Stop worrying about how many followers you have

Maybe you have heard that if you are a writer, you need to grow your platform in order to develop a readership for your work, or attract agents or publishers. It’s common for me to hear author’s say, “I heard that I need to have 10,000 followers in order to get a publishing deal.”

I don’t think that’s true. So today I want to talk about something in very honest terms, and hopefully flip how you think about this work. To put it bluntly:

Stop worrying about how many followers you have. Stop worrying about how many subscribers you have.

These metrics aren’t the magic solution we tend to think they are. Instead, I want you to consider the experiences you want to create for yourself and your readers, and the specific actions that support your career as a writer.

Let’s dig in…

Stop Worrying About How Many

“More” is not usually the best way to solve your creative challenges or lead you to your creative goals. More followers, more subscribers, more likes, more more more. Can “more” be good. Sure. More connection. More understanding. More awareness. More empathy. More creativity. More fulfillment. “More” has so many great contexts in which it thrives as it relates to your goals as a writer. But more followers isn’t one of them. In fact, I tend to find that the striving for “more followers” can lead to lower levels of clarity and fulfillment as a writer.

Now, I don’t love math, but I’ll math here for a moment just to help illustrate this point. It’s easy to think of math as a solution: “If I had 100,000 followers, then if even 1% of them buy my book, that’s awesome!!!” Plus, if I had 100,000 followers, that means people would see that my words are important. It means agents and publishers would pay attention, that podcasters would book me as a guest in a heartbeat, and that I could get speaking engagements or invites to appear at literary festivals left and right!

This is totally logical: more people looking at you and your work means more possible people who buy your work and elevate your career. But…

What if you had just 290 followers? And 50% (145) of them saw everything you share? And 50% (72 ) of those people commented on your posts, giving you great conversations? And 50% (35) of those people actually read your writing and told their friends about it? And what if you grew this… slowly, maybe 20 new people a month? But in the process, you felt a part of something. And these people felt like they were a part of something with you?

Would that be so bad? To have readers who talk about your work? To be in conversation with like-minded readers and writers? To not always be vying for MORE (in all caps) and feeling less than because you don’t have a huge following?

It’s not uncommon for someone to tell me, “Ugh, I don’t have any following, just 300 people.” Which confounds me. So, 300 people are following you. And let’s just say that 12% of those people (the 35 people from above) actually read your writing and tell others about it. Do those people not exist? Is that not the absolute goal you say you want? But you are ignoring them? (Not you of course, the imaginary writer in this example.)

Another thing we don’t talk about enough is that, well, enough is never enough. I’ve interviewed artist Rebecca Green a few times, and one of her quotes always stuck in my brain. I asked her if she knew how she went from 225,000 Instagram followers to 258,000 a year later. Her reply was so honest with regards to how metrics like these can be confusing: “It’s funny, it seems like a jump from 225,000 – 258,000, but every day I look at it and think, ‘Well, I’m not at 300,000. I’m not at 550,000. I’m not at a million.’ That never stops. I remember when I was like, ‘I got 100 likes, OMG! I rule the world!’ Now, I’m like, OMG, I only got this many people… I try not to let it effect me emotionally. But I would not have a career without Instagram. The way that I grew it was meeting people face to face, moving to new places, and being in a lot of diff industries [such as magazines, books, retail, all sorts of collaborations.]”

That quote is from 2019. Here we are, three years later and Rebecca’s Instagram account currently has 278,000 followers. Which of course, is amazing. And it is still a driving force in her career. Yet… it is still not 300,000. The point is not if a certain number is “good” or “bad.” It is that you can’t assume that a sense of fulfillment will come when you reach a certain number.

This applies to newsletter subscribers as well. So, I’ve sent out this weekly email newsletter for more than 15 years. That means every Friday for me is a deadline. I’m not going to lie, I love it. I love the creative spark that is encouraged by a weekly deadline. I don’t obsess about my newsletter metrics because it is a labor of love. But data does get thrown in my face when I log in. This is what I see for all of my newsletters:

  • Last week’s newsletter: 6 unsubscribers
  • The week before that: 4 unsubscribers
  • The week before that: 4 unsubscribers
  • The week before that: 8 unsubscribers
  • The week before that: 5 unsubscribers
  • The week before that: 1 unsubscribers
  • The week before that: 2 unsubscribers
  • The week before that: 6 unsubscribers
  • The week before that: 6 unsubscribers
  • The week before that: 4 unsubscribers

OMG, what am I doing wrong?! What did I mess up on the week where eight people unsubscribed?!? Why am I failing so much??!?!?!?


