How to get good at growing your audience

So many writers and creators tell me about the challenges they have in sharing their work and growing their audience. Today I want to talk about how to get good at this and overcome the most common challenges people face. Okay, let’s dig into today’s topic of getting good at growing your audience…

Feel Confident That Your Voice Matters

I have to start with this, because it comes up so often with writers and is foundational to the idea of sharing your work:

Your voice is unique.
Your voice is valuable.
Your voice deserves to be heard.
Your voice will connect with someone.
Your voice matters.

When it comes to the concept of sharing your writing, so many people are confronted with inner narratives that they have had their whole lives. These are myriad, and tend to go very deep. Some examples:

  • “It’s not polite to talk about yourself.”
  • “If my work was good enough, shouldn’t other people be the ones talking about it, not me?”
  • “I don’t really have anything to say, outside of my book. Who would want to hear from me anyway?”

I simply want to encourage you to give yourself permission to share. Your voice does matter, and sharing your writing can inspire, educate, entertain, and help someone feel a connection to the themes you write about.

Sometimes these inner narratives are framed as a logical assessment of the marketplace:

  • “Oh, the market is too crowded right now. Why would I jump in as the millionth person talking about this?”
  • “I don’t have the right credentials. When I have time to go back to school and get that degree, then people will care.”
  • “Honestly, I don’t think now is the right time. There are so many more important things going on.”

While these things may be logical and someone can try to produce charts and graphs proving them, I don’t find them to be compelling evidence to silence the creative work inside of you. Creating and sharing is important, and it is where the process of growing your audience begins.

Simplify: Focus on the Basics

Writers are inundated with all they are told they “must do” to develop their author platform, share their writing, grow their audience, and launch their books. This often has people spinning their wheels trying to learn too many things at once, and in the process, inadvertently half-baking it all.

Instead, I encourage you to focus on 1 or 2 activities for how you share and connect with readers, and double down on them. To me, your platform as a writer is based on 2 things: communication and trust. This is different from how it is often talked about, which tends to center more on things like how many followers you have. So the question you have to ask is: “Do I want a wide audience of people who will barely engage with my writing, if ever? Or do I want an audience of people who will truly appreciate my writing, have it influence their lives, and who will gladly share it with others?”

Getting better at self-expression and communication helps you take bigger concepts like “author platform,” and bring them down to specific tasks to work on. Could you:

  • Write a better newsletter subject line?
  • Craft a better pitch to become a guest on a podcast?
  • Reach out to a colleague in a way that would make their day?
  • Create a social media post that your ideal audience just immediately engages with?

The other day I was watching a series of interviews with one of the most successful comic book creators of all time, Todd McFarlane. His bold visual style ushered in a new era for comics and their creators. When talking about getting good at drawing, he focused on one element at a time: getting good at drawing forearms, spending weeks just focusing on them. Then he would draw just hands for awhile, pages of them, and so on. From there he would explore different ways of posing or composing a page layout. One step at a time, he focused on the basics with an intensity. This empowered him to embrace new ideas that changed the industry.

The other side of this — getting better at connecting with people — is not about “putting on your marketing hat.” It is learning how to connect with people who love the same themes that you tend to write about. It is about helping others feel seen and appreciated. It is about learning to celebrate this work, and create experiences that help others feel included and part of something.

When we look at communication and connection as a craft, suddenly a path forms for getting better at it. And in the process, you build the skills and experiences you need to grow your audience and ensure your writing reaches more people.

Focus On the People, Not the Algorithm

What can you forget about in this process? The algorithm. What’s that? It’s the complicated way that social media (and other sites) determine what to share, and how to customize what each of us sees.

For example: you and I could follow the same 100 people on Instagram, but after a few months, we could find that the individual updates that Instagram shows each of us are different. Why? Well, perhaps you engaged more with certain people and I engaged more with others. So Instagram’s algorithm will note this and customize our feeds accordingly. Or perhaps I had done a bunch of searches about vintage typewriters, whereas you did searches on planting an organic vegetable garden. This too, is information that the algorithm will use to customize what each of us sees that is unique. Often, these networks are optimizing what we see based on our actual behavior.

Does this sound scary? It can be, and there have been copious amounts of articles and documentaries considering this. Can it also be useful? I have found that to be the case. For instance, Spotify is the app I use to listen to music every day, and their algorithm recommends new music to me all the time. The result: every week I discover music from artists that I really love, but never would have found without them being recommended to me.

