Writers: Connecting to Your Audience Begins at Creation

When is the best time to begin thinking about marketing your book, connecting it to readers? At creation.

Before it is done. Before you have a title. Before the cover is designed. Before you have an agent. Before you have a publisher. Before you know the launch date. Before you have something to “sell.”

Why? Because marketing is not just a selfish process of selling something to people, it is a process of connecting with and understanding those that you share a worldview with. It is a process to understand your audience – what gets their attention – the marketplace they exist in – what gets them to take action – and how the support system around them operates: the agents, publishers, bookstores, book blogs, reviewers, and so many others that create the community around readers.

This is a process of learning.

When you consider marketing while creating, subtle changes can be made at this point that makes your work MORE meaningful to those you are hoping to connect with.
This is not about changing your work to pander to what others want. This is not about dumbing down to get mass audience appeal. I have been an artist, a musician, and a writer: I RESPECT the creative process – the act of listening to your inner voice to create something uniquely you. That you are doing something that moves our culture forward, and not just filling a gap in “the market,” or watering down your work to try to give others what they think they want.

But… if your book needs to find an audience. If you need to take steps to become a full-time author. If your work needs to support your personal life or a professional business. Then…

You may want to consider the process of marketing during creation. In the past I have written that not every creation needs to be shared, and used the example of a series of pop up books that I once spent three years creating. I was exploring ideas and a story in ways I never had before. I realized that the more I thought about ‘the market,’ about becoming a ‘published author,’ the more watered down it became. So I threw that idea out the door, and it became a personal project, with zero goals of sharing it beyond a few close friends. As an artist and writer, that was satisfying. But it should also be noted that those books haven’t seen the light of day in more than a decade. Those who had seen the books during that time still ask me what I am going to do with them, offended that the answer is: “nothing.”

But… I didn’t need those books to be my identity. Or my career. Or the foundation for a business. I just needed to create them for myself. I just needed to explore that story.

So if you are working on a book, and don’t care if 10 or fewer people read it, then – GREAT. I love that. But if you will judge success by the number of people who read your book. By HOW engaged they are. By the connections you make, the lives affected. If you want your ideas to SPREAD. Then consider marketing early in the process of creation. Consider building your author platform. Consider if you know who your ideal audience is and how to reach them. Consider if you know how to talk about your book and how to connect that with interests and desires already in the minds of those readers.

Sometimes this process of marketing at creation happens naturally. You are drawn to the people, places, and ideas that align with what you are creating. Conversations are something you seek out. Relationships are built. Your work is already affecting the world.

But sometimes this doesn’t happen. The idea is coveted – protected – and thus, not shared. The creator hides their process, hides their work, becomes tongue-tied when trying to explain it, gets shy about even mentioning it because it means potential judgment. It takes a lot of confidence to talk about one’s personal creative process openly with friends, family, and coworkers. So, many writers live a double life. Their creation is born in secret.

I think the key is that we get jaded about terms such as “marketing.” That it means a different purpose and identity than “creation.” That great work should speak for itself, and magically find it’s way into people’s lives. That we engage with the business end of things as a painful necessity, hiring mercenaries to shout about our work for short periods, but that our grace comes with the legacy of becoming part of the pantheon of great writers.

Carolyn Parkhurst illustrates this best:

I understand that when we talk about marketing, you may be thinking this is akin to selling out, or focusing your very limited resources on the wrong things. But I have worked with enough writers to know that it is a lot of HARD WORK to find success. That too many writers fail to not just share their work, but they give up on the process of writing altogether.

It’s hard work to succeed, and not just for the little guy, the newbie coming up. It’s hard for those famous and successful writers as well – to find continued success. They worked hard to get where they are, and many of them rarely slow down, always trying to further cement their body of work, engage new readers, and extend their legacy. Their success is earned by inches.

I just watched the 2002 documentary, The Comedian, where Jerry Seinfeld shares his process of creating an entirely new comedy routine after retiring all of his old material. It shows the struggle he goes through to create good jokes, and to constantly test them out in front of audiences. He characterizes his work ethic this way:

“When I was starting out, I used to sit down and write a couple times a week. Then one day I was watching these construction workers go back to work, trudging down the street. It was like a revelation to me. I realized: these guys don’t want to go back to work after lunch. But they’re going, because that’s their job. If they can exhibit that level of dedication for that job, I should be able to do the same. Just trudge your ass in.”

The documentary shows Seinfeld – one of the biggest names in comedy – on stage in small clubs, testing new material from scraps of paper, forgetting his jokes, in anguish over nerves before a gig. It shows him – a very wealthy man with one of the most successful TV shows ever – trying again and again.

This is someone whose creative process is inherently a part of how he shares his work. Is it different for writers of books? Sure. In fact, it’s different for every individual. Only you can decide your creative process, how you will develop your writing career, how you will connect with readers. That is the joy of it, and for some, the endless frustration of it. But if your goal is to reach a wide audience, to engage people again and again, then consider how you share your work as you develop it. Consider connection during creation.