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The Craft of Connecting With Your Audience

We don’t seem to reward slowness in our culture. I have been considering the craft of connection (how a writer connects with their readers.) The design of meaning (what separates the ordinary from the extraordinary.) The process of refinement (how we turn the good to the great.) And what productivity means when measured by quality, not just quantity (not just doing more, but doing only what matters, and doing it incredibly well.)

I recently finished reading A Field Guide to Now by my friend Christina Rosalie. She writes:

“It may be reasonable to say that we have more time now since we have invented machines to do the work we used to do. But what are we doing with all the time and ease we’ve gained, as our lives become easier and faster every second? Now that we no longer need to scrub our shirts or writer letters by hand, or walk to the general store for flour, coffee, and gossip, how are we using those precious minutes saved? The truth is, we fill most days as quickly as possible – as though the world wont wait if we go slowly; as though there isn’t time to simply be right there with reverie and focus.”

“The heart is not a machine. It does not have the capacity to love at any greater speed, or to feel anything more deeply when the pace is doubled. While fast is better for machines, we’re fools to live by such a rule set every day. Rushing every second, we forget that we’re capable of a certain quality of joy that can be arrive at only slowly, as time unfolds.”

When I work with writers and publishers, I am focused on providing two things: an immediate positive impact, and a meaningful long-term legacy. So I am always considering the quality of not just the work a writer shares, but how they share it, and the ways their identity, their brand, and their platform represents something more than just “great content at a great price!” (said with a saleman’s voice.) This goes deeper.

Sometimes, we talk too much about bestseller lists; about follower counts on social media; about metrics that are really just for our own vanity. We feel smart talking about these things, they sound professional and strategic. Don’t get me wrong: I teach courses about these topics, and realize how powerful they can be. But, much like Luke Skywalker’s mission at the end of Star Wars, there is something to be said for turning off the navicomputer.

I am thinking a lot more about being present. Of experience. Of in-person vs online. The qualitative nature of what constitutes a relationship. I see a lot of friendships online formed around a value proposition. If someone has a lot of “followers” and are considered an “influencer,” if you have a single interaction with them, you begin calling them a “friend.” Here is a great example of that from Marie Forleo (someone I really respect) introducing Chris Guillebeau (someone I really respect):

“We are going to talk to an amazing author. Someone I am friends with – just became friends with – but that I have known about for awhile.”

We talk a lot about community when we mention connection, both online and off. That an author needs to engage their community; that a brand serves a community. But what is often not mentioned here is that to serve a community requires sacrifice; it requires balance the needs of the many, not the few; that profit is the last thing to be valued; that it is more about giving than taking; that a thriving community does not all agree, is not all friends, and has a wide range of opinions; and that the process of connecting in that community is more important than any specific outcome.

Many conversations in the writing and publishing worlds are too focused on the wrong outcomes: revenue and sales as validation; popularity as the definition of good art; and pretending that the web has inherently changed the nature of relationships between people.

As we feel the pressure to rush, to do more, to achieve more in quantity, I am focusing considering how writers can find success, while also creating meaning. That this is the fabric of our culture, and the legacy we leave.


  • D’Anne Hotchkiss

    Great perspective, Dan. I especially connect to the idea that sacrifice is required and a community comprises many different points of view.

    • Thanks D’Anne. I think that topic alone could not only be its own blog post, but its own BLOG. Much appreciated.

  • I wanted to stand up and cheer when I read this (but didn’t so as not to upset the big cup of tea I’m drinking). I get so TIRED of all the numbers and metrics and rigamarole. Don’t get me wrong, I’m good at it, held up as an example in the self publishing world. But I’m all about community and talking to REAL PEOPLE about REAL THINGS rather than hawking my books. It’s a perspective that serves me well, and I’m thrilled to see others espousing the same.

    • Thank you so much Kait! Yes, I think we have to value performance metrics, but not allow them to become the goal or the point. They are a RESULT of the things, not the cause.


  • Thanks so much for this post, Dan – even if we truly believe quality relationships are worth sacrificing for, it’s so hard to actually make the short-term sacrifice (and i believe the sacrifice is only short term) to live that way. Of course this is a larger cultural issue, but this seems especially true in the publishing world (where books have always one step removed from face to face connecting anyway). Good food for thought for the journey…glad to have discovered your blog.

    • Thank you Amanda! Great point about sacrifice, which is why I like looking at the long-term career of writers when I work with them. When you only focus on short-term, one is more likely to make short-sighted decisions.


  • I can completely relate to your post and in particular the comment by Christina about replacing the simple chores of past days, like walking to the store, having real conversations, etc. with being online and calling followers “friends.” As you may know, my family left the rat race to live on a Caribbean island, and believe me, the simple daily chores like getting food for our 3 sons by boat, not having electricity all the time, depending on the rain for our water supply, completely transformed our way of thinking. I’ve often said that a simple life where you can spend hours talking to real people, baking cookies and cakes because you can’t get them in the store, and your kids are hungry, and not wearing a watch because you have all the time in the world, is the most liberating experience I’ve ever felt. Of course, not everything is rosy on a Caribbean island, but you learn lessons that stay with you for life, and that you can apply when you return to the developed world.

    • Sonia,
      Thank you – so much in here! Yes, reframing assumptions can be a critical way to find new resources, and really a new paradigm for living or for framing one’s career as a writer. Really powerful example – thank you!

  • penna

    In my pursuit on understanding how social media could best serve me, it ocurred to me that it is not how it can best serve me, but how can I best serve it. Isn’t that what building a community is all about? You wrote about sacrifice, I’m not certain I understand that, but I am beginning to understand that it is more about being honest to yourself and others will gravitate towards that honesty. It’s about revealing and revelation. I am in my third week of adventuring through social media and the irony of it, I have discovered, is that it turns the idea of a writer or writing being a lonely profession right on its ear. Investing in this makes writing one of the most public professions around.

    • Thanks, I really like how you are thinking about all of this! I mention sacrifice only to counter the idea that if we don’t see an immediate benefit in doing something, that it is not worth doing. So you sometimes hear a writer say something like: “I tried Twitter, it didn’t increase my book sales, so I stopped doing it.” That sometimes you need to expend resources to help others, to sacrifice your time or energy to help support the community you care about. I suppose, really, “sacrifice” is a subjective word, many see this same action as an opportunity, a privilege, etc. Thanks!

  • fcmalby.wordpress.com

    This is a great post. I think people often relate online friendships with the face-to-face ones. They are so different and meet different needs. A thoughtful piece on connecting in the right way, thanks