your post is distributed on Facebook.
This circles back to the first section of this article. You want to provide value to your audience. Facebook adds another layer to this; not only do you want to provide value, that value needs to be attention grabbing, so that the audience is quickly compelled to engage with your content.
This is a learning process; it takes time to figure out what works, and what doesn’t work, in terms of the audiences you are engaging with on Facebook.
The second thing to keep in mind with Facebook, is that you the biggest success starts with a modest investment in advertising. With just $5 a day, you can quickly learn a lot about what does, and does not work, in terms of engaging with your audience.
Facebook lets you target ads directly at people interested in a huge variety of topics.
- In the U.S., they have 15 million people interested in romance novels
- 2.5 million people interested in spacecraft
- 5 million people interested in Ketosis.
- 30 million people interested in writing
These are huge numbers.
And for the best chance of success, I encourage people to focus on large groups of people, when creating a Facebook ad campaign. At least one hundred thousand. Keep in mind that not all of those people will end up in your audience, but those are the people who will be given the chance to raise their hands and say, “yes, I want to become part of your audience.”
This leads to the next important point with Facebook advertising:
A Facebook fan is not really part of your audience!
Because of how Facebook works, the only guaranteed way to ensure that somebody is part of your audience, is for them to connect with you outside of Facebook. That’s why nearly all of my Facebook marketing efforts are focused on getting people’s email addresses.
It is very dangerous to depend on Facebook for the ability to connect with your audience. You absolutely have to gain the ability to connect directly with your audience, and one of the most powerful ways of doing that is to ask people for their email address.
On Facebook, this is a multi-step process.
Here’s the formula that I’ve found works best for me.
- Publish an article on my website that is extremely engaging to my audience.
- Post a link to that article on Facebook.
- When people visit my website from Facebook, offer them something even more valuable, in exchange for their email address.
That three part formula is at the core of how I’ve managed to build an extremely large audience for Freedom With Writing. It’s worked for Authors Publish too.
As I said before, there’s a lot that goes into building an audience via Facebook, but hopefully this has given you a few ideas.
Keep in mind that Facebook is just one of the many platforms you can use to build an audience. Don’t limit yourself to online methods, either. Groups of people are everywhere; not just online. I encourage you to spend a few days simply looking at the world in terms of groups and communities — and how you can provide value to those groups.
I know there’s a lot that I didn’t cover in this article, so please give me your questions in the comments below.