Does this mean that you should obsess about how to feed the algorithm so that it shows your content to more people, and thereby grow your audience? Not necessarily.

What matters most is you getting better at the basics of clear communication in a manner that truly engages people. In the end, that is all that the algorithms on social networks want because they want to see what people are engaging with, and then they amplify it.

But this is also what people want! They want to find more writing that speaks to them. They want more connection with great writing and those who share about themes that resonate deeply with them. And they want more connection to others who appreciate these things.

Focusing on communication and trust can be centered entirely on the person, not the algorithm.

Make Small Changes and Celebrate What You Learn

Become a student of the process around sharing better and connecting better. The nice thing about this is that it will benefit you regardless of any trends online or on social media.

Again and again, I find that people who learned to communicate and connect well in one place online, can later apply this to a different place online. For instance, a writer who created Twitter posts that truly engaged people are now skilled at creating Threads posts that engage people. I hear this often for video creators too — those who are doing incredibly well on TikTok or YouTube — plenty of them started years ago on other services such as Vine.

I encourage you to:

  • Take small actions each day or week to focus on the craft of communication and connection.
  • Challenge yourself to make improvements. For instance: consider 10 different ways to write a newsletter subject line. 10 different ways to write a podcast pitch. 10 ways to ask a question that might get replies on social media.
  • Experiment. I have often found that what works are the ideas you least expect to.
  • Track what you do. It’s so easy to create and share, yet get to the end of a week and feel as though you didn’t do as much as you hoped. I have had so many writers say to me, “Ugh, I didn’t do anything this week.” Then when I explore this further, I find out they took 20 distinct actions to share their work, but they simply didn’t recognize that they did so.
  • Track what you learn. When you take action, there are often little lessons along the way. Write these things down. Quickly you will learn that what feels right to you, what works, and most importantly: you will pull valuable lessons from things you found didn’t work as you hoped they would.
  • Celebrate milestones! The process of sharing, connecting, and growing one’s audience is in the service of something important. You should honor that work.

Develop Your Support System

Surround yourself with those who support your goals in creating and sharing. These aren’t always the people you live with, so you may have to make the effort to seek out colleagues and friends.

Ideally, these are people who push you to grow your craft and believe in yourself. I’ve written many times in the past about how Jennie Nash and I have a standing weekly call for this purpose. We each bring a goal or challenge to the call, and the time is split in half. When we get on the phone, one of us almost immediately says, “Do you want to go first?” and we dive in. This is not idle chit chat or vague status updates, it is work time. I deeply admire what she does and think she’s a genius. So when she gives me advice, I shut up and listen. (You can read the full story of how Jennie and I first connected here.)

If you want to get good at sharing your work, connecting with people, and developing your audience, I strongly encourage you to develop a support system of people you can talk to and collaborate with. These should be those who will challenge you, help you explore new ideas, and find a path that feels both meaningful and strategic.

How to find people like this? Consider connecting with those who resonate with you. Support their work first. Consider ways you can collaborate that attend to their goals as much as your own.

Nurture Your Creative Motivation

Your creative motivation is so precious. It is a finite resource and without it, all of this work to create and share and have a positive impact on people’s lives may seem overwhelming and out of reach.

I think so many writers, artists, and creators think back to a time when their craft was filled with hope and possibility. Over time, that feeling may slip away. I remind my writing clients of this all the time: your creative motivation is a prescious resource. Nurture it and integrate it into your daily life.

So much is changing in social media right now, which is still a primary way that writers can connect with others who share their passions. Personally, I am changing so much around what I advise to my writing clients, and am even tweaking my own systems for using social media.

Getting good at growing your audience centers on awareness of connecting what you write with those who may appreciate it, being willing to engage, understanding that the purpose is to communicate with others in a trusting manner, and remembering that this is a craft, one that you can improve upon each day or week.

If you are ever overwhelmed by the idea of sharing and connecting, I encourage you to start small. Just get better at understanding what you create and why. Get better at understanding why this resonates with people and where you see that happening. Get better at being present and connecting with others in small but meaningful ways. And get better at creating a process to show up to this work as a way of honoring your writing, not distracting you from it.

Thank you for being here withe me.