In the mid-1980s, the TV show Miami Vice debuted, and changed the look and sound of what a TV show could be. A young Nicole Blades was home watching, capturing her imagination. She says, “Writing was a way for me to put myself into the story.” What did she do next? She began writing Miami Vice fan fiction, of course! Decades later, she now has three published novels (none of them having anything to do with Miami Vice.) We will get back to Nicole in a moment…
This is how writing begins. With being a viewer, an observer, a consumer, a reader. Every person who reads what you write is someone who is living in the world you create. But, whether you know it or not, they are also co-creating. Perhaps none of them go on to write fan fiction stories based on your books, but they create the voice, the scenes, other aspects of the world you create within their minds. This happens regardless of whether you write fiction, memoir, or nonfiction.
Writers and creators tend to feel pressure to get followers, subscribers, reviews, make bestseller lists, and win awards. In the process, this can reduce the concept of engaging with readers to a simple number. It’s not uncommon for me to hear someone say: “I only have 30 subscribers,” or “I only have 600 subscribers.” Or “I only have 100 followers.” Or “I only have 24 reviews.” But I want to emphasize this:
Every reader counts.
If you want your career as a writer to grow, spend more time focused on the people who are engaging with you and what you create.
I was watching a documentary about the band ZZ Top recently, and they described playing a show early in their career in Alvin, Texas. They were hoping to sell out the venue, but would be happy if it was even half full. When they came out from behind the curtain to go on stage, they saw a single person in the audience. They started play, and the guy started to leave. The band stopped playing and talked to him, encouraging him to stay, explaining they would be playing him their full set, which they proceeded to do. After an hour, they took a break, bought their lone audience member a soda, and then… to this one guy, played an encore.
I mean, imagine this. Putting on a full show — plus an encore!!! — for one person. Giving it your all. The band members described how typically an encore is something you do when people are begging for more, but the situation was reverse… they were doing everything they could to turn a casual listener into a dedicated fan.
Decades later, the band says: “That guy still comes around to this day. He says, remember me? I’m the guy! And we say, of course we remember you.”
Your audience is developed one person at a time. And that relationship can’t be measured just as a point of sale for a book, them becoming a subscriber, or them choosing to follow you. At so many points in your career as a writer, you will hope that readers show up for you. Perhaps it is to join you in a conversation, to attend an event, to spread the word about a book, to leave a review, to recommend you to a book club, or so much else. These things happen through the professional relationship you forge with readers.
When I interviewed author Nicole Blades recently, she shared her path to writing. It felt just as incremental as our path to readers. Sure, we all dream of waking up one day and learning that suddenly thousands of people discovered your books and are raving about them. But… while we wait, we write and we share.
For Nicole, before she became a writer, thought she may want to become a lawyer. Then she began writing for magazines and doing freelance work. In our discussion, she shares the decisions she made along the way to publish her books and determine how she engages with readers. You can watch our full interview here:
Or listen on your favorite podcast app:
Each of our journeys as a creator takes time. So does developing how we can best share and engage readers. I simply want to encourage you to show up for your own journey.
This is why I interview writers, artists, and creators on my podcast each week, to constantly meet new people who inspire me, and to understand the decisions that led them to where they are now. It’s also why I’ve sent out this newsletter every week for 15 years. It is an honor to have you read what I share. Thank you.