I was watching a video from a gardener the other day who has 56,000 subscribers on YouTube, and 11,200 subscribers on Instagram when she dropped a huge piece of marketing advice. She was putting out bouquets of flowers to sell at her farm stand, when she said:
“I take a picture of all my flowers, and immediately post on Facebook and Instagram. I used to post on my professional pages. Then I started posting that I was open on my personal pages, and that REALLY helped me out so much. It was that realization that the people buying my flowers are really my friends and neighbors. So getting it there on my personal pages really helps me out.”
This is the lesson that many writers and artists miss. Why? Well, often when we dream of developing an audience, we picture this:
I’ve asked this question to writers many many times: “Would you prefer people you know buy your book, or strangers.” Their face lights up with unquestioning certainty: “STRANGERS!”
Of course, every one of us only knows a small number of people, so we want strangers because that means there is a wider potential audience for what we write. But there are many writers I’ve spoken with who literally hide their creative work from friends and colleagues. And not because they find the subject matter to be embarrassing, or they feel it will negatively impact their job or friendships or anything. There can be a wide range of reasons:
- They just don’t want the judgement from those they know.
- They want to “make it” on their own, without feeling their friends and family were goaded into helping out. Or like they were calling in favors, and people were taking pity on them.
- They don’t feel those they know will buy or like their book.
- They don’t want to try on a new identity of “writer” to those who already know them in other roles (mother, sister, co-worker, accountant, etc.)
But what I often find is that to build momentum in how your creative work is shared, it starts with those you already have a connection with. Publishers know this. That is why if you sign with a traditional publisher, one of the first things they will do in terms of marketing is send you an “author questionnaire.” This document asks you to list out everyone who knows you. They want to know if you were in a sorority 30 years ago, what companies you worked for 15 years ago, and so on. Why do they care about every single person you know? Because that is where they will start with their marketing. They will look for opportunities within your existing network, because they know that people who already feel connected with you are more likely to purchase the book, or amplify it to others.
We all start with zero platform. My first email newsletter was sent to 9 people I worked with. I went office to office, asking permission to send it to them. Could I have dreamed that one day strangers would receive it? Sure. But I started with those who already knew me, and trusted me. I say this all the time, but your author platform is two things:
- Your ability to effectively communicate what you create and why
- Establishing a sense of trust with those you hope to reach
More than 15 years later, this newsletter does reach thousands of people. Are many of them people I have never spoken with directly? Sure. But many of them are people I know from my workshops, from social media, from a wide range of interactions and conversations. And that feels amazing.
If you don’t learn how to talk about your writing with those you already know, how will you ever know how to share it effectively with strangers?
I’ve been redoing my Key Messages, the core beliefs that drive what I create. What this has me doing is a deep dive inward about why I do the work I do. But it also has me in conversation with people, considering what language really speaks to people. I would encourage you to do that same thing. Learn how to talk about your creative work in a way that gets people to lean into those conversations, instead of turning away. One where it grows your identity as a writer or creator.
Some of your biggest and most unexpected “wins” as an author will come through your network. The distant cousin who learns of your book, and recommends it to someone he knows, who then invites you to their book club. Or the old friend who knows someone who runs a big podcast and invites you on as a guest.
Of course, over time, your work will reach strangers. But those strangers will also become acquaintances, repeating the cycle.
When they were just starting out, The Beatles dreamed of wider success. But their first audience was Paul’s dad in the other room. John and Paul were writing music in one room, and just finished creating “She Loves You.” Then, they walked into the next room and played it for Paul’s dad.
This is where sharing begins. Where we are. With what we have. With those we know. I’m not encouraging you to do anything that makes you seriously uncomfortable, but I don’t want you to overlook the value of sharing what you create with those around you. You never know the magical places it may lead.