Saturday, September 24

How does a beginning writer build an audience?

Word-of-mouth advertising can only work if you have fans out there spreading the word. This then is presumed to be a chicken and egg dilemma. How can you have word-of-mouth if you don’t have fans, and how can you have fans without word-of-mouth? Therefore self-publishing can’t work.
Michael J. Sullivan writes:
What I find so fascinating about this argument is that it is like a magic trick. It appears real until you’re shown how the magic is done and then it is just so obvious. Until then however, the argument can be quite convincing.
It was about this time that I saw an episode of The West Wing. It was a rerun, but I hadn’t seen it before. This was one of the later episodes where Santos is running for President. It doesn’t matter if you know the show or not, the point is that this guy was running for President, and no one knew who he was. His successful and experienced campaign manager took him to New Hampshire to start his campaign. And Santos, like me, expected there would be this rally, or convention where he would address hundreds of people. And just like me that didn’t happen because hundreds of people didn’t know he existed. Instead he was driven to the city dump, where people were known to frequent, and he was instructed to walk up to folks as they dumped their garbage and introduce himself. Just as you might expect Santos looked at his manager incredulously. He was running for President of the United States, not city council of Concord. This was ridiculous! How can you get to be President if you can’t get people to come hear your speeches? If no one knows who you are, how can you gain a following, and without a following how can people know who you are? How can you get fans if you don’t have fans?

The answer is very simple, so simple it is hard to accept especially for those expecting more, and I’ve noticed people are always expecting more, expecting life to be easier than it is. There is this idea that when you are published, you’ve done the same as winning the lottery, and now all your troubles are over. You’ll be able to quit your day job, and spend your time basking in the adoration of your fans. This is the fantasy, but the reality is a bit different.

The truth is—the answer to the question of how you get fans without first having word-of-mouth is…one at a time.

This sounds insane, I know. When I finally realized that I was expected to build a beach one grain of sand at a time, I was stunned. Really? Do you know how long that will take? The sheer absurdity of the size of such a task is overwhelming. I just did the impossible! I wrote a novel, and I got it published! Do you know how hard that is? And my reward is that I have to build a beach grain of sand by grain of sand? Are you nuts?

I went to my first signing like Santos went to the dump. I introduced myself and felt foolish doing so.

“Excuse me, sir. Can I tell you about my book?”
“You wrote it?”
“Yes, sir.”
“So you’re an author?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Huh. I’m just here with my wife. She likes these romance books. Honey, you want to talk to this guy, he’s an author!”
“No! I’ve got what I came for, I just need to pay for it.” She had a copy of one of the Twilight books under her arm.

At this point I wanted to crawl under a desk somewhere.

“But he wrote this book—he’s a real author. Tell her what your book’s about.”

In my mind I was imagining stabbing myself in the eye with an ice pick. Can I leave now? But I grudgingly went through the motions of explaining, knowing it is pointless and humiliating at the same time. I’d never sell any books like this. This isn’t what I thought being an author would be like. I might as well give up and keep whatever shred of dignity I have left.

“Will you sign it for me?” she asks.

“Huh?” I ask. “You want to buy it?”



Afterwards I turned to my wife with a huge grin on my face and she smiled back then whispered in my ear. “Next time try not to look so shocked.”
Read the rest of Michael Sullivan's article here: A Sandy Beach is No Vacation


  1. This is so true, but like the old saying, "You have to learn to walk before you can run." We may have that feeling of vulnerability when we first expose ourselves to the public with our written work, but one step at a time. Fortunately, this blog and others like it, will make our learning process very brief.

  2. Seems, though, that too many writers get frustrated easily and give up or don't put in the non-writing work. There are no shortcuts, as this article so clearly illustrates.

  3. Exactly! It's about getting over self-consciousness and writing. And after I've written, persevering.

    This is kinda related to the topic, I've begun what I call gorilla writing. Throughout the day I'll have five minutes here and there where I'm not doing anything. Waiting for the elevator, on my break at work, etc., I usually just stand around but I've started carrying a small pad of paper with me and using this time to write a short story. My idea is that, whatever the story turns out like, I'll post it on a blog. Hopefully, the more I write the easier it will be to write and, after posting whatever I've written, the less self-conscious I'll be sharing my work. lol Well, we'll see how it goes. :p

  4. Great idea, Karen. Looking forward to the first short story. We will all be kind. Promise:)

  5. The ability to write small chunks and put them all together later at first may seem hard, but if you end one chunk with an ending that can ease into the next wouldn't be putting too much stress on your present self. Oh my! I think that's one of the longest run-on sentences I've ever written. :P

    Mind you. This is also an excellent way to eat if you're on a diet. Have a lot of small meals each day. This will put a much lesser toll on your digestion. Sorry, that kinda came out of left field.

  6. Thanks MT!

    Jeffrey, lol, I think the sentence works. This way of writing is an experiment, we'll see how it goes. Perhaps I'll gain writing muscle! ;)


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