Find those who will love your work

My newest course begins next week. It’s called Find & Engage, and is focused on helping creative people create clarity around who their ideal audience is, and how to best reach them. (Please consider checking it out or telling a friend — deadline to register is Monday.)

The topic of finding and engaging a readership has been on my mind a lot lately, and was perhaps best embodied in an event I was a part of last week: The Morristown Festival of Books. I have been a volunteer for the festival the past two years, helping out with social media.

Christopher Scotton (left) and me.
Christopher Scotton and me.

Before the keynote began, I was able to grab a few minutes with author Christopher Scotton, who was a client of mine during the launch of his novel The Secret Wisdom of the Earth. As we looked out on the crowd of 800+ people who showed up to see authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, he reflected on the power of these events.

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn speaking at The Morristown Festival of Books
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn speaking at The Morristown Festival of Books

Here are a few reflections I have had this week since experiencing the festival:

The Author Shows Up. Again. And Again.

The bottom line? People show up. They show up to see authors they admire; they show up to discover new authors and their books. And to me, a festival such as this one represents so much about how authors try to connect with a readership.

Sure, it is a wonderful thing to have a festival invite you to speak about your book in front of hundreds of people. It validates so much about why you do what you do, and what you hope the book can achieve by reaching more readers.

But let’s face it, this is work. In order to spend 40 minutes in front of an audience, you have to travel perhaps hundreds of miles, be away from family, justify donating this time with other responsibilities, and put all of your other personal needs on hold so you can do the thing that most people dread: public speaking.

This tweet by author Emily St. John Mandel puts it in context. Her novel, Station Eleven, was published more than a year ago, and this is what that year has looked like for her:

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 6.47.00 AM

She has shown up to 100 events in that time. I just think that is incredible. It illustrates the gumption required to reach audiences one person at a time.

Emily St. John Mandel in conversation with Cary Barbor.
Emily St. John Mandel in conversation with Cary Barbor.

Yes, The Author Matters

Very often, creative people try to justify that the audience only cares about the work itself, not the creator behind it. They want to save themselves the social pressure of putting themselves out there.

But the creator of this work does matter — deeply — to their audience. Readers at this event loved hearing the backstory behind the books; they were enamored with the process of writing these books; they nodded their head in agreement with the worldview that an author represented; and walked away with a deeply relatable human connection to art and ideas.

Promotion Happens One Person at a Time

When I look around at the audience during an author session, I don’t see an audience as much as a group of individuals. Each is hearing the author with a different context in their mind; with different questions, different agreements and objections.

It reminded me of how similar this was to the way authors connect with readers online. Even if they send an email newsletter to 10,000 people in a single moment, each of those people receives the newsletter individually. It is a one-to-one connection.

It Takes an Incredible Effort

Because I get to see behind the scenes when this event is created, I see how much of an incredible effort it is. So many people volunteer their time at every level, from the authors to those directing attendees to events on the streets. It is all about connecting authors, books, and readers.

Linda Hellstrom and me.
Linda Hellstrom and me.

I think it is too easy to take that for granted. That Linda Hellstrom had this idea for the Morristown Festival of Books, and as a first step, moved a core group of people to back it. That many more people then volunteered to help get it off the ground. That sponsors then put money behind it. That the local community found room for it. That the media wanted to talk about it. That authors wanted to show up, taking time away from their writing and families. And of course, that individuals throughout this region wanted to come out to attend on a rainy Saturday.

Authors Christopher Scotton, Emily Schultz, Asali Solomon, and Miranda Beverly-Whittemore.
Authors Christopher Scotton, Emily Schultz, Asali Solomon, and Miranda Beverly-Whittemore.

This is the stuff I obsess about. How can you work to find those who will love your work, and engage them in a way that fulfills the vision of why you create? It’s certainly what I bake into my Find & Engage course (did I mention that the deadline to register is Monday?) It is what fills conversations I have every day with authors and other creative professionals.

What have you found works best to connect you to the work of creative people that you admire?