Well, I’m not doing anything wrong. Every week I write, every week I send, every week someone unsubscribes. Which is… GREAT! In fact, that is something to be honored and even celebrated. Someone is taking action to focus their attention on what matters most to them right now. I feel good about that.

Them unsubscribing is them choosing. It is not a reflection on me or my work, and if it is, I don’t have time to worry about it. I spend my week in conversation with writers. My work has me in the trenches with writers, not just sharing theory, but ideating and executing marketing campaigns. So I am always — always — listening to the needs of writers and creators. It’s my passion. I have a clear mission in my work, and I show up to it every day. If that doesn’t help someone through my newsletter, that’s fine. Oh, and it should be noted, each week I gain subscribers too.

As someone who runs a business around what they create, there is something I don’t see discussed enough: you can have a highly profitable business around your craft or art, with a small audience. That’s right, you don’t need 100,000 followers. Or 10,000. You can succeed with a few hundred followers and supporters. The key is this: that they are the supporters who buy your work and/or share it with others.

For some writers I work with who actively support the financial side of their career through their writing, we discuss this often. The concept of what encourages revenue goals, not just vague “follower” goals. That can often be a huge mindset shift, and a positive one.

Are there situations where “how many” can matter? Of course! When I’m working with clients, we will analyze this in terms of their goals, and we can use data to help define some strategic direction. But the point is that this metric shouldn’t overwhelm your sense of purpose or self-esteem. It is just one factor to consider, and rarely the most important.

So what happens when you stop worrying about “how many?” You can instead consider: “what experiences matter to me — and to readers — each week?”

Consider Experiences and Actions That Truly Matter

What is more fun that “followers”? Experiences! Moments! Connections! I mean, this is what life is made up of. I always remembered this 2009 blog post by Bronnie Ware, a palliative care worker who shared her list of the top five regrets of the dying:

  1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
  2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
  3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
  4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
  5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”

None of these are about “how many,” but rather, “how deeply.” How deeply we express who we are. How deeply we show up in our community. How deeply we connect with others. How deeply we are present in the moment.

For your experience of being a writer and sharing your work, how can you control that? By focusing on the actions that matter. By crafting the experiences that matter. Since I want this post to be practical in terms of how you can help grow your career as a writer, let’s talk about the marketing funnel for a bit. I know you may be thinking, “Marketing funnel, Dan? Really? Yuk.” But please bear with me. Here is one version of a marketing funnel:

Marketing Funnel


So the theory here is that people become aware of you or your writing at the top of the funnel, then move down it. Over time, they become interested in your writing. They consider if they want to follow or subscribe or buy or read your work, or show up to an event you are speaking at. Then they “convert” which is a sales term where they (perhaps) buy your book. A lot of people think that is the end of the marketing funnel, but it’s just the midway point Beyond that is loyalty: them reading your book, reviewing it, looking for whatever else you create. And then… advocacy. Another way to say that is word-of-mouth marketing. They tell their friends how great your book is.

One way to think about the marketing funnel is math: “IF MORE PEOPLE ENTER THE TOP OF THE FUNNEL, IT WILL LEAD TO MORE BOOK SALES, YES?!?”

I mean, we can make the math work. But that isn’t the only way to view it, and definitely not the best way. Because the funnel is all about moments of human connection and and experience. It is about depth.

When someone chooses to follow you on social media, or subscribe to your newsletter, or buy your book, or read that book, or post a review for it, or tell their local librarian about it, or emails you to tell you they loved it — these are moments where your art has connected with someone’s experience of being alive. It touched them in some way. It is changing them in some way.

What would I love for you to focus on more than just getting more followers? Well, a few things:

  • More creating! Yes, more writing.
  • More connections with like-minded people who love the kind of stories, writing, or art that you do.
  • More conversations around these things.
  • More moments that comprise the life of someone who looks for inspiration, education, and connection around what they create.
  • More actions that support your career as a writer, however you define those goals.

There is one more reason I want to encourage you to stop worrying about how many followers or subscribers you have. It’s because I care about you. I care about your mental health. I’m going to imagine you have a lot of responsibility in life. People you care for. Tasks on your to-do list. The more you add “worry about how many followers I have” to your list, the less likely you are to create. And the less likely you are to share. And the less likely you are to feel good about it. Or to feel good in general.

I want you to stop worrying so you can instead focus on what matters most. And only you can define that for yourself.