Face To Your Audience
Common wisdom holds that writers need a website. It's probably a good idea for most people engaged in any form of business that involves a wider public. Most people use a content management system, usually some form of blog, to manage their writing and posting.
Having a website serves some important functions.
- It's your place on the web. A kind of storefront/office where readers can find you. A place not beholden to the vicissitudes of the landlord in some walled garden.
- It's where you put your email list signup.
- It's a warehouse for ideas that didn't make it into your stories – virtual DVD extra features.
- It's where you communicate with your readers.
All of those serve one audience, your readers and the people who may become your readers, but that last point hides an important problem.
What to communicate and how often?
Advice on how often is all over the map. At least once a week. Three times a week. Always on the same days of the week. Never on Sunday. Doesn't matter as long as it's regular and often.
But almost nobody talks about what you should write beyond:
- A list of your stories and where to find them
- A “press kit” with a headshot and brief bio prepped in case you get asked
- Cover reveals
- News of new releases
What about that blog? You've got a perfectly good content management system there. Why not use it?
So, of course, you do and that's where I see a lot of writers spending a lot of time and energy writing about writing. Obviously, I don't think there's anything wrong with that, but too often I'm left wondering why they're doing it. I mean, sure, if your audience is writers, then that's what you should be writing about.
Fiction authors, maybe not so much.
I've always followed the axiom: Face to your audience. Peers at your back.
What do readers want to know?
With few exceptions, they only want to know a few things:
- What's your next book?
- When's it coming?
- Will it be in the format I want?
- What are you working on now?
- What are you going to work on next?
- Are you going to be somewhere in person?
- What's a good book I can read while I'm waiting?
Yes, writers are readers and we like to know what our fellow word-herders think about this or that facet of the biz.
The problems arise when you only write about how to torture characters to facilitate their growth along the story arc or the ten tips for finding a few minutes to write in the course of a busy day.
What happens when your website becomes a source for writers – not readers? When you want readers to know about your new release, or to tell them that it's being held up because the artist is redoing the cover art, or that the audiobook has hit the digital shelves?
Sure, you'll email them because that's what the email list is for, but they have to come to your site to sign up first. If the only thing they see is writer talk? Maybe they don't sign up for that.
There are authors who manage to do it well, but they're in the minority. I hear too many authors complaining that they have trouble finding an audience or have no following, and when I look at their websites, they're talking craft. They're talking about their business and not about their art.
Worse, they're spending valuable writing time to do it.
How long does it take to write a 500 word blog post three times a week? Even once a week? That's time that didn't get spent on their next book.
Nobody can focus on one thing very long. Of course, we have to break it up. But I'm not hearing that writers have so much writing time on their hands that they have to put it down to take a break from the story in order to dash out 500 words on the four pillars of good storytelling.
The “what do I write today?” issue arises because writing and publishing is slow work. Not much changes from day to day unless you're writing shorts and, even then, a good short story can take a while to develop. Writing long form takes even longer. Trying to satisfy the “you must post this often” rules can break your brain.
So writers write about writing because they feel like they have to write something and “I'm still working on 'A Hard Row To Hoe' today” doesn't feel right.
But what if you stopped doing that?
Set your own pace. “I'll tell you how it's going on Saturday.” A short blurb on one or more of the topics of interest to readers. Set up a template for the posts so you only have to fill in the blanks. Make it fast and easy so you can actually have time to make more progress on the actual writing work instead of the writing-adjacent work.
Sure, you think of it as “marketing” but unless you're talking about your fiction, you're selling to the wrong audience.
Personally, I post to my blog on the first of the month. I give the readers an update on what happened in the previous month with me personally and with all the pieces in play across my various franchises. I give them a book recommendation so they have something to read going forward. I tell them what I'm planning for the coming month. That's it.
I do the same thing on my newsletter but on the 15th so the hardcore fans get two updates a month. (The really hardcore subscribe to my somewhat daily podcast, which has been on hiatus for the last few months for health reasons, but I digress.)
It's also why I started “The View From Here” so I could do the writer-talk in a place separate from the reader-talk. I spend the time to write here because I think it's important that we actually have peers at our backs. Peers who can help us and peers we can help in turn.
Face to your audience. Peers at your back.
Try it for a while and remember two things:
- Nothing sells your last book better than your next one.
- Talking about somebody else's book is a lot easier than talking about your